As Ted Glahn worked in his office filled with framed photographs of his family, one of his managers came to him with a problem.
As president of Solarcom Holdings Inc., Glahn had written the compensation plan for a particular salesperson, but the way it read cheated that person out of a hefty commission.
“Ted, this happened, and here’s the way it reads, but that doesn’t seem fair because of this and this,” the manager said to Glahn while he reviewed the plan.
Glahn realized that the way he wrote it didn’t express his intent, creating a discrepancy.
“You’re right,” Glahn said to him. “That’s really not what I meant. I didn’t think of that issue that could impact it, and I think we owe him the money.”
Glahn paid that sales rep almost $22,000 more than he originally received because it was the right thing to do, and it’s an example of how he operates.
The son of an immigrant truck driver, Glahn grew up ingrained with values prioritizing family and integrity. His blue-collar upbringing and ideas have propelled his success as he’s moved up in the white-collar business world and cultivated an environment at the technology solutions company that’s focused on customers and employees. But all that work can be destroyed if anyone has a lapse in integrity, so Glahn embarks on a daily quest to lead by example.
He believes that when you build relationships based on integrity, growth will follow.
“If you set the example, then managers follow,” Glahn says. “You maintain integrity by making sure that you always use integrity and good judgment, and they learn that you expect them to do the same thing. It’s not an option it’s a requirement.”
Focusing on customers
Glahn met a major client for dinner and during their conversation told the man, “I don’t have a widget. I don’t have a product that comes out of a warehouse that I manufacture that answers all your problems. What I sell is a relationship. What I sell is customer service. What I sell is a partnership and not a vendor relationship.”
That approach helped Glahn grow Solarcom to $400 million in revenue last year.
“Nobody spends money simply because they have nothing to do on Friday,” Glahn says. “They have a problem. They have a business issue they need solved, and that’s what you really need to do. From a business perspective, that’s how you make money. ... Put yourself in a position to be a partner and not a vendor because vendors are a dime a dozen they come out of the Yellow Pages. You have to provide service.”
Glahn starts with pricing. He has no qualms about making money, but he knows the difference between making a profit and ripping people off.
“It’s more important to me to have a long-term relationship with our customer than try to gouge somebody and try to find new customers every year,” Glahn says.
He uses old-fashioned rules like returning phone calls and e-mails within 24 hours to nurture customer relationships. But creating solid customer relationships extends beyond their inquiries. Employees call and ask customers everyday questions simply to touch base. “When people spend a lot of money with you, the only contact they hear from you shouldn’t be, ‘What are you going to order this week?’” Glahn says. “Every once in awhile, it’s nice to get a call from someone and say, ‘How are you doing? How’s the weather? Did you go skiing?’”
His executives also periodically visit customers and they never talk about selling. Instead, they listen to the customers’ problems and help them find solutions, even if that solution doesn’t benefit Solarcom. “I would rather promote a concept to someone that saves them money and literally costs me money than try to oversell to make money, because when I do that, I’m going to stand out among my competitors, and they’re going to do business with me next year and the year after and the year after,” Glahn says. “We’ve been here 30 years. I want to be here a lot longer, so we look at everything as a long-term relationship instead of a short-term gain.”
Nurturing relationships extends beyond just the good news. Glahn says it’s important to share bad news immediately to maintain credibility and integrity.
“Bad news doesn’t get better with time,” Glahn says. “If you have some bad news, you need to do it. We’re definitely not perfect. We make mistakes. The real issue is how you respond to those mistakes.
“We want to do business on the basis that I’m not perfect. I can’t promise to be perfect, but I can promise to always plan to do the best I can to be perfect, and if I do something wrong, I’ll fix it, and I’ll fix it at my expense, not yours.”
A team based on integrity
These approaches to customer service sound great at the top, but it requires a lot of effort to ensure that Glahn’s 350 employees live up to them as well.
And that starts with hiring like-minded people. Glahn takes a long time when hiring and has lost potential candidates because they grew frustrated with the interview pace.
“I’d rather lose some than hire some that were a bad fit and didn’t take the time,” he says.
He looks for people who will uphold integrity and model it for others to emulate.
“You have to get up in the morning and look in the mirror, and if you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, then what do you got?” he says. “That’s a terrible way to live. I’m not going there.”
Potential hires may talk to as many as seven managers during interviews even those they wouldn’t be working for because Glahn wants everyone’s opinion. The final interview is with him, and he doesn’t look at resumes that’s for the managers to evaluate.
Instead, he wants to get to know candidates as people, which often starts with how they respond to his office, where one can’t look anywhere and not see a family member’s photo. He uses his family as a talking point to see if candidates value time outside of the office, or if they have more of a churn-and-burn style. “I’m very clear to our people I want you to work hard,” Glahn says. “But your job’s not more important than your family. If your job comes before your family, eventually you’re going to be an unhappy person, and if you’re an unhappy person, that’s going to show up in your work. “You work so that you can take care of your family. You didn’t have a family because you had a job. Life’s kind of short, and there are so many things out there that just make you a better person when you have something you look at and that’s what drives you to work. Heck, I’d rather lay under a coconut tree and drink margaritas. The reality is, I use these pictures around my office as a motivator.”
Glahn encourages his employees to be motivated in similar ways.
“I want them to go home,” he says. “I don’t want them to work 10 hours a day. If you’re doing that, you’re probably not working smart. You may be working hard, but you’re probably not working smart.
“You need to go home. You need to see your wife, your kids, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your partner. You need to take care of that because if you don’t, you’re not going to be a complete person.”
As he hires people receptive to that environment, they grow with the current employees, bonded by common ideals.
“It’s no different than a relationship with your spouse or significant other,” Glahn says. “When you first met, it wasn’t the same as it was two years later, right? They just start melding together, working together, and start respecting each other.”
And if employees respect each other and customers, they don’t need the shelves full of procedure manuals that most businesses have. It all boils down to doing the right thing.
“If you follow that one rule, you could save 3,000 trees,” Glahn says. “You don’t need all that junk because it all brings you back to one sentence do the right thing. Sometimes the right thing may not be the right thing for your pocketbook.
“People come in here with what they think are complicated issues. I look at them and say, ‘Well, what’s the right thing to do?’ ... It’s not that complicated. People get used to following that kind of protocol.”
And when people uphold integrity and perform well, he makes sure to communicate that.
“The tap on the shoulder hey, you’re doing a great job, or that was a good presentation sometimes that’s worth more than money, and sometimes companies take that for granted,” Glahn says. “They forget that people are just people, no matter how tough on the surface they are or how professional they are or how advanced they are in terms of their success.
“I don’t care who they are. They could be Lee Iacocca or President Bush, it doesn’t matter. Occasionally, it’s nice for someone to say good job, and good job doesn’t come in terms of a check.”
The company also rewards top performers with incentives. Last year, it thanked them for their work by taking 85 couples to Costa Rica for vacation. Whether it’s a pat on the back or an exotic vacation, it all starts with caring about people. “Focus is the key not only for (business) but for the culture,” Glahn says. “Culture and the way people act is something that has to be reinforced literally every day. If I go to the coffee machine and it’s running low, I make coffee. ... You have to do things like that and set examples. “You have to focus on not only the business of making money but the business of taking care of people. It’s the business of leadership, and leadership has a lot more to do with people than it has to do with money.”
HOW TO REACH: Solarcom Holdings Inc., (888) 786-3282 or www.solarcom.com