Maureen Beal Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006

Maureen Beal likes to think of the staff of National Van Lines Inc. as one big, happy family. After all, it was her grandfather who founded the company in the early 1900s and led it through the Great Depression, and her father who ran National until Beal took over 13 years ago. Beal has not forgotten that history, and although her efforts have helped grow the Chicago-based household moving company to annual revenue of $85 million, she dedicates just as much effort to growing and maintaining a family atmosphere at the company. National now employs more than 100 people, and Beal makes sure every one of them feels right at home.

Smart Business about knowing your strengths, recognizing your weaknesses and how to lead by example.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Follow the fundamentals of good business. Don’t become complacent, and keep your focus. Don’t drift.

Sometimes when you start getting successful, you don’t keep your focus like you should, and you have to bring yourself back. When you start making money and making a profit, you start spending money on other little things that wouldn’t have before. You have stick to those fundamentals.

When I first took over the company after my father passed away in 1993, I needed to find a way to keep tabs on what was going on, to keep my thumb on the pulse of the company. The company was struggling, and I learned very quickly that I had to concentrate on cash, first and foremost, so we could get to the point where we could reinvest into the company and bring it forward.

Our biggest growing pain was to get the cash comfortable, because that old saying “Cash is king” is so true.

Be open.

I have an open-door policy, and my employees are not afraid to come to me and talk to me about their concerns or their problems because I don’t overreact. I don’t kill the messenger.

When I have told someone that I will keep something confidential, I do. That’s very important. The first time you betray a confidence, you’re done for.

It has benefited the company to where people aren’t afraid for their jobs or covering their fannies, and it’s not just my employees, but it’s my agents and my drivers, as well. When a driver is walking through the office, they think nothing of just popping in and saying hello and sitting down and talking to me for a few minutes. With that comfort level it’s a friendly atmosphere, and they are able to sit down and talk to me as a friend as well as a business associate. The employees feel the same way.

I truly care for their well-being, and if I can do something to make their lives easier, plus the company’s life easier, then I want them to come and tell me about it.

Know your strengths, your weaknesses and your staff.

I have surrounded myself with good people, so I let them do their jobs. I know what my weaknesses are and I know what my strengths are, so I hire people to complement my weaknesses.

I was very lucky that my father was my role model. He worked five-and-a half-days a week until he was 90 years old. I’ve learned that work ethic, and I know my employees work harder when they see the president or the CEO working as hard as or harder than they do.

When you manage people, you also get to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, so when you know they have a certain strength, you let them run with it. But, for example, if you know that a very talented, visionary person has a hard time keeping control of money, watch them a little closer on the expense side.

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that every one of my direct reports is so different that I have to manage them differently. If somebody would have told me that years ago, I would have said you can’t do that.

But to me, that’s the only way for the company to be successful. You can’t treat everyone the same, because they’re different in their talents.

Make employees feel like owners.

One thing we’re doing that has been very successful is giving all of our employees financial training, which has really given them a sense of ownership in the organization.

They can see how well the company is doing. That’s what their bonuses are based on, and we give bonuses to everyone in the company, from the switchboard operator on up. When you give your employees a bonus program that makes sense, that’s logical, they then take the ownership of the company, and that’s what we’re striving for.

When you feel like you’ve got ownership of the company, you want your company to provide the best service possible. You don’t want to be embarrassed by poor service.

Giving employees the right information at the right time really helps them make the right decisions. Our employees feel the company cares enough about them to give them that something extra if they do a better job.

Practice what you preach.

The culture of any company reflects the personality of the CEO. Luckily, I believe in motivation, education, rewards and recognition, and I understand the work/life balance of my employees and what they have to deal with.

If they are reflecting on my personality, where I’m motivating and educating them, they begin to realize that we have to supply good service to be a good company. They continue with my vision, which is not to be so large but to provide the best service we can. They start taking an ownership attitude in their own respect.

It’s like when you’re bringing up a family. You can’t say one thing and then do something else. So you have to feel for your company as much as you want your employees to feel for it.

We always hire for attitude and potential. We don’t hire for the experience they have or don’t have. If someone with a good attitude comes through the door, that’s who we want. So, if anything, new employees add to the positive nature of the culture. You can have someone come through your door that has the best experience in your industry possible, but if they don’t have a good attitude, you might as well just not even hire them.

How to reach: National Van Lines Inc., (800) 323-1962 or www.nationalvanlines.com