Team player Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

When Gene Faut bought a majority share of 3D Exhibits Inc. two years ago and became its president, he decided to maintain the accounts he had served at the company as a salesperson.

That participatory leadership approach has helped him encourage the effort he wants to see in his staff.

“It’s difficult to say it can’t be done when the owner is doing it,” Faut says. “It’s difficult to not put in the extra effort and the hours when there’s someone working alongside you doing the same.”

The extra effort and extra hours have paid off for 3D. The company, which designs and produces exhibits and programs for trade shows, had 2006 revenue of more than $32 million, a 22 percent increase over the previous year. Smart Business spoke to Faut about how growth depends on building and maintaining the right team.

Q: What are the benefits of being a hands-on leader?

It allows me to be in the mix, to be in the trenches with what’s going on at my company, and it allows me to stay current and see the potential pitfalls, challenges or revisions that need to be made in real time.

It benefits the company in that I am aware of everything that’s going on, because in the process of a job going through our building from sale through completion, I’m there actively working through the system while at the same time recognizing that, as we’ve grown, delegation is key.

I can’t do it by myself, so truly what it’s allowed me to do is step back and recognize what I do well and then taking the leadership role within the company, putting people around me that are best-of-class so that I’m doing what I [can] do to support the company and help the company grow, at the same time recognizing I can’t be everything to all people.

Q: How does communication help create employee buy-in?

Sometimes a decision that’s made in a vacuum or that’s not part of the overall master plan might seem incongruent with where we’re going. We share financial data on a higher level with everyone.

We let them know where we’ve succeeded, where we need to improve, and when things come up, we’re straightforward. We don’t try to pull any punches.

We’re proud of our growth, and a lot of times people don’t understand where they fit or what their role contributes to the end result. They’ll see a job go through the shop or a great photo of one of our completed projects, but the impact of that work is sometimes lost.

So letting them know that our revenue this year is up 22 percent from last year is important, and that’s not just a year-end conversation, it’s a monthly conversation that we share with everyone.

We like to let our people know about new opportunities and that potentially, if we’re able to win that business, how it impacts their daily lives. That creates more buy-in, and people also like to be part of a growing enterprise and they get a kick out of the success and they feel part of it.

It’s a fun place to work. We take our business very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The combination of those forces really adds to people’s motivation and creates the sense of, not only do they matter, but what they do impacts the future of the company.

Q: How have you built and maintained your company culture?

Not in a derogatory sense by any means, we are a small business. We know what it takes to start out and to build and to thrive. We have that sense of urgency, and from that is our dedication to our customers.

Our customers and clients are always first, and that’s something that is maybe overstated, but it’s what we live. Having the capability to do wonderful, enormous projects but still keeping that small business mind frame has allowed us to create a culture of dedication and commitment to our client.

Going from 17 employees to 77 is difficult, but we’ve been very careful about who we bring onboard when we bring on a new employee. Over the years, we’ve passed on many high-volume salespeople, for example, because they didn’t fit our culture.

Their revenue would be great, but the downside would be how they would impact what we do on a daily basis. How would they impact the spirit and the commitment to the customer that we’ve built and nurtured and grown?

In an effort to keep that focus, we’re very tough in the interviewing process. Typically there will be a committee from different parts of the company that will participate on some level during the interview process, and we take their feedback seriously. They don’t make the final decision, but their input is appreciated and respected.

HOW TO REACH: 3D Exhibits Inc., (800) 471-9617 or