Steven Zuccarini Featured

7:00pm EDT December 27, 2007
When Steven Zuccarini arrived at InnerWorkings Inc., he saw a $30 million company full of raw potential. Before his arrival, he had spent 25 years working for RR Donnelley & Sons Co., the largest printing company in North America with annual revenue of $10 billion that had many Fortune 500 clients. And he knew from his previous experience that InnerWorkings’ business model — outsourced print procurement services for corporate clients — was a good one. He just needed to convince the organization that it could sell its enterprise printing solutions to Fortune 500 clients. In the three years since Zuccarini took the helm, InnerWorkings has acquired more than 25 Fortune 500 clients, which has helped fuel its revenue growth of more than 100 percent each year. The company posted 2006 revenue of $160 million, and Zuccarini estimates 2007 revenue at between $260 and $280 million. Smart Business spoke with Zuccarini about how to make your organization believe that it can succeed as a much larger company.

Let your employees stretch. You have to create a culture that allows for the employees to attempt something great and perhaps fail. But if they fail, make sure they learn from it so we don’t repeat the same mistake.

Also, help them fix it by training, depending on what that failure might be. It’s nothing special to attempt something with mediocrity to it and always succeed. I’d rather see our teams stretch and go after something great.

I’m a big believer in delegation. You’ve got to delegate to your employees and management team. Demonstrate the faith you have in their ability. Let them show you through their accomplishments. Provide them with the right recognition and rewards.

There’s a real balance between monetary rewards and recognition, being the kind of acknowledgment that is more intangible. What I hope is that leads to long-term loyalty and dedication to the organization.

Deliver your message with passion and clarity.

You’ve got to make it simple enough to be understood, but passionate enough to motivate people. As a leader, I have to stimulate genuine belief in employees that they can do more than they think they can, and then watch them do it.

Most of our employees have a lot more potential in them, and you have to help them stretch. If you stretch them, your employees’ performance increases by instilling that belief in every one of them.

Create a creative culture, and you’ll attract creative employees. You have to have a company that shows potential from a growth-oriented environment. Also, you have to have an organization that is team-oriented, so people feel they are part of a greater whole, and that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

When we’re out there attracting new employees, one of the greatest things we have is our own existing employees serving as ambassadors. Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool.

Once we get employees into this organization, you have to build a culture of personal development. Give them a chance to innovate and be creative. Always be open and honest with your feedback. You need to be direct with your employees and hold them accountable. People appreciate knowing when they’re succeeding and when they’re failing and how we can help them.

It also has to be a fun place to work. We do some things here to try to make the day to day a lot more enjoyable. We do ice cream socials, pizza lunches, we do picnics.

We had a picnic on the day a tornado blew through Chicago, so that made a lasting impression on our employees. We were all playing softball, and all of a sudden we’re running for the gymnasium with 60 mph winds.

Keep it simple. Over the last five years, we’ve been growing at about a 138 percent compounded annual growth rate. Some of my advice for others when confronted with managing this kind of growth is, first and foremost, focus on the fundamentals. It’s all about flawless execution. Our credibility, our trust, is delivering on our promise to our customers each and every day.

One thing you can’t take for granted when you come from a large organization is that the infrastructure support has to be built as you grow. So we’ve been focusing on putting in the type of infrastructure that you might not have at an early stage company.

Hire with growth in mind. You’ve got to build a balanced management team. You don’t want to lose that entrepreneurial experience, so really it’s composed of people with entrepreneurial backgrounds but also managers trained in classic corporate disciplines. We have a nice mixture on our management team.

You’ve got to hire people who are comfortable rolling up their sleeves and wearing several hats — people who are willing to work in multiple areas of the organization to help it grow.

This is a very flat company; all of us are not afraid to jump in and help in any area that’s important. It helps because we make quicker decisions, and there are fewer approval levels. What we do here may only require one level for approval. We make quick decisions versus, in my prior life, it might have taken three or four levels to make a decision.

Make decisions now; correct the wrong ones later.

The inability of a leader or CEO to listen and absorb what other people are saying and accept ideas and views that might be different than theirs is a huge problem.

Also there’s this concept of analysis-paralysis syndrome. It’s a real balance between trying to collect too much information to make a decision and avoid making a mistake versus making a quicker, less-informed decision and then making course corrections along the way.

I’m a believer in taking some action and, if we’re off, making quick adjustments. You can do that with a smaller, faster company.

If I look at ways to avoid these problems, I believe the leader must truly have self-awareness. It’s a key ingredient to avoiding this. They’ve got to have a good understanding of their strengths, their weaknesses, their needs, emotions and what drives them as well as the effect you have on others. That is a key starting point.

You’ve got to be open and comfortable with constructive criticism and approach situations with a healthy sense of humor. We’ve got to be able to laugh at ourselves sometimes.

HOW TO REACH: InnerWorkings Inc., (312) 642-3700 or