When Bob and Dan Wolfberg founded PLS Financial Services Inc. in 1997, they put aside their egos to share a title, responsibilities and power. But sibling rivalry isn’t easily outgrown.
“Brotherhood rivalry definitely shows its face every once in awhile,” says younger brother
Dan Wolfberg. “When we’re both working separately, that’s when we start going in different directions. So we talk about it. We’re able to refocus and get on the same page.”
By spending Monday lunches and many nonworking hours together, the co-presidents have aligned their vision for the company. They’ve expanded their brotherly bond to make room for 3,000 employees, bringing everyone together under the common priority of putting the company first. And 10 years after the founding of the company — which provides retail financial services, such as check cashing, loans and tax preparation — PLS posted 2007 revenue of $151.8 million.
Smart Business spoke with Wolfberg about how to stay humble and how to let others have a say in decisions.
Don’t be a know-it-all. My brother and I started this company together. As a smaller company in the beginning, we would trip over each other working on the same things. As the company’s grown, we’ve been able to separate responsibilities and work on our own strengths. We really put our egos aside.
Now we get along. We both want to make PLS something that’s not about Bob Wolfberg;
it’s not about Dan Wolfberg; it’s about PLS. We definitely don’t know everything, or hardly anything for that matter. But we surround ourselves with people that do.
I’ve been shocked over the years at what I’ve learned from other people. You realize that you don’t know everything. I’ve seen companies in our industry that have that issue,
where the top leaders make all the decisions and think they know everything, and they go
nowhere. If you make all the decisions and you think you know everything and you don’t, you may not be around tomorrow.
Put decisions up for discussion. You can’t be too full of yourself. I don’t know more than everybody else, and I don’t act like I know more than everybody else. You need to listen, discuss, debate and then make a decision.
Once the decision is made, it’s expected that everybody buys in to it and agrees. But before
that point, everybody discusses it. I don’t sit in my office and make decisions based on what I think is right. I want to talk to other people about it first. The worst decisions that I’ve ever made are the ones that I make without talking to anyone else.
As the company grows and I get further away from the customer, the more that we need to rely on people in stores at the lowest levels to provide information to make the right decisions.
Put the big picture first. In most situations, I can’t believe shared leadership being a formula for success. If you try to make it work, you have to make sure that the two leaders
are on same page [and that] they’re more interested in the company than in themselves. It’s not that their decision has to be the one that stands to prove that they’re smarter than the other guy. It’s what’s best for the company.
What I look for in a vice president is that same passion. I want someone who’s going to do what’s best for company. If what’s best for the company is their decision, great. If it came from me originally, fine, they accept that. If it came from a customer service rep, an hourly employee, which a lot of our policies and procedures do, everybody’s got to accept what’s best for the company.
We repeat it at every meeting that we have, every store visit. That’s something that we bring up: ‘This store is not my store; this is your store.’ You’re just one spoke in the PLS wheel. We’ve branded ourselves in the last four or five years. We’re referred to as PLS and not Bob and Dan Wolfberg, even in our industry.
The brand gives the company a personality, gives it a life of its own. You’ve got to focus on the company, not yourself. Every time you have a meeting, refer to the company as PLS. Don’t say, ‘me’ or ‘my’ or ‘I’; it’s ‘us’ and ‘our’ and ‘we.’
Expand your family — but not too much. In the corporate office, we have about 120 employees. As we’ve grown, I don’t know everybody, but I walk around the office and I’ll say hello to people in hall. If the first conversation is very nonintimidating, then that leaves the door open.
If a team member has a baby, we give a onesie to the family. We’ll send flowers if somebody has a child in the hospital. Call them up: ‘How are things doing? If there’s anything you need, let us know.’ We make it personal. Every time we see somebody, we engage them. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how many kids most people in the office have and a lot of the store managers.
You’ve got to treat people like people. No matter what level they are, they’re still people. And people need to feel like they’re important, valuable. Whether they work for you or they’re on the street or they’re your neighbors, they’re still people, and they need to be
treated that way.
You can’t let people get too close. It’s part of my family, but we’re not having barbecues
together with your family and my family. Keep the relationship professional because it is
HOW TO REACH: PLS Financial Services Inc., (312) 491-7300 or www.plsfinancial.com