Better over time Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 It’s not a great way to boost the ego, but Brian Rosen makes good use of his blooper book. The book documents blunders he, his father and grandfather have made while running Sam’s Wines & Spirits.

“If my generation has made a mistake, I can look back and see it was made 45 years ago, too, and we still came out unscathed,” says the co-owner and COO of the 200-employee company. “No matter how bad it is in theory, someone else has made it and still survived.”

With revenue of $70 million in 2005, the company’s successes have obviously outnumbered its mistakes. Rosen, who co-owns the business with his brother, Darryl Rosen, says he will never share the book with anyone, adding it only lists mistakes because “the positives, everyone talks about. No one talks about the negatives.”

Smart Business spoke with Rosen about how he deals with the negatives, finds quality workers and adjusts to change.

What qualities do you look for in associates?
They have to believe in the overall big picture. Trust, reliability, responsibility are all key factors there.

And people who are passionate about what they do. You can be a Harvard MBA, but if you aren’t passionate about the position that you have within a firm, then a lot of those smarts are wasted.

It’s hard to create an interview process to get that kind of person. You can do all sorts of testing and personality tests, but a lot of people are assigned daily tasks within their role at the workplace, and the cream will begin to rise.

From the cream that has risen, you begin to see where people are stronger and weaker. From those stronger people, I begin to pick my team.

How do you keep them at the company?
You share your vision with them early on, and you give them ownership of your vision. If the person has ownership, then they are tied to it.

That doesn’t necessarily mean a financial interest or necessarily an equity interest. A vested interest can be an emotional and mental interest, as well.

When an employee comes on to a program, you either buy in to it or you don’t. By natural attrition, people will fall by the wayside. And the people who believe in the goal, they begin their accession.

There’s a loyalty to it — people that drink the Kool-Aid, as I like to say. The people that drink the Kool-Aid with you are the people you know are your leaders in the field.

How do you adjust to change?
We’re a very big ship with a very big rudder and a pretty good ability to steer quickly and change course quickly. Your key people have their heart and pulse on the industry, and as changes or trends emerge, then you change quickly and adapt.

If there is an industry change or an up-and-coming trend, one of us who is out there in the community hears it, finds it out, we call the team together and we discuss it. Then we decide on a course of action, and we begin to implement it.

Then implementation comes down through delegation and down to the very bowels of the employee chain. In theory, that is how you use the rudder.

How do you rebound from failure?
Depending on how big that cliff was, you hopefully learn from it. You adjust and cut your losses quickly. Don’t ride that slide all the way down to the basement and then move on.

There have been situations in business everyone has had where you’ve done what you think is a right and wonderful decision, and it just doesn’t work for you. For whatever reason, you misread the deck.

Mistakes aren’t always bad. Sure, they sting the ego and they usually sting the pocketbook, but they aren’t bad. We have a phrase, ‘Put your head down and go forward, like a running back through the line.’ Sometimes you find that hole, and sometimes you don’t.

But one thing you have to be confident about is these bumps will eventually make you better at what you do.

What qualities does a leader need to be effective?
There’s the very basic ability to see tasks through from start to finish. There is an ability to have people follow you almost blindly. Of course, they are part of your bigger vision, but they have to say, ‘I’m not sure where this is going, but I believe in Brian, and I’m going to follow because I believe in what he is doing.’

That’s a wonderful ability, and that’s not a taught ability. You are a leader or you are not. There are people that are talkers, and people that are doers.

HOW TO REACH: Sam’s Wines & Spirits, (800) 777-9137 or