Moving on Featured

7:00pm EDT February 24, 2008
When Cindy Melk realized that she simply didn’t have enough time to do what it would take to move H2O Plus to the next level, she made a big decision.

Instead of overextending herself and continuing to try to do everything on her own, she did what few entrepreneurs would ever fathom doing and began the search to replace herself with a new CEO who could grow her sea-derived skin care business. She reasoned that doing so would allow her to take over as creative director and focus on the side of the business that she excelled in and enjoyed most.

When she thought she’d finally found her person, she met with him at least five times, for hours at a time. And while that’s a lot of time for a company’s founder to spare, it gave her full confidence that she had found the right person to take charge of her 80-employee company.

Smart Business spoke with Melk about how to hire people, whether it’s for a newly created position or for your own.

Know when to pass the reins. You get to a point where you realize your limitations. It’s not like all of a sudden you stumble upon it.

You have your strategic objectives of where you want to take your company, and if you’re fortunate, focused and have the right team, you get there, and then there’s the next step and the next step and the next step of growth. If your distribution is growing like crazy, you have to increase your manufacturing capability. If that was the case, you’d be bringing on somebody who could embrace that. It’s different objectives to take the business to the next level.

If we’re going to do this, what would be the leadership skills to get us there? There’s only so much you can do in a day.

Know who you’re looking for. Sit down with your management and collectively understand what the requirements are. When you have your top-level management — obviously, you’re all going to interview this person that’s coming on board — making sure whoever is involved is very clear on what you’re looking for, so we don’t all walk away differently with who this should be. It’s defining the role and personalities and responsibilities and accountabilities of what this person will be and with a large over-lying criteria of the cultural fit.

It’s going back to your cultural values and saying, ‘I’m this type of this leader, and what other types of characteristics would be beneficial for the existing team?’

Ask good questions. I like to do unconventional interviews. I want to know the vibe of the human being as well as the experience, and the only way that you learn that and see if you’re compatible is by spending time with that person.

Ask provocative questions and tear things apart to get to the core. You can learn a lot about people by asking provocative questions. What’s your favorite color? Do you like dogs? Learn about what’s important to them. Say, ‘What are the other tactics we could take? What are the other alternatives? What would be the completely nontraditional way of doing this? What would make this service better? What would be the ultimate scenario?’

Leave the ego behind. Check your ego at the door, and if you’re smart, you’re going to hire people that are better than you and embrace that. You need an ego to be a leader and have confidence, but you just don’t need the negative aspects of an ego, which is insecurity, pompousness — CEOs that are detached or run their companies by having their employees scared of them.

I’m supposedly a product development expert, but there are still things in the chemistry process that somebody’s got to break them down and explain to me. I’m not a chemist. Really embrace and have a trust in these experts you bring in, and then you build respect for each other over time of what you both bring to the party.

Seek out opportunities. They don’t necessarily come along. It’s the difference of being pro-active and reactive. It’s just like anything else in life — you have to go out and get what you want, bottom line.

As dry as it sounds, the numbers will tell you where the big opportunities are. As a creative, that aggravates me, but it’s an absolute reality. Usually when industry trends and statistics are down, they almost inevitably bring about a new opportunity for something somewhere else.

Think outside of the box. It’s focusing on, ‘Yes, that’s the way everybody’s traditionally done that, but is there a more interesting way?’ Why do all skin care creams have to be white? Can’t we develop an as effective moisturizer that looks different than everything in the market?

It’s just tearing everything down, ripping it up and throwing it up in the air. There’s something to be said about a good combination (of) stable traditionalism and some wild-card, entrepreneurial thinking.

Thinking out of the box is also bringing inspiration. It’s looking at other industries and not being so pigeonholed into your own industry. It’s encouraging people to spend time in stores and see what it takes to run a store and what it feels like to be a customer in our stores. And what can we do better? What are people doing?

A lot of times, we’ll send creative groups out for fact-finding missions and say, ‘Bring back 10 phenomenal ideas in this area,’ and then you come together and share this market review. It’s exciting and makes you think of your business in different ways.

HOW TO REACH: H2O Plus, (800) 242-2284 or www.h20plus.com