Michael Uremovich Featured

9:47am EDT April 27, 2006
Michael Uremovich founded STARCON out of necessity. He had recently been laid off and needed to provide for his family, so started his own full-service mechanical contractor company in 1983 based on two basic principles: Take care of your people, and provide value to your customers. STARCON has prospered under those principles, reaching $135 million in revenue in 2005, up from $100 million in 2004. Smart Business spoke with Uremovich about the importance of good people and how he creates a positive work environment.

Develop a plan.
Most entrepreneurs when they start out don’t have a long-term plan as to where they are going. You have to be looking out for the future. You have to develop a plan and communicate the plan very well with everyone in the organization.

If a quarterback went into a huddle during a football game and only half the huddle heard the play, how successful would that play be? You have to make sure that everybody on your team understands what the plan is.

Delegate work.
You have to surround yourself with the best people possible and delegate to them. Most entrepreneurs can’t make that transition. They start out as a small business owner, and they are wearing multiple hats and are controlling all different parts of their business.

And at some point, for them to be able to grow their business, they have to be able to take off one of those hats and hand it off to someone else and let them take care of that part of the business.

Fortunately, I have been able to bring in some great people that I have been able to delegate to, and they do their jobs better than I could do their jobs.

Create a good work environment.
There is an outside firm called the Great Place to Work Institute that will come in and do an interview of your team members. They will give us feedback on how we are doing and the areas we need to improve.

We go around to each one of our divisions once a year and do a formal strategic planning process where we have an outside facilitator sit down with a group of 15 to 20 people from each one of our divisions and get input from them as to where they feel we need to improve and the areas that management can help them execute their jobs better.

We also have a process called opportunity for improvement where our team members can submit ideas about how to make the company better. (The ideas) are reviewed by a panel of their peers, and we get feedback to them within two weeks about whether we are going to move forward with their idea or whether we are going to shelve it because it is a major initiative and we don’t have the capital funds to move forward with that initiative, or if it’s something that maybe we have tried in the past and it doesn’t work. We have a constant feedback loop.

We also use behavioral-based safety. It gets every person in the organization involved in the safety process, out making observations and able to stop any job. We can have an individual that [is hired] at STARCON today, and if he goes out on a job site next week and sees something that he thinks is unsafe, then he has the authority to say, ‘Stop. I am not going to do this job because I am concerned about some things.’

Then we will address those concerns and try to make the job as safe as possible and then proceed with it. In the areas of safety, we empower everyone in the organization to take control of it.

Invest in education.
We have a very extensive training program for all of our team members. We do skills training at all levels. We have a leadership development program where we take up-and-coming leaders and put them through a formal process to teach them management skills.

We have a college tuition reimbursement program, so everyone in our organization, if they want to take additional college classes, if they get a B or higher, the company reimburses them for that tuition. We really built a culture where we believe people should be life-long learners, and we invest a substantial amount of time and money into training and developing our folks.

Be compassionate.
You have to have compassion for the people in your organization. I am a good salesman. I could sell ice to Eskimos. But if I don’t have people who can perform, then the company doesn’t succeed.

You have to have compassion for the people that are out there on the front line doing the work. Take care of them every day and understand their needs, not only their needs on the job site but their personal needs and their family needs.

If you have compassion for your people and show them that you really care about them, then they’ll care about the company. Then everybody wins.

Create opportunities.
We’ve been growing by about 25 percent a year, and that creates opportunities for people. Everyone today wants an opportunity to move up. If you put together a good plan and bring good people together and your organization continues to grow, you will continue to create opportunities, which allows you to bring more great people into your organization.

Never lose touch.
The greatest piece of advice is to not lose touch with the people that are out there doing the work. I had a custom trailer made, and I can cook 500 pounds of beef briskets at a time. I make a point of going out to our job site and cooking lunch for our team members. On our major job sites, I do this once a year.

I then have an opportunity to reach out and touch all the individuals in the company who are out there working on the line, and it gives them an opportunity to give me feedback. Not losing touch with the people that really get the work done is critical to the success of any company.

Too many times, as companies get big, there are so many layers between the guy at the top and the folks who are out there doing the work that it gets filtered and you lose touch with what is really happening in your company. HOW TO REACH: STARCON, (815) 478-4615 or www.starcon.org