Peter Provenzano Featured

8:00pm EDT September 19, 2006
 Peter Provenzano is no stranger to fast growth. His company, SupplyCore Inc., which was a million-dollar enterprise in 1998, had grown to $166 million in annual revenue by 2005. The integrated supplier of maintenance, repair and operations materials made the Inc. 500 — a list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies — from 2000 to 2004, and has developed contracts with the U.S. military and other civilian agencies. But with all that growth, did SupplyCore outgrow its infrastructure? Provenzano says the company probably did so a number of times, but coped by adding to the human capital side and changing the company’s physical space. Smart Business spoke with Provenzano, president and CEO of SupplyCore, about how to deal with the challenges of fast growth and manage your business effectively.

Get the big picture, but don’t get in the way.
You have to not only fly at 40,000 feet, it’s important to be able to swoop down from time to time and look at the veins on the leaves on the trees. Good leaders are able to have that 40,000-foot view, but they are also able to get down and look at the veins on the leaves on the trees — but they are smart enough not to get stuck there.

That’s what I try to do. Sometimes we’re successful, but not always. You guide the company at a strategic level, giving people responsibility and making them accountable but not necessarily getting in the way.

You want to be able to look out over the hood and down the road, but you also want to see what’s right in front of you. It’s a balancing act; one of the ways you do it is having strong analytical tools in the organization.

Listen to your hunches, but also get the facts.
You have instincts and assumptions in business, and you go out and try to validate it with facts or try to prove those assumptions wrong.

You get a hunch, you go out and gather the facts, and based on that, you make your decision. Gathering the facts could be talking to your leadership team, it could be talking to a customer, or it could be research. We try to make fact-based decisions here that are outgrowths of our assumptions.

And you don’t always have all the facts. Sometimes you have to go to some degree with what your gut told you, but you try to get as much information as you can, depending on the speed you have to make the decision with.

We have a highly interactive decision-making process. At the end of the day, more often than not, there’s consensus. Probably more often than not, your gut’s going to be telling you the right thing, but you have to go out and validate it. You’ve got to ask questions, and you’ve got to get answers.

You’re going to make mistakes, but you want to correct those mistakes very quickly. Minimize your mistakes, maximize your successes, but move quickly in all cases.

Give your employees potential for growth.
We try to not only make it an exciting place to work but an opportunistic place to work, where people see future opportunity and associates feel there is enhanced opportunity for them down the road. It could be through promotions; it could be through challenging new projects.

Those — coupled with a positive, uplifting culture — are the most important things. Our people here are used to a high degree of stress, as a result of the pace of growth we’ve had.

We try to keep it busy, not stressful. Our associates are used to performing under pressure, because of the flexible, adaptable changing environment.

We’re in a constant state of change here, and people grow to be comfortable with that.

Set your goals, and communicate them.
Focus; don’t spread yourself out too far. Don’t try to have too many priorities. Listen, but be decisive.

Be inclusive from a knowledge-gathering standpoint. Align the organization with your priorities, and make sure everyone knows what the focus and the priorities are.

Sustaining the rate of growth is a challenge. You want to ensure that you are highly responsive to your customers, but you’ve got the cultural integration of multiple sites and new employees coming on, and all the challenges that go along with that.

We don’t necessarily change the culture; it’s more like merging the cultures over time. Culture is really about behavior and setting the expectations, and over time, people need to meet those expectations. Over time, we try to align our organizations’ behaviors.

We do that by establishing a clear mission, by organization and understanding what the vision of the company is. You’ve got to set goals and communicate expectations to individuals, and show them how they fit into the overall objectives of the organization.

Set the example for your employees.
Honesty and ethics and values play a major role. You try to have activities that are extracurricular that the organization can participate in. You want to be fair, but generous at same time.

You are setting an example every day. We try to set an example in community, whether that’s a local community or national. Our associates are very committed to both, and that’s a result of us being committed to both. Whether it’s sending a care package to troops in Iraq, or cleaning up litter in downtown Rockford, our associates have come through for us.

We’re a learning organization, which comes along with being adaptable and flexible. We’re not afraid to ask questions, not afraid to go out and learn new things. We don’t assume that we already know. That’s what comes first: A yearning for knowledge, trying to sort it out.

We are certainly driven to succeed. We want to be successful at what we do, and we want to serve our customers well and win new opportunities and perform well at those opportunities.

You have to do it as a unit, like a football team. It’s not any one individual that makes it happen, it’s the unit. That’s really what it’s been. It’s been a unit of associates executing for our customers, trying to bring efficiency and value to the process.

HOW TO REACH: SupplyCore Inc., (815) 964-7940 or www.supplycore.com