Flying high Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when many of his competitors were scaling back operations, Ted Scislowski took the opposite approach with Nationwide Hospitality Inc. Faced with an airline industry fraught with bankruptcies and financial uncertainty, NHI, a corporate travel service provider, instead aggressively sought new customers. “During the bankruptcies, I believe a lot of my competitors were cutting back their services trying to protect their companies financially,” Scislowski says. “Yeah, we were hurting, but rather than constrict, we wanted to expand and we went out and created more opportunities.”

Scislowski’s gamble paid off. The company has since grown at a 40 percent clip annually and now provides services in more than 20 cities. Smart Business spoke with the president and CEO of NHI about how staying ahead of the competition means being willing to think outside the box.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

When we hire people, I try to hire people that think on their own and that are experienced in the field we’re in. We do a lot in the airline business, so the talent we need to hire is one that can run itself.

They don’t need to be managed or hand-held, they can think outside the box and manage the problems we give them. The managers around me are very independent and free to do the things they need to do and run the tasks instead of being micromanaged.

In any business, if you’re standing still, your competition is going to be coming up with more creative ideas and better ways of doing things. Micromanaging to me is locking up the employees in one thought pattern, tying their hands and making it a lot harder for them to do their job. Giving them the freedom, they go outside the box and think of new ways to do things.

What we want to do is come up with creative solutions for our customers. Even though maybe one thing is working, come up with better ways to handle it. Continually come up with ideas. Giving my managers that kind of freedom makes them more productive.

Q: What do you look for in a new hire?

My interview process is probably one of the hardest to get through because not only do we look for experience — experience in this industry is a necessity — we want people that are not set in their ways. Hiring a person that has locked in one way of doing things really stymies the company.

During the interview process, I look for imagination, initiative. I want to see if, given this project, how they will run with it. Are they thinking outside the box? Are they looking for unique solutions, or are they giving me standard solutions in the industry?

Flexibility is the key to growth. It’s been the key to our growth. We’ve been able to jump leaps and bounds over our competition because we’re going to the same customers, but we’re coming up with more creative solutions.

Our employees are not only able to teach me, as well as my customers, new things, they’re also able to create new ways of handling things, and that’s what it’s all about. As technology changes and systems change and new problems arise, we want to be proactive and make sure we’re ahead of our competition in finding these solutions for our customers.

Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned?

Take nothing — and take no customer — for granted. The one reason I like to say, ‘If it ain’t broke, break it,’ is it’s too easy in today’s world for competitors to come up with new ideas, to come up and pay attention to a customer that you feel is yours and all of a sudden, one day, you lose it.

In every industry, people are changing. It is important that nothing is taken for granted. Make sure your customers are paid attention to, your employees are paid attention to, and realize that you just can’t stand still. You want to exceed your customers’ expectations, so you have to keep moving forward.

It’s not just being reactive but being proactive. It’s being able to come to a customer and say, ‘Look, we see a need that you’re going to face because we foresee a problem.’ By being proactive and communicating to that customer, suggesting some courses of action, it makes the customer feel secure that, ‘We’ve got a company that’s got our back. They’re watching out for us. They’re not just reacting to a problem that pops up, they’re foreseeing the problems and they’re generating new solutions to get ready for them.’

The best advice is to keep growing and keep changing. Whatever your product or service is, don’t ever be satisfied with what you’re doing. If you’re satisfied, someone is going to come up and outgrow you and take your customers.

HOW TO REACH: Nationwide Hospitality Inc., (847) 718-9181 or www.nationwidehospitality.net