Not just wingin’ it Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

When Philip Schram is hiring people, he is looking for talent more than expertise.

“Talent you have forever with employees,” says the French-born president and CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings LLC. “They are going to learn and put the best foot forward. Expertise, you realize after a year you have transferred the knowledge of that particular individual to the rest of the organization. Expertise is a short-term acquisition, where talented people, you have the smartness forever.”

Schram has used that philosophy to turn Buffalo Wings & Rings around from a failing chain of restaurants to one that employs 400 people and had 2006 revenue of about $10 million.

Smart Business spoke with Schram about how to know the difference between someone who is smart and someone who has expertise.

Q: How do you know if people are smart or have expertise?

I have been burned. I am not American. I would like to compare three different cultures in the way you interview.

In America, people try to sell themselves extremely well. In Europe, people are kind of neutral. In Japan, you want to be extremely low profile, and it is the role of the interviewer to find the right man or right woman.

At the beginning, people told me they did such and such, and I would hire them. When it was time to perform, they didn’t perform. Right now, I have a philosophy that we don’t give them a position immediately. We see how they interact and how they deliver.

We look to put you in the right seat in the bus. Before, it was the resume and what was said in the interview to determine what they do. Now, we let them ride in the bus for a while and see what the right seat is for them.

Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?

You need to be genuine and yourself. I like to read a lot about the successful American entrepreneurs. I start with a vision. Then I do a road map, a tactical plan, and then I execute and follow up.

I have a companywide staff meeting once a month where everybody can keep up on achievements. At the beginning of the year, I do the yearly plan. We also have a six-month plan, and we update that every quarter.

It’s a lot of one-on-one or weekly meetings where you explain and listen. It’s between the vision, which is the strategic side, and the execution of the vision so that it is successful.

Q: How do you deal with failure?

The constant feedback I get back is that when you make a mistake, you need to acknowledge that you made a mistake. It’s more important that you are going to fix the mistake than the mistake itself.

So, if someone calls and says that a take-out order was wrong, if you take a corrected order to their home for free, you get the psychological credit, which is incredible. The customer then sends an e-mail that an order was wrong and the manager went above and beyond to fix it.

You should never deny. Try to do something that in the eyes of the customer is outstanding. People become loyal when they are treated well.

Q: How do you keep a business from growing too fast?

The thing I am doing is to sell a new franchise, then build the store. Third is to open the store and then manage and grow the business of the open store.

Once we have identified those, I keep the balance of these activities so I don’t have any bottleneck. It’s like a wheel. It needs to be spinning without unbalance. There is one additional thing behind all that, which is money. I am monitoring the balance of those four key activities of the company while keeping the money in mind.

Q: What are some things you do to prevent a bottleneck?

To have people that coach me outside of the company, for example, senior people in my industry with a completely different background. I discuss with them, which heightens me to get some feedback, and I am listening to their feedback.

It’s retirees and people that are in their 60s that like to teach. That’s one avenue to get feedback.

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