Finding his FORTE Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
When Gene Forte finished his master’s degree 26 years ago, he had two options: Relocate to another state for a job, or go into business for himself.

He chose the latter and founded FORTE Industries, a private distribution operations improvement company. Today, the company is in fast-growth mode. It has twice been named to the Inc. 500 list as one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the country and last year hit $18 million in revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Forte about the challenges of expansion and knowing when it is the right time to grow.

How did you know it was time to grow your company?
We’re pretty sophisticated on the financial side of our business. Even though we’re a small business, we think we’re run as good as or better than one of the large companies. We have a pretty sophisticated cash flow report and a pretty sophisticated sales pipeline report.

We merge the two and look at, ‘Where’s our financial situation today? What business do we have coming down the pipeline? What percent probability do we see all this business landing?’ Then we make a decision whether to invest on expansion or not.

What is the biggest challenge facing the CEO of a fast-growth company?
Finding good people. Some companies may say it’s financing or cash. We don’t have that problem. We haven’t borrowed money for working capital purposes since we’ve been in existence.

Because of the type of business we’re in and the terms and commercial provisions of contracts, cash hasn’t been a problem. Finding the excellent, outstanding people at the right time for the right positions has been one of our biggest challenges, probably our biggest.

How do you find those people?
We have an excellent HR department and staff, and we have very high recruiting standards. We try to hire smart people who are technically competent, are willing to take calculated risks and have good interpersonal skills and good common sense.

We do some in-house recruiting. We use the Internet for certain positions and professional recruiters for others.

How do you make sure the people you hire are the right fit for the job?
Our interview process is pretty rigorous and extensive. We don’t just interview someone once or twice. Even for any junior positions we have, someone would interview three or four times.

Not only do we look at the technical side but we also look to make sure there’s a good chemistry fit on the personal side. We have a very strong culture here, and we want to feel very confident that this person will fit our culture.

Years ago, when we didn’t have the hiring practices we do today, we made a lot of bad hires. Today, we have a lot of longevity and low turnover. It’s because of recruiting practices and again because of the culture of the organization. It’s a unique culture. When people fit, they like it and they stay.

What were some of the mistakes you made early on, and what did you learn from them?We probably were too trusting of the credentials that people were presenting us versus what they could actually deliver. Our interview process is quite rigorous both on the technical side and the interpersonal side. We try and really dig down and try to make sure that the people are very technically competent as well as exhibit good interpersonal skills.

Then we focus on compensation situations after we’ve determined the person would be a fit. Early on, we were only hiring people we could afford. Today, we hire people based on their qualifications as opposed to their compensation requirements.

You can focus more on the upper mobility within the organization - more pay for performance. The ability to be more creative and impactful in a small, growing organization can be appealing, as opposed to being just a number in a large organization.

HOW TO REACH: FORTE Industries, (513) 398-2800