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Kim Borcherding Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007
As the third-generation owner of Borcherding Buick Pontiac GMC, Kim Borcherding feels the weight of carrying on the auto dealer’s legacy and history. But her ability to anticipate changes in the industry and keep her staff up-to-date on these shifts has kept the business — with 80 employees and $65 million in 2005 revenue — moving along. Smart Business spoke with Borcherding, who serves as the company’s president, about the importance of nurturing the potential in future company leaders to keep a business going.

Prove yourself. Growing a business is an ongoing process. You constantly have to prove yourself. That’s what wins in the marketplace.

Put your ladder up against the customer side of the business and things that add value to the customer experience and product. That will earn you respect and credibility when you can produce the results.

The marketplace evolves at a very rapid rate of change today. In a business my size, you cannot afford to be the leading edge of change. You don’t have the resources to do that. But the minute you stop changing, you’re sliding backward. You have to balance change with reality and reality of implementation.

The reality comes in the financial analysis and business case analysis for whatever the change is that you are considering. You still have to use those good analytical tools to keep you grounded.

If you see something going off course, you need to not just try to live with it and think it will get better. Make the changes early and often. Some of that comes along with experience. It’s OK in our business to be wrong. If we don’t make mistakes, we’re not taking enough risks.

Be approachable. There’s always an intimidation level with entry-level employees. But if they see how I conduct myself or how I touch the customer, it gives them greater confidence. It lets them know that I am a real person. It helps to bridge that gap.

But don’t get too close. We use a team approach for decision-making and for better buy-in. You get multiple perspectives, which always leads to richer and more diverse input.

You have to stay human and meet their personal needs as much as possible. That is through tough times as well as good times. That takes a lot of communication and a lot of one-on-one.

But in a family-owned business, the same thing that gives you the strength of the personal relationship with your employees can also be a pitfall. Sometimes that emotional involvement makes it more difficult to make the hard calls when it comes to personnel.

They’ve been with you for a long time, they are family, and you know the impact it will have. You balance that with business survival and necessity. You’re not going to survive if you can’t make the tough calls.

Let your managers do their jobs. It’s better as a CEO to not have to make those direct decisions. You do that on your way up as a manager. You have complete empathy with what that manager might be going through. But on personnel decisions, hiring and firing, it’s the manager’s call. They have to be accountable for productivity numbers and effectiveness numbers. Where your influence as a CEO comes in is in the communication of the core values. The CEO’s question is, does this individual meet or match our corporate culture? Is this a person of high integrity and someone that shares similar values?

Be a student of your business. Vision is the key ingredient that the CEO brings. That’s what gives your company staying power.

There is a process to use. It’s not just some magic or elusive God-gifted thing. Use a process that takes you through your core values and your competitive strengths and weaknesses, environmental assessments, competitive assessments and the financial forecasts.

We call them the SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-oriented. The closer that your employees are to that process, the more they understand and are able to bring their piece and their role to the success equation.

Surround yourself with the best people you can find. Ask a lot of questions and get your operating philosophy in place from the start. Stay educated and well-read. Always be a student of the business.

For example, I’m not an expert in accounting or HR. But I know it’s important, so I make sure I surround myself with people that are very knowledgeable in those areas. We also utilize outside resources from time to time to help us with our organizational development and our strategic direction.

Learn to let go. Most businesspeople and most CEOs are probably highly control-oriented. It’s an easy trap.

When you really develop and mature is when you’re able to let go. It’s always a challenge. But delegation is an opportunity for someone else to grow.

As you grow and mature in your leadership and your experience level, you learn to delegate and learn to really get more excited about watching other people blossom and grow. It’s fun. Certain people just have an innate sense that they want to be out front and want to lead. There are definitely some learned leadership principles that you can work on.

Grow your business to a place that you can afford to have and attract highly talented people in the right positions.

Prepare your business for the next generation. As any CEO, you are only serving in that capacity and influencing in a positive direction for the short amount of time you are in that seat. The goal is to leave the company in the best possible condition for that next generation.

Make decisions with a longer-term perspective. Anyone can exploit their business for short-term gain and profitability, but if you know you’re leaving it in a better state and passing it along, then that’s your legacy. You don’t want it to be a bad one because you didn’t make the right moves and changes.

HOW TO REACH: Borcherding Buick Pontiac GMC, (513) 677-9200 or www.borcherding.com