Bob Fortney Featured

8:00pm EDT October 28, 2006
 When Fortney & Weygandt Inc. was just starting out, Bob Fortney needed to be in control. The company had a phone system that allowed him to pick up on anyone’s call and chime in with his two cents, and he did just that — all the time. But when the company switched to a newer phone system, and he could no longer do that, he had to learn to trust employees. Now he empowers his 270 employees, which has contributed to the construction company posting $128 million in 2005 revenue. Smart Business spoke with the president of Fortney & Weygandt about how he learned to trust and manage his employees.

Delegate and trust people.
You just have to pick your levels of expertise and what you’re going to be going into and the duties you need to perform, and perform those, and monitor and trust the other ones will be performed correctly. You don’t need to divorce yourself from everything you’re not handling, but you have to allow them to handle it.

You have to be prepared to delegate out responsibility and authority. That’s what separates the $2 million companies from the $100 million companies. Any entrepreneur can tell you, ‘I firmly believe I can do anything my employees can do as well or better than they, but I also realize I can’t do all of what they all do.’

You give them the authority to do that, and if you don’t, that’s fine, but you can only do, as a solo individual, $4 to 5 million a year. If you’re satisfied doing the $4 to 5 million a year, that’s fine.

One’s not right, and one’s not wrong. It just depends on what levels of delegation you’re prepared to let go with.

Empower employees.
A, you Respect them. B, you give them the authority to make mistakes and have successes and have failures, and when they fail, you don’t necessarily chop their head off.

You’re not hiring a mouth and ears and nose and eyes — you’re hiring a brain. You’ve got to let them grow and learn and take on responsibility. That’s how you succeed. You succeed by taking on more responsibility and handling it.

You don’t immediately take someone up and throw them out of an airplane, but you sit there and slowly encourage them to fly. And as they fly, you encourage them to go higher and higher. Then you’ve always got to properly compensate and reward them.

Know your costs.
If you don’t understand your costs, you don’t understand your products. Know what sector you’re in. You need to know what it is you’re trying to produce because some people are looking for the Taj Mahal, and you give them an outhouse.

Some people are looking for an outhouse, and you give them the Taj Mahal. Know what level people are expecting and why, so you can deliver. You have to know what product you’re going after and what they’re trying to accomplish and why, so you can better benefit your client.

You have to understand what it costs to produce what you’re trying to produce, both hard costs and soft costs. Once they understand that, set up a budget and live within that budget. The only deviation is one that is a conscious deviation that will make a long-time improvement to your efficiency and productivity to allow you to be more competitive and be more productive.

Be adaptable.
Understand your product and what scenarios could affect you and how you react to them. You need to be able to think on your feet because things are changing constantly. You need to be able to react to change, to see change coming and be ahead of it and be prepared, so things don’t shake you up and destroy you.

Something will happen. Something always happens. If you’re not prepared to change and move with it, you’re in a world of hurt.

Don’t be confrontational.
If you walk into things with a confrontational relationship Day One, as a general rule, people aren’t going to work with you. When all the fights are done, you may win, but fighting, you get beat up at some point along the line. Your entire attitude and how you deal with people in business is how you prepare for it.

Confrontation is not something that we ever look for, but the way you avoid it is doing your prep work up front. You can’t be afraid of confrontation. Go through and make sure everybody understands what their duties and responsibilities are, and you make sure they understand what happens if they don’t make their duties and responsibilities, so if the situation arises that they do not, it’s not a surprise to anybody that you have to take the actions that you have to take.

Don’t force growth.
You don’t manage growth. I had a business development guy from one of those big boys, and he came in and said, ‘We’re going to grow 10 percent next year, and that’s our goal.’ I said, ‘You’re wrong.’

Growth is a byproduct of efficiency and productivity improvements.

There are certain things you can control. Certain things you can’t control. If the business you’re in is heavily relying on the price of gas, and gas skyrockets and it hurts you. It doesn’t have anything to do with bad management — except the fact that you based your business plan on this, and it wasn’t the right thing to do.

We continually improve. When we improve and make ourselves more efficient and more productive, it makes us a better company. It allows us to, A, be more competitive on our work, and B, make more money on our work.

Give back to the community.
Nobody, I don’t care who you are, nobody does it on their own. Bill Gates doesn’t do it on his own. Warren Buffett doesn’t do it on his own.

You do it with the help and following of the community and the employees and clients and vendors and subcontractors and everybody else you deal with. It’s all a part of a team. There’s always those less fortunate than you are, and you have to be cognizant of those and not be afraid to help them.

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