John Ferchill’s title is a bit misleading. It’s not that Ferchill, chairman and CEO of The Ferchill Group, isn’t the real estate development and management firm’s top executive. It’s just that a formal title doesn’t really put a name to what Ferchill thinks is his most important job as a leader being a visionary. To maintain that important role, Ferchill has a president run the day-today operations of the company, but he’s still in the driver’s seat when it comes to steering the firm in a new direction. And, as he keeps his eyes open to push his 100 employees forward, the firm has seen revenue pass $300 million.
Smart Business spoke with Ferchill about heading the vision and the advantages of keeping a smaller company feel.
Pay attention to the big picture. I provide the vision for the entire company. I ask, ‘What are we doing here, where are we going?’
We’ve been staying out of Chicago because we thought it was too big for us, but I’ve studied it, and we think we’ve found a niche. It’s providing vision, that’s what my job really gets down to. It’s saying, ‘Look, guys, let’s get this done,’ or telling them, ‘I’m not comfortable with this.’
It is real hands-on. I’m right in the middle of this thing all the time. I don’t do the daily execution, but everybody knows where we all stand.
Truthfully, the president of the company handles almost all of the personnel-type issues. He’s the one that weighs in and discusses what we’re doing. That’s a good thing between him and I because we can have discussions from there on how the day to day goes, while I go do other things. We have 100 percent trust in one another, so that I can trust him to watch over everything else. He gets to be the quarterback, and that’s fine with me.
For me, my cell phone gets 4,000 minutes a month, so I’m on the phone with these guys all the time talking about direction. They’re always asking questions. They’re doing the day-to-day stuff, but I see the whole of what’s going on. I sit in on all the discussions and decisions for the big things that are happening.
Be straightforward with your staff. We’re very direct in terms of telling everyone that somebody specifically has to handle this and somebody has to take care of that.
Egos get in the way, but truthfully, not that much. There are arguments, but we want everyone to be straightforward. The president of my company has no problem telling me to stay the hell out of this or that because I’m causing problems. And I listen to that unless I want to go in and cause problems.
You have to stay on it. You can’t just tell people you’re going to do this and then let them go and everyone just kind of lollygags off. You have to watch them all the time and follow up when you say something.
I think it’s best to be very direct and straightforward because it moves the process along at a much better rate, and you know what people are doing all the time.
Work big, keep your staff small. The No. 1 thing for us is we are not a big company in terms of our staff. We do big stuff, but we avoid being a big company; we stay small by focusing on roles. Everyone kind of knows what everyone else is doing and everyone has a certain role, and we follow those roles pretty religiously.
My chief investment guy, I wouldn’t negotiate a deal or do a transaction without his total input. We do that across the board. He has his role, and we follow that. I have a guy who runs the company on a day-to-day basis, and he knows exactly what needs to be done and he executes it.
There’s no game-playing going on with those positions. There are no politics. You just take your set role and live it. It sounds like a simplistic thing, but it frankly works.
With those set roles, you can go right to a certain person and ask them, ‘What do you want to do about this?’ My people hear that from me all the time. Our biggest advantage over everything is we just move incredibly fast because of our size.
Things happen faster when you can go right to someone. Things happen immediately when we decide we want to do something. And if something is not working, we can go fix things fast.
Take time training new people. We only bring one person at a time in because we’re such a small organization, and that’s the easiest way to make sure that we have the time to train them.
We’re always looking for a special skill, whatever it may be, so that they can feel self-worth and they can contribute right away, and that’s one of the things that we work on whether it’s a numbers guy or a construction guy and that seems to have been very, very successful for us. Then, since it’s such a tight-knit place, they’re involved in the game right out of the box.
Know your company and know what you’re capable of. We were working on a big project, and we all know what we have to do internally, and we had a specific agency that was acting unreasonable. Well, we get on the phone and tried to talk it out, and things weren’t being done the way we wanted and they were being unreasonable, so we passed on it.
It was that simple. It was a big opportunity, but it wasn’t for our firm. That was the right thing to do. It really sounds so mundane, but it’s a team effort, and we know what we want, and this one wasn’t for us.
HOW TO REACH: The Ferchill Group, (800) 566-7676 or www.ferchillgroup.com