Looking ahead Featured

8:00pm EDT August 28, 2006
 In 2000, Edward Rivalsky faced a major challenge — his company was growing too fast. The president and CEO of Clinical Specialties Inc., a provider of high-tech home health care services, righted the ship by approaching the situation as he would any other initiative.

“Assess what you’ve got, strategize, and then reflect and make sure you are OK with the good, bad and the ugly,” Rivalsky says.

He was able to control the growth by taking those three steps and led the company to 2003 revenue of about $15 million. That rose to $16 million in revenue in 2004 and $18 million in 2005. With about 100 employees, Rivalsky continues to grow as a leader by having his core principles defined through reading, listening and talking to people.

Smart Business spoke with Rivalsky about how he deals with challenges and why working with good people is important.

What advice would you give a CEO facing a major challenge?
Know the potential downside of whatever initiatives you are taking. Be as thorough as you can. Then begin to bring in your key management team, obviously as part of the discussion process, but you have to lead it.

You have to paint that picture of what the goal is and what’s on the table and what’s off the table.

How do you ensure steady growth?
Stay the long-term course. The hard part is not making the sound, short-term decision but making the best long-term decision.

We didn’t get caught up in the short-term’s needs or challenges. You really have to have confidence in yourself and in your strategy. You can’t be (so) arrogant to not listen, or to not hear the shortcomings or where your specific cracks are.

But, at the same time, you’ve got to have that level of confidence that you’re on the right track. That’s just really understanding your market.

How do you develop core values?
It’s an evolution of past experience. I’ve always been encouraged to have a board of advisers, or directors. What I’ve chosen to do is have individual advisers and meet with them one-on-one and be able to talk.

In many respects, what happens over the years is you become an adviser to them, as well. You share different perspectives, and they give you different twists or insights. That’s where you get some validation to stay the course or alter that.

It’s one thing to have a core value, but it’s another thing to adhere to it and stay to it. You have to find those ways to make those core values almost like living (things) and have passion for it, too.

What qualities do you look for in employees?
It comes down to a lot of the intangibles. Not only their abilities but to take the initiative to act in terms of remedying a problem, or at least taking it to the right people.

Folks that are looking to be in a team environment. Are they more team-oriented, or are they more individual-oriented? Some jobs are tailored more toward the individual approach.

How do you create a team environment?
There’s no one act you can do. It’s not just stating that that is your goal. You have to live it, breathe and cultivate it.

Because we have distinctive work groups, working within the groups is a lot easier. We do some team-building exercises. That’s the easy part. The difficult part is between the work groups.

You need to start this at senior management level - to get them all to be team players and then carry that same embodied spirit to their group.

How do you keep good employees?
It’s a multi-tiered approach. The first and foremost, in an ideal world, is to provide solid orientation and acclimation for not only the job but the expectations.

Provide clear expectations. You provide acknowledgment or rewards for performance. In the initial stage, in the interview process, get the right fit. Because if you bring in the wrong fit, it doesn’t matter what else you do, it’s not going to work.

When you lose great employees despite your best efforts, how do you rebound?
That’s a real challenge. The first rule of thumb is to try not to lose them. We have a sales rep that is going to be leaving us, and she’s been phenomenal for us. We’re trying to find ways to re-energize the rest of the team.

It’s almost like a continual evolution. You ideally want to have the next person in line, internally, who can step up to be the next star, then realizing at some point you need to bring in from the outside to replace a position. The more we can cross-train, the more we can create the energy.

HOW TO REACH: Clinical Specialties Inc., www.csi-network.com