No matter the industry, a company’s leader needs to keep the big picture in mind to succeed. That’s why Jim Fisher, president of IdeaStar Inc., always takes the long view with his business.
In 2005, the Web developer was named to the Weatherhead 100, which showcases the fastest growing companies in Northeast Ohio, on the strength of revenue growth of 154 percent from 2000 to 2005. Over the same period, the company has also increased its work force more than 70 percent.
Smart Business spoke with Fisher about his hands-off management style and why sometimes you just have to cut your losses.
Q: How important is delegation?
You have to delegate, and you cannot attach strings to it. Find people who are smarter than you to run the place, and don’t meddle. You have to let them do the best that they can. If you are involved with all the decisions, you’re going to go crazy. You need to hire strong managers and let them do their job. That way, you can focus on long-term, long-range things.
It’s always said that the president of a company is either way behind or way ahead but never right where the company is that day. You’re either thinking about a product and where should it be in such and such a time, or you’re thinking about a decision from a long time ago.
Q: How do you deal with a bad decision?
You get past it as quickly as possible. Identify it, and then you take the hit as soon as possible and get it over with.
If you let it linger or fester, it’ll just kill you. If you have a bad hire, just get past it as fast as you can. Or if a project is not working out as planned, it’s better to just cut your losses and move on.
If you don’t cut your losses and move on, the losses become greater and greater until they become insurmountable. You just get deeper and deeper into the problem, and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
Q: How do you manage growth?
Once you decide you’re going to grow the business, you can’t be halting or halfway about it. You have to do it, just move forward and do it. Then evaluate it after you do it.
But if you have second thoughts about it, or you’re just worried, then you shouldn’t do it. You’re just making the whole situation awkward and difficult for the entire company.
It’s like in the military: If you need to take that hill — OK, go for it! Don’t be wondering if you should be doing it while you’re doing it.
The other challenge with growth is making sure you have enough resources available to move forward. It’s like you have a kitchen that only has food for 10 people, and all of a sudden you have 20 people, but you still only have food for 10.
You’ve got to expand your resources, your supply lines. Make sure those are in place before you grow.
Q: How do you know when it’s time to expand?
Obviously we look at the cash flow. Also, we look at new job bookings. How far ahead are we booked? When customers finally make a decision that they want a product, they want it right away. You don’t want to have your developers triple-booked and hopping from project to project.
Once we get those indications that there is a backlog that looks like it’s going to sustain for a while, then we will add the staff.
Q: How do you motivate workers?
We respect them. That goes a long way with them being motivated. They know that their work isn’t going to get picked apart. Also, we will be there for them. If they have a crisis in their life or a problem, we don’t hardball them about the work, we help them through it. Sometimes they need us, and we want to be there for them.
It gives all of us a comfort level that the company cares about them. Even my role as president, I know my company cares for me, too. It works both ways. They are there for me; in the company, I’m just one of the employees.
If an employee is thinking of going to another company, they weigh that very carefully. The care and camaraderie they have here weighs in their consideration.
Q: What advice should every CEO live by?
Don’t make enemies on your way up because you’ll see them again on your way down. It’s a small town, and everyone knows each other.
You want to maintain good relationships with everyone you do business with. Even if it’s a difficult situation, it’s better to work it out than to make enemies.
HOW TO REACH: IdeaStar Inc., www.ideastar.com or (216) 674-1600