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Creating confidence Featured

8:00pm EDT May 22, 2006
Suzanne Hilleary approaches her business with confidence, a trait that has served her well in building the largest variable printing operation in Franklin County. But that confidence wasn’t a given for her; it was cultivated through experience.

“I learned both from the school of hard knocks and from paying attention to the decisions of others in the business,” says Hilleary, owner of Central Ohio Graphics Inc., a full-service printing company. “For many years, I watched people carefully. I saw them do the wrong things in this business. Being a close observer of failures and successes is more valuable than any formal training.”

Central Ohio Graphics Inc. has 54 employees and 1,200 customers, and expects to generate $7 million in revenue this year.

Smart Business spoke with Hilleary’s about leadership skills, from communicating with and motivating employees to creating internal efficiencies.

How do you keep employees motivated?
It takes work to maintain rapport with staff; however, it is essential for a successful operation. Patience, understanding and knowing when to be strong are all key leadership qualities. I never raise my voice to employees.

Jobs are stressful, so I make it worth their while. We have quarterly state of the union addresses so that they are fully aware of the profitability status. I take 15 percent of my profits every quarter and give it to staff in quarterly bonuses. I pay my employees well — above the standards of the industry.

Finally, I am tolerant of mistakes. We all make them — in fact, I threw away a $10,000 check one time. Those experiences keep you humble and mindful of the fact we are all human.

How do you approach project delegation?
Simply put, if you don’t delegate, you will not survive. I learned this in my early days in the business when I was taking on too much. My quality of life improved drastically after I disciplined myself to let go.

There is a right way to delegate. You must have competent staff with the right skill set who are willing to accept responsibility. They also must be aware of how they fit into the workings of the company. There are those who prefer not to accept responsibility, so the art of delegation includes properly reading your staff and knowing what makes them tick.

How do you communicate with employees?
Money is important, but keeping staff informed is equally as important. It’s dangerous to keep employees in the dark. I am very open with staff about business decisions. If I am buying another print shop, I keep them all abreast of the progress.

I am also a strong believer in maintaining accessibility with staff. We have a two-story office. The customer service and sales staff are on the upper floor and the others are down below. I used to be on the president’s floor on the upper level but decided to move to the lower level.

I am literally right by the receptionist. I don’t believe in ivory tower management — you must circulate among the employees to maintain good morale and energy.

How do you create and maintain efficiencies?
When I purchased the company, good employees were hard to find — for that matter, any employees were hard to find. So I made the decision to replace most of our equipment in order to gain efficiencies. We now have about the same number of employees as we had in 1999; however, we are generating 45 percent more output.

What is your best advice for business leaders?
Stay up with technology. Don’t be afraid to upgrade and replace your equipment. You can be sure your competition will, and you will be left in the dust. It’s wise day-to-day decisions that ensure a thriving and profitable operation. Technology is key to most industries, including mine.

How to reach: Central Ohio Graphics Inc., (614) 294-3200) or www.centralohiographics.com