Critical impact Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Several years ago, Wade Kozich took a radical step. The managing director of GBQ Partners LLC hired a full-time salesperson to promote the services of his Columbus-based certified public accounting and consulting firm.

Kozich says companies need to promote themselves in the marketplace. His CPAs didn’t have much experience in the marketing arena, so he needed someone to open doors outside the firm’s regular referral network.

As a result of that hiring decision and other strategic steps, the $14.3 million firm has grown revenue more than 27 percent since 2004, while its employee base has expanded from 69 staff members in 2004 to 115 this year to support the increased workload.

Smart Business spoke with Kozich about how he hires great people and provides value to his clients.

Q: How can other executives grow their company the way you’ve grown yours?

Focus on people. It all starts out with attracting the best people you can find. Once you have those people on board, train and retain them.

If you have great people on board who are well-trained, those people will go out and do a great job serving clients, which will result in profitability, which will allow you to go out and attract more good people.

Allow people the freedom to perform. If you get strong, intelligent people on board, they perform best when they have a degree of freedom and are not micromanaged.

Q: How did you make recruiting and retention a key part of your growth strategy?

If you look at modern businesses, the battle is not so much for finding customers or clients as it is human capital. The companies who have the strongest and best people are typically the ones that are going to do better.

It begins with a recruiting war. You have to get the best people on board first.

We devote a lot of attention and focused resources to it, both at the campus level and with experienced hires. We put a lot of time into interviewing and screening people. It becomes a sales job of convincing these people that you are a great organization to join.

It’s harder to market to attract talent than it is to attract clients. Once you have good people on board, it makes the sales process that much easier, especially in a business like ours where people are basically buying professional talent.

Q: How do you retain good employees?

We hire a lot of young people, and the No. 1 thing they’re looking for is work-life balance. People want a life in addition to a profession.

No. 2, you have to give people rewards that are in line with their contribution at the firm. There are various types of recognition that you can give people, and pay is just one of them. Acknowledging people publicly at the firm, giving out periodic awards and promotions are other ways.

People also want an opportunity to learn and advance themselves; enrichment’s a big thing, especially among young people. Another one is voice: Give people a say in what’s going on around the firm. Include them in decision-making and make them feel that they’re being heard. They want to believe in an organization that has a purpose and is focused on a mission.

Q: How can companies put the right people into the right roles?

One person can be a great quarterback, but you don’t want that person being a lineman.

People just have different talents. Identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and getting them to recognize that they’re good at certain things, is not always easy. That’s something we’re trying to get better at.

Q: How important is the role of customer service in a growing company?

It’s critical that you have a high focus on servicing clients. Every person in our firm goes through an extensive five-star training program. It’s a structured one- or two-day program of training, and then a 12-week follow-up program.

We also assess client satisfaction and get feedback on a regular basis. It really becomes part of the culture, focusing on doing a great job and providing high-quality service to the client.

Q: How can companies use client feedback for continuous improvement?

You ask, you listen and you respond to the feedback. I went to lunch with a client and got some feedback on something we were doing for them. The person wanted us to communicate more regarding a particular process. I brought it back to the office, talked to my people and now we’ll go forward.

Constantly try to assess what your clients are thinking. What are their goals? What are their plans, and how do you fit into their plans? Are you doing the right things for them?

A lot of times, you don’t know unless you ask.

HOW TO REACH: GBQ Partners LLC, (614) 221-1120 or www.gbq.com