Preaching to the choir Featured

7:00pm EDT November 30, 2006

Kent Stuckey is not a fan of the rock-star CEO mentality. The chairman and CEO of Columbus’ Internet Transaction Solutions Inc. doesn’t believe that when a CEO enters a meeting with a great idea, everyone should drop down and worship it.

“It’s got to be community facilitation,” he says. “We need a choir, not a lead singer.”

ITS’ 75 employees work with companies to accept electronic payments from customers. The company has grown revenue from $4.4 million in 2003 to $12.3 million in 2005, with a 2006 estimate of $18 million.

Smart Business spoke with Stuckey about how he manages his Inc. 500 company.

Q: What does it take to grow a company?

It requires both a clear vision of where you’re going and the ability to fine-tune your vision. People often say you need a clear vision and a commitment to that vision. In my experience, your vision can make all the sense in the world and still fail.

You’ve got to have your ear to the ground, look at what is really needed in the marketplace and make adjustments so you’re providing to the market something that’s meaningful that they want and need.

Q: How do you keep growth under control?

Early on, a member of our team brought to my attention a book by Verne Harnish called “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits.” It’s a concise summary of a number of principles that you would be taught in an MBA program.

We adopted it as a foundation to share common terminology and for us to achieve alignment so everyone understands our objectives and works together toward achieving them.

A key point in the book involves rhythm. My management meets every morning in a huddle, and certain data metrics are reported on every day. The morning huddle is extremely important; I would never be anywhere close to as smart as my whole team is. [It’s more effective] to try and make decisions with our big brain, rather than my little one.

It’s a stand-up, 15- to 20-minute [meeting]. We report on our data metrics. We identify any bottlenecks so those can be addressed right away and any exceptional opportunities or issues on which we should be getting input. If anything’s bigger than we can deal with in huddle, then we schedule a meeting promptly to sit down and work through the issue.

Part of the rhythm idea is to take quick action. Otherwise, things get bigger, or are perceived to be bigger or more challenging than they are.

Q: How has this benefited your company?

We have a healthy respect for our priorities. Everybody can have a different opinion — and there are appropriate channels to express your own opinion — but once we establish priorities, we have to all be committed to them.

All our energies have to be aimed at the target and no place else, regardless of your opinion. We have very high morale, excellent commitment and outstanding alignment, by virtue of this process that we pursue.

Most companies hit a wall and stop their growth because all too often, they don’t re-create themselves. If you’ve got three people in a company and nobody lets go of any responsibility, you’re never going to have more than three people in your company.

You have to keep redefining roles, over and over again, so your scope of responsibility narrows but the depth of your expertise and performance grows.

Q: What can prevent a company from growing?

Lack of clear direction, lack of alignment and resistance to change. Frankly, I could give you a hundred reasons because it’s so much easier to fail than to succeed.

Q: How can a CEO survive a bad situation?

Don’t be afraid to require commitment to the team goals. If a company is in trouble, chances are, you’ll need to determine who’s committed to team objectives and who, for the interest of all, should move on.

Unless there are some really tough external market conditions, a company is likely failing because of lack of clear direction and lack of alignment among the team. If you’re providing some service or product demanded by the market, it’s a matter of how efficiently you can deliver.

It comes down to alignment and good decision-making. If you’ve got your team pulling in different directions, you’re not going to be much of a competitor.

HOW TO REACH: Internet Transaction Solutions Inc., (877) 272-9245 or www.transactionsolutions.com