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Perfect vision Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Tara Abraham has a knack for spotting trends, a talent that has kept her company, Accel Inc., a few steps ahead of the competition.

Abraham was working at Bath and Body Works in 1995 when poor packaging derailed a promotion, spurring her to start her own contract packaging company. Today, Accel provides design, packaging and distribution, with a focus on the health and beauty industries.

“We now operate a 305,000-square-foot facility with 375 employees and 45 production lines, serving 24 clients including Bath & Body Works and The Limited,” Abraham says. “Our philosophy has been to hire stellar employees and to remain ahead of the curve in spotting consumer preferences.”

Smart Business spoke with Abraham about how she finds the best employees and identifies emerging trends.

Q: How do you recognize business opportunities?

When I am shopping or reading magazines, I notice when products are packaged poorly. I purchase three, rework one and send the original and our rework to the company, and save the third for our sample room. This tangibly shows how we can improve the visual presentation of the product, which, in turn, increases sales and provides Accel an opportunity.

Our business has grown every year consistently since its inception, but over the last five years [it’s grown] mainly through referrals by our clients and suppliers. Referrals are the key to growth. The need has already been established, and the qualification criteria are less extensive.

We choose our potential business partners carefully, as we want to ensure that we will have a long-term relationship with them. The chemistry between the two companies needs to be right for the relationship to succeed.

Q: What characteristics do you look for when hiring employees?

The level of the position may skew the emphasis on a specific quality, but typically we seek to match the skill set and experience to the open position and determine if the candidate will fit our corporate culture.

We will choose a candidate who fits our culture with less experience but who possesses a great attitude, a willingness to learn and a desire to work.

Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great,’ notes the need to put the right people on the bus in the right seats. I take that concept seriously.

When we first started Accel, (my father) advised us that to take the company to the next level, we needed to fill open positions with people with better skills than we possessed. That advice has proven invaluable.

Q: How do you make decisions?

New entrepreneurs are prone to make quick decisions without weighing the risks more carefully. As the business matures and levels of management fill in, you have the luxury of being able to analyze the opportunities, risk and rewards deeper and more carefully.

My partner, David Abraham, views situations much differently than I. Together we are able to analyze the challenge from different view points and perspectives.

Our executive team makes all the critical decisions collectively. I am a firm believer that multiple individuals with different skill sets and strengths can and will collectively make a better decision than a sole individual.

However, if I am truly passionate about an opportunity or decision, I will go to great lengths to prove why and achieve buy-in from them.

Q: What key skills does any successful business leader need to survive?

There are many skills required, but these five are worth noting.

Empower your associates. Your company is only as good as its talent.

Hold employees accountable. Recognize achievement, initiative, performance and positive attitudes. Communicate when associates are performing poorly so there are no surprises during reviews. It is OK to fail in small degrees. We would rather a person take initiative instead of being complacent.

Maintain a customercentric approach. Become an extension of your clients and focus on speed to market. The more information you can learn about your clients’ goals, vision and strategy, the more valuable you become.

Display consistent integrity and respect. In today’s climate it is imperative to be honest and ethical. Life is too short not to be a good person. People will remember you as that, first and foremost, irrespective of your success in business.

Embrace change and growth. In 2006, Accel solidified relationships and created joint ventures with factories in China to be able to service our clients better. We often hear that China is a threat, but if you embrace the opportunity, it only makes your company stronger.

Change occurs in any business or industry; it is how you respond to change that will be the fate of your destiny — good or bad.

HOW TO REACH: Accel Inc., (740) 549-0606 or www.accel-inc.com