Susan Ernst, president of Royal Electric Construction Corp., exemplifies this with her keen ability to simplify the complex. Case in point: Ernst purchased Royal in 1997 when the owner retired, even though she had no background in the industry.
“Prior to Royal, I owned a computer training company. As a businessperson, I felt confident that I could manage any type of company,” she says, because running a business can be boiled down to this: “Get work. Do work. Get paid.”
She breaks down what the company does into simple terms, as well: “If it takes a wire, we do it.”
Ernst got her baptism by fire shortly after she took over the business, when a key project manager suffered a stroke and she had to do his job to keep things moving.
“I’m a lifelong, self-taught learner, so I jumped in feet first,” she says. “I pored over specs and drawings and asked the other project managers a ton of questions. I have no problem making mistakes that’s the quickest way to learn. Suffice it to say, I learned quickly during this particular experience.”
Smart Business spoke with Ernst about how she grew the company from $3 million in 1997 to nearly $10 million in 2005.
How do you measure success?
These are the four cornerstones of success in my business employee retention, quality installations, repeat customers and profitable jobs.
If you have these things, you are meeting the customers’ expectations. They all go hand-in-hand. I recently developed a quality control review process to ensure all projects are on track.
During the construction process, we perform on-site reviews designed to identify whether the installation is going per the plan and installations standards are being met. Any impediments are dealt with immediately. The customer will receive a written report with the results. I don’t know of anyone else in the business that is doing this, so I definitely see it as adding value and setting us apart from our competitors.
How do you ensure your employees are effective?
I believe in empowering employees, but it is not something that happens without focused effort. In fact, I recently employed the services of (a) life and executive coach to conduct an intense decision-making workshop with my upper management staff.
The goal was twofold to help the leaders at Royal understand my style better so that our business decisions would be aligned and to increase their personal level of independent decision-making abilities. Our measurement for effectiveness of this training was simple: Did they come to me for approval less often? The answer was a resounding yes.
We’re careful to hire people with the right technical abilities, but just as important, we seek right attitudes. As one guru in my early career explained to me, you hire people for their technical skills and fire them for their people skills. We want to make sure we get both before we extend an offer.
How will you make sure your business will continue to thrive?
Looking long-range, we will need leaders to come up through the ranks and take on greater responsibility. There are many construction workers who realize they can’t do the job forever due to the physical demands.
The problem is that they are not preparing themselves for the transition. Many simply feel the added stress is not worth it they want to go home and leave the job at the jobsite.
So ... how do we motivate people in their late 20s and 30s to want to grow into jobs with a larger scope?
How do you separate your job from your personal life?
It’s very difficult as an owner, since long hours go with the territory. I use the technique of separation, which simply means that I distance myself from my work and living environment to rejuvenate myself.
This means lots of weekend trips and indulging regularly in one of my favorite passions reading. It’s easy to get in a work-and-no play-rut, and it takes discipline to remember there is more to life than work.
How to reach: Royal Electric Construction Corp., (614) 253-6600) or www.royalcorp.com