Ron Schultz Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
 Ron Schultz understands Burgess & Niple Inc. from the ground floor up. He joined the architecture and engineering firm in 1976 as a design engineer and today serves as chairman and CEO. Established in 1912, Burgess & Niple has grown to 600 employees in 15 offices throughout the United States, a growth trend Schultz hopes to continue. He and his key leaders are working on a new strategic plan with a 2006 revenue goal in excess of $80 million. Smart Business spoke with Schultz about how he fosters leadership among his employees and how he remains focused on his customers’ success.

Know your natural leadership style.
Each of us has a natural leadership style and for me, my natural leadership style would be coaching.

That style fits my personal makeup and my personality. I really enjoy the kind of teaching and supporting role that you play in that coaching style.

As you take on different leadership roles, you have to be able to move through a variety of leadership styles. It would be very easy to say, ‘My natural style is to be a coach.’ When the company really needs some direction to be set, that’s not the time to coach.

Recognize the difference between management and leadership.
The notion of management and leadership are two different things. Management tends to be about getting things done; it can be about making sure that you have the appropriate resources to deal with schedules and budgets.

Leadership is about developing capability and deciding where that capability will be exercised.

Maintain your curiosity.
Leaders have to be curious. They have to be open and aware of the world around them. There are signs in every part of our society that can give us indications of things that are going to impact or provide opportunities for our businesses in the future.

Focus externally.
It is so easy for a leader to become internally focused, to say, ‘What am I doing with this company?’ By becoming extraordinarily internally focused, you continue to replicate today onto tomorrow, and you miss what tomorrow might end up becoming.

If leaders expect their companies to survive for the long term, they should say, ‘What is the world doing around us? What is the world becoming?’

It’s being aware of what’s going on, economically, societally and environmentally. What issues are going to drive the people that you ultimately serve?

Exceed your customers’ expectations.
You don’t create the desire for people to come back to you, especially in a service industry, simply by meeting their minimum expectations. At some point, there has to be a realization on the part of the client that you have created value beyond the minimum services for which you were contracted.

They have to see value. Either the project has to turn out better, or their life has to be easier; there has to be something else that went beyond it to create value.

Contribute to your customers’ success.
The competitors that I most respect in our industry recognize the success models of their clients. Our definition of success might be a technically accurate, complete set of drawings that a contractor can take into the field and deliver a project that’s on time and in budget.

That is likely never enough. Successful companies recognize that the client is ultimately not the end user in most instances. There’s some other lasting contribution to be created.

We really have to understand why our services matter to a client. It requires building the relationships. It makes it more essential that we have a real understanding about what that client is ultimately trying to get done and what their success parameters are.

Behave in an ethical manner.
Ethics becomes part of a company’s culture. I cannot claim the credit for the ethical culture that exists here today.

Those leaders who came before me created it. I certainly have learned it, adopted it and believe it still to be in place.

When you see behavior that is a significant deviation from the culture, you have to be very specific and say, ‘This is not the way we do business.’

Find the right people.
Business may be all about the people, but success in business is about the right people. There is no way that a leader can spend too much time in addressing that notion of the right people.

It’s knowing about yourself, the company, the culture that you value and the values that you hold as a company, to have some screen against which to judge people. If you cannot say who you are, what you care about and what’s important to you as a company, you have no initial filter.

Beyond the technical qualifications, the required degree or licensing, the test is this person’s values. What do they care about? Do they have the opportunity to grow themselves, as well as to contribute to the continued growth and evolution of our company?

Show discipline during the hiring process.
Our evaluation of candidates is fairly rigorous, and we have become better at showing the discipline to not settle for a candidate simply because we don’t have another one.

There’s a real discipline in saying, ‘Despite the fact that I may not have yet identified my ideal candidate, I am not going to panic and settle for less than what I believe we should have.’

If there is a clash in values between the company and an employee, you may survive that for a little while, but eventually that disparity between the individual’s values and the company’s values is going to be exposed, and it’s going to be more painful to deal with it then.

You get better at it by recognizing the situations when it didn’t really work, and more times than not, it’s not because the person didn’t have the right technical skills.

HOW TO REACH: Burgess & Niple Inc., (614) 459-2050 or