As sole owner of EXCEL Management Systems Inc., Curtis Jewell couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve been married three times, and having a business partner is like being married,” he says. “I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life, and I’m very comfortable managing what I decide to take on. I don’t need partners for money because I believe in a light debt as opposed to investors.”
Jewell also serves as president and CEO of his Columbus-based company, which provides systems engineering and management services to federal, state and local government agencies, as well as commercial clients. The company reported $13.5 million in 2006 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Jewell about managing his company through smart debt and doing what’s right for his staff and customers.
Q: How can other executives grow their company the way you’ve grown yours?
Unmitigated gall. I’m not an IT genius, and I run an organization of 120 people where about 110 of them are IT geniuses. That’s the unmitigated gall.
I’ve done it on smart debt. I love debt. If you have a good relationship with a bank and a good healthy line of credit because you’re creditworthy and have a good banking record, you’re able to borrow what you need when you need it. You pay it back, and you have no obligations and no diluting of your profits.
After almost 18 years in the business, I can finance any debt need out of my own resources, as opposed to having to draw on my large line of credit that I almost never need. I may borrow from the bank only because my money may be working in a better way than to disturb it for some business purpose.
I’ve grown the company through aggressive sales and marketing. I try to get in with the customers early in the budget-planning process and track their goals and what they’re going to want in terms of technology over the next year or two. By the time they put out a request for proposal, I’m well aware of their need, and I’ve already begun planning to respond to it.
Q: How can companies create long-term customer relationships?
Give more than you take. As long as you’re doing that, and you’re open and honest and everything’s on the table, everybody appreciates that. If you’re always looking out for their best interest, why would a client want you to leave him?
Q: How can business leaders create an atmosphere of responsiveness?
You just care about that customer. We operate with a partner network of companies across the country that respond on our behalf. If that partner company can’t do it, I’ll fly someone out there who can.
That costs me, and I’ll probably lose all my profit, but I’ll do it to make sure it gets done right. You do what it takes to make sure your client is OK.
Q: How do you communicate that to your staff?
That’s what people need to understand; their first client is their staff. I support my staff so they have no reason not to deliver the best of who they are to my client. It just goes down the line, and it’s widespread.
We are building a company and getting well compensated for it. We’re not just working together; we really like each other because we’re satisfied. Nothing creates a better relationship and enjoyment for people when they know they’re delivering great service and are appreciated by their client.
Q: How do you reward your employees?
We thank them for providing that level of service on behalf of the organization. Sometimes we remember it when their raise comes back around, but I make it a point not to have money be the only way we say thank you. It’s a bad precedent.
People need to know it’s OK to do things right and not always expect to get money from it. I don’t believe in that.
Give your people incentive to do their best. I bring on people of such quality that they own their area of the business. They’re not micromanaged. They get incentives, and they’re paid high scale to bring them in. Once they start to see the growth, it’s shared. Don’t shortchange the key people that make your operation successful.
Q: What can prevent a company from growing?
A lot of company owners don’t even know how to read their financial statements to manage their organization to profitability. You’ve got to know what you’re doing from day to day or month to month.
Don’t just set a budget. You’ve got to see if you’re keeping to the budget, if you need to adjust it or if you’re spending too much in any one category. If you’re not aware, and you don’t know what those things mean and how to take action on them, your company could be doing something far different than what you thought.
HOW TO REACH: EXCEL Management Systems Inc., (614) 224-4007 or www.emsi.com