Steve Rauch Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Individual employees may seem like a small part of an organization, but together, they have the ambition and the potential to create great change. And Steve Rauch, president and CEO of Columbus-based Siemens Airfield Solutions, says it is the responsibility of good executives to support their staff and understand that their decisions affect the lives of their employees — the people whose work ultimately influences the company’s success. Rauch’s business, which offers airfield lighting products and systems, is a U.S. operating company of Germany-based Siemens AG that employs 125 people and reported 2006 revenue of $54 million. Smart Business spoke with Rauch about how he keeps his employees happy and contributing to the success of his company.

Be a good leader. The basic fundamentals of leadership and how you make a successful business (don’t change) whether you’re a $5 million, $50 million or $500 million company. You have to do the same things, and it all comes down to execution.

Some situations require you to adapt that management style a little bit depending on the situation [but] it’s all just the scale — more people involved and a bigger impact overall than just a department or division level.

Adopt a coach/mentor attitude. Let people find the way with some gentle guidance in the background. I’m not one that’s out leading the charge and taking the credit. I prefer to supply the vision behind the scenes, let people march off and help them implement and be successful.

When things go wrong, I’ll take the blame; I don’t put them out front to take that. But when we do things right, I prefer to let the other people take credit for it.

Take responsibility. If you don’t start with that fundamental building block of caring about other people and trying to understand where they are coming from, you’re starting off bad, and it’s hard to overcome.

When people see that you care about them, they’ll buy in to things that you’re saying a lot sooner, and they’ll charge down the gates of hell for you if you ask them.

Communicate from the top. I’m big on communicating what’s going on with the company and where we stand so people know what’s important. They don’t have to guess, and they don’t have to be instructed — they volunteer. That kind of an attitude has to start at the top, and you drill that down through everybody.

They understand what’s at stake, and they understand that top management is not going to feed them a line to incentivize them to do something.

Talk straight with employees. Be open with people about what the situation is with the company. Take the time to walk around and talk with people, not about business necessarily, but just about what’s going on with them and listening when they have an issue.

It’s hard to get a flavor of the completeness of your organization by being in an office. You can look at financial numbers all day long, but it doesn’t really tell you the caliber of people or the types of people that you have in your organization.

Know the difference between listening and hearing. You have to show that it’s genuine. You’re not just checking a box that says, ‘Walk around and talk with everybody,’ and when you leave, you don’t retain any of it.

If you are in charge of a company that has 40,000 employees, or even 2,000, or even 1,000 — I don’t know where the break is — it would be difficult to know everybody, but you should strive to know and talk with as many as possible.

When you don’t make an effort at the top — because you sit back and say, ‘I’ve got 10,000 people. I can’t possibly know everybody, so therefore, I’m going to know only the people who are my six or seven direct reports’ — that’s a mistake.

Make happy employees. Once a year, we have a standard list of questions that we send out in a survey. These days, it’s done via the Internet so they can enter the data, and we can deal with the data a lot easier.

Anybody can take surveys, but are you going to do anything with the data once you get it? Are you going to take some actions? That’s where we’re really upfront.

We say companywide, ‘Here are the results, and here are two or three target areas that popped up in the surveys of needing some attention, so here’s what we’re going to do about it.’

If you’re not going to take action with the surveys, don’t do it. It’s like most things in business; you can’t announce a bunch of grand plans, or buzzword of the month, or flavor of the week, or new initiatives if you don’t follow through on them. The idea is to leverage some kind of an improvement in the organization. If you do the first part without the last, then you might as well not do it. You’re just disrupting people and wasting their time.

Create successful, satisfied customers. If a customer has a problem that has popped up and needs some kind of solution, you shift gears, help solve the problem and generate some long-term business and long-term relationships because of it.

A customer’s not going to keep a relationship with you just because you take them out to golf every once in awhile. They need performance, and they need you to help make them successful.

Have sustainable financial results. It’s a matter of never being satisfied and trying to establish within your organization an attitude of continuous improvement, where no matter what the situation. I’m not just talking about the obvious things, like taking costs out of your products. You have to look at the whole business.

Promote innovation. Being in a smaller organization, people can see the impact of a successful innovation very rapidly in our bottom line. We see the success or failure immediately.

In a way, being so closely tied together and so close to the end result is a reward in and of itself.

HOW TO REACH: Siemens Airfield Solutions, (614) 861-1304 or www.sas.siemens.com