An honest leader Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Integrity is a key word for Bill Heifner. That word appears almost everywhere at Renier Construction Corp., from the back of business cards and in the company logo to the company mission statement and a plaque on the wall.

Committing himself and his company to integrity helped the founder and president when he failed to follow through on part of a project, then admitted his mistake right away to the client and vendor.

“It hurts to say that, but in the end, the vendor pitched in to help me because we had a great relationship, and I’ve treated him with integrity,” he says. “My client appreciated it, too, because nobody’s perfect, and I didn’t try to push it off on somebody else.”

This commitment to integrity by Heifner and his 50 employees has led the general contractor, which focuses on building auto dealerships, to 2007 revenue of $41 million.

Smart Business spoke with Renier about how to live the value of integrity and how to model that to your customers.

Be a good role model. In one of Lee Iacocca’s books, he made a comment that in any well-managed company, there’s a little piece of the person at the top that permeates down through the company. If you’re a good role model and conducting yourself with the highest degree of integrity, then that goes through the company and resonates to the people who actually have contact day to day with clients.

You have to have impeccable integrity. Integrity sets the tone for anything that you do when you’re somebody’s mentor because they’re looking up to you and basing a lot of their thoughts and thought process with how you deal with day-today challenges. If you put integrity at the top, then everything else follows suit.

If you realize that you make a mistake, and the harder you try to cover it up, the easier it is that somebody’s going to find out about it. When they find out about it, it compromises your integrity so poorly that it takes you so long to recover from it [that] it’s just not worth it.

Satisfy your customers. You have to have 100 percent customer satisfaction or a high level of customer satisfaction to maintain your client base. If you do that, it’s easier and you can improve your sales success ratio by working with satisfied, happy past customers.

Anytime they need anything, they pick up the phone and call you. If you have a good relationship and take care of their needs and they have complete trust and confidence in you, those customers will call you.

The most important thing is listening to the customer. A friend of mine told me that God gave you two ears and one mouth, so you’re supposed to listen twice as much as you talk. We have to spend a lot of time listening to their needs and understanding their goals, operations and what makes their business work.

Be sincere. I’ve seen people who will sit with a client and put on a good show that they’re genuinely interested in what the customer wants, but at the end of the day, they’ve already formulated in their own mind what they think the customer wants. You need to concentrate on spending time with customers.

I was recently in a situation where I was courted by a furniture vendor. It was an hour meeting, and the salesman talked for 50 minutes and didn’tlisten. When he left, I looked at him and said, ‘So what’s important to me?’ and he had this deer-in-the-headlight look.

I said, ‘The problem is that you didn’t listen,’ and we went on about our separate ways. It’s important to listen.

Understand your customers. You have to understand their business and take the time to understand the mechanics of their business, how it operates and how you can be a financial benefit to them. If you can’t provide a service that they want, then there’s no benefit to them, and the likelihood of you doing business is pretty slim.

I try to learn as much about a new client as I can before I ever meet with them. With today’s technology and especially the Internet, you can look at their Web site and Google them. It does show when you talk to them that you’ve taken the time to learn all you can, that you’re interested in their business and in them.

Believe in and live your culture. If you truly believe it, it’s your culture, it’s your values, and it says who you are. It also says what you stand for, and if you’re a new customer, hopefully, the new customer feels they know what they can anticipate and what they’re going to receive from us.

You can’t talk about it, and you can’t tell people about it; you’ve got to practice it. You can’t give it lip service. You have to practice the principles of integrity, and if you practice those principles, then it makes the stock in your integrity go up significantly.

The easiest thing to do is to look in the mirror and determine what you’ve told people ... that you’ve lived up to their expectations. I measure my performance not only with clients but also with my constituents in the office. I am the president of the company, but I firmly believe that my job isn’t any more important than anybody else’s in the company, and we all have different levels of responsibility, and the person at the front desk isn’t any more important than I am.

It all comes back to living the core values.

HOW TO REACH: Renier Construction Corp., (614) 866-4580 or www.renier.com