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It’s not everyday that the founders of a company go around and make employees ice cream sundaes. However, that’s exactly what Bob and Marcie Zlotnik did for their employees at StarTex Power, an energy reseller. The co-founders got an ice cream cart and bought supplies for sundaes and served employees decadent treats at their desks.

The Zlotnik’s strive for StarTex Power to be one of the best energy service providers in the industry and to do that, they focus on a corporate culture that fosters employees who enjoy what they do and provide great customer service.

“One of our philosophies is that in order to be a superior customer service company, you have to have superior employees,” says Marcie Zlotnik, chairman and co-founder. “In order to have superior employees, you really have to have an environment that fosters a great working culture.”

By focusing on a corporate culture that gives back to employees and promises to deliver energy service without surprises, the company saw annual revenue of $407 million in 2010.

“When we started, we were focused on customer service,” says Bob Zlotnik, president, CEO and co-founder. “In our industry, there is a lot of competition. We decided to sell by doing people right.”

That business model has helped the company achieve rapid growth since being founded in 2004.

Here’s how the Zlotnik’s use a strong corporate culture to grow StarTex Power.

Define your culture

Privy to the fact that numerous energy resellers don’t tell their customers everything they need to know or everything that they are being charged for, Bob and Marcie decided that they would deliver exactly what they promised.

“Energy is a very complex product and there’s a lot of different ways you can present it and a lot of different ways you can sell it,” Bob says. “We’ve always taken the view that we weren’t going to surprise our customers. So when they entered into an agreement with us, they got what they thought they got. With some of our competitors, they didn’t necessarily get what they thought they were going to get.”

That focus on service translated into creating a corporate culture that employees found helpful to their jobs.

“The key is corporate culture,” Marcie says. “I think that’s really where it starts. If you don’t have a place where people want to come to work, where they want to do their best, your end product will not be the best. Without the best product, in the end you won’t be successful.”

Part of offering the best product is being able to deliver things to a customer that the customer actually values and things they can’t get anywhere else.

“We’ve always compared ourselves to Southwest Airlines,” Bob says. “They take a lot of pride in their corporate culture and how they treat their customers and employees. They are running a lot of ads about bags fly free, no change fees, and we started thinking, ‘We need to do some of those same things.’”

Offering products or services that the competition isn’t is a good start, but you have to make sure that your employees enjoy the work you have for them. If employees don’t think they are contributing to something worthwhile, they won’t do their best and your company will suffer.

“You want to make sure you have employees that have passion,” Marcie says. “It’s not about paying people the most amount of money. Certainly as a start-up you can’t do that. It’s about really caring about people. The more you trust people, the more they want to do well for you.”

You have to set an example and show that you value your employees at all levels.

“You need to understand that it’s not about you,” she says. “It’s really about the people and your employees. As you build your employees and you show them what success is, they want to do that. They want to follow the lead. You’ve got to do whatever it takes.”

As you develop employees and hire new ones from varying backgrounds, you have to make sure each and every employee understands the culture within the organization.

“When we see those employees coming from other companies, they’re very much trained to not go outside their department, to not talk to people that are more senior and we are really insistent about breaking down those types of barriers,” she says. “That creates inefficiency. If you want to go talk to a senior manager with a good idea, go, don’t stop, do it.”

Defining your corporate culture is critical for success. You have to show employees that your company cares about them.

“People have to feel that their ideas are welcome, that they can have a long-term track to success and that they are truly part of the company,” Marcie says.

Create culture

Creating a corporate culture that empowers employees and contributes positively to your company will only work if you put in the effort to make it work.

“It’s really the ideas and the time and effort that’s put in that people appreciate,” Bob says. “It’s really not the money. Marcie and her group in HR, a lot of what they do is the thought and effort that I think people appreciate.”

Thought and effort can go a long way toward building a strong team and developing the results you want to see in your company.

“To me it’s the little things that you do,” Marcie says. “It took a lot of hard work to not just develop a corporate culture, but to feed it and make sure it continues.”

Once you find a culture that works best for your company and your employees, you have to work continuously to keep it.

“The key is when you try to create that culture, you can’t back down from it,” Bob says. “For instance, there was some debate on whether to have a TV in the break room, but the promise was made, so we have a TV set being installed in the break room.”

Part of keeping a corporate culture alive is making sure that it stays consistent with everything your company does.

“You know when you walk in the office and the culture feels different,” Marcie says. “You can’t get away from it. It’s about being vigilant.”

Bob and Marcie give their employees much more than just a TV to watch. They implemented an employee stock-option program to give employees a bigger incentive to do well. They also make the work environment fun and rewarding by putting on different competitions, activities and programs.

“Most people say when they walk in the office that it looks so much fun and so lively,” Marcie says. “When we were smaller, we had a company scavenger hunt. When we hit a certain mark we put a $100 bill on everybody’s desk. Just outside of my office we have a wall and…when employees have been here for six months…I ask that they take a star and they decorate it to reflect their personality. It shows how we are all individuals that make up the company.”

From personalized decorations to scavenger hunts, ice cream parties, and various friendly competitions, the employees at StarTex Power work hard and play hard.

“You’ve got to be flexible,” Marcie says. “The way that Bob and I came out of work and the work environment that we were raised in is not going to work with today’s group. If you’re not flexible, you’re going to wake up one day and realize, ‘Why are we not communicating with our employees?’”

To keep in touch with their employees and to make sure that everyone in the company is staying happy, StarTex Power administers surveys and does research to gauge what employees are feeling.

“It turns out that the Gen Y group is a different group,” Marcie says. “I read any article I can find on Gen Y and from what I have researched, I found out Gen Y likes team competition and peer recognition. So what we have done is tailored our rewards. That’s how we determine the different things that we do by researching. You don’t know what you don’t know unless you seek guidance from those that do know.”

You have to make use of the resources available to you today. Read articles about other businesses and their practices and look online to see what experts are saying about corporate culture and today’s work environment.

“There was a recent Fortune magazine that talked about the best places to work,” she says. “I pulled that and read every one of them to see what new ideas there are. You have to read. Read about best-places-to-work companies and see what they are doing.

“If you don’t ask, you’re never going to find out. Don’t be afraid to ask, throw things out there. There is so much information and so many companies that are on the forefront of a strong corporate culture that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But it certainly is about reading and you’ve got to embrace it.”

That research and application of their findings has given StarTex Power recognition and won them awards for being one of the best places to work.

“When you do that, you start getting third-party validation,” she says. “In an industry with so many competitors, people are kind of looking for that. By being a Better Business Bureau Pinnacle award winner, by being a J.D. Power award winner, it really gives the customer the feeling that, ‘Hey, I may not of heard of this company’s name, but they have a great reputation and they do right by their customers and their employees.’”

Make employees comfortable

No matter how effective your corporate culture is at providing your employees with an enjoyable work environment, a CEO must make a commitment to get to know his or her employees and make sure they are getting what they need.

“You have to listen,” Marcie says. “You have to develop a relationship where people feel comfortable telling you the good and the bad, where there’s open communication and where you’re flexible.”

It’s easy to overlook the impact that a conversation with an employee can have. You have to connect with your employees.

“It’s being a person,” she says. “It’s being able to walk around the office and saying hello to people. Know as many people’s names as you can.”

You have to be visible and available to employees in order to create a relationship and make them feel comfortable coming to you.

“It’s going and pulling up a chair next to them and sitting down and talking with them,” she says. “I don’t think people see us coming down the hall and say, ‘Oh my God, the bosses are coming.’ If they have something to say they are comfortable talking.”

If you can open up to employees and speak with them on a personal level, it can make a huge difference in the work environment.

“You’re not any better than they are and you’re not any worse than they are, you’re just like they are,” Bob says. “Don’t expect things from them that you don’t expect from yourself. I show them that I’m a nice guy and I think that they believe that I have concern for them and if people view that you’re concerned about them, I think they feel open that you’ll try to help them.”

Getting to know your employees also means getting to know their jobs and what it is they do to help the business.

“The other thing is that we know their business, we know what they are doing,” Marcie says. “If you can go by somebody’s desk and see what they’re doing and be able to say, ‘Hey, have you tried this?’ You get a lot of respect out of that. Bob and I are here to make our employees look good. It’s not about me winning. I’d rather turn around and make it feel like they won. That’s how you develop a good corporate culture.”

HOW TO REACH: StarTex Power, 713-357-2800, or www.startexpower.com

The Zlotnik File

Bob Zlotnik

Co-founder, president and CEO

Marcie Zlotnik

Co-founder and Chairman

StarTex Power

Born: Marcie – Montreal, Quebec;  Bob – El Campo, Texas

Education: Both attended the University of Texas at Austin. They both received BA’s in accounting and Bob has an MBA in finance.

What was your first job and what did it teach you?

Bob – My first job was working for my dad at a family business. I cleaned the bathrooms and mopped the floors. I learned that there was a lot of benefit to owning your own business but there is also a whole lot of hard work. And I knew that I didn’t want to spend my life cleaning the commode.

Marcie – My first job was as a day camp counselor. I took away from that that you can do an average job but you don’t get anything out of it. You don’t have to sign up to be the coordinator of the play or a swim counselor, but that’s how you get the passion is by doing those other things.

What is the best business advice you have ever received?

Marcie – You’ve got to know your business.

Bob – Even when things are going bad, you have to stick to your principles.

What is your favorite or most fun event that you have done for your employees?

Marcie – My favorite was the scavenger hunt. I didn’t tell people what we were doing. I told them to bring jackets, bathing suits and I even told them we were going to a concert one day so they wouldn’t catch on. We got limos to take them around the city to do a scavenger hunt. All the departments were mixed up and people had so much fun.

Bob – My favorite was serving the ice cream because I think it took the employees by surprise to see us making sundaes.

Published in Houston
Tuesday, 31 May 2011 20:01

Tom Nies: Encouraging Intrapreneurship

Innovation and speed to market are two ways to launch and grow a business. Creating, fostering and sustaining the right working environment to do this can be tricky. One way is intrapreneurship, unleashing the power of employees who have entrepreneurial skills and mindsets that work within your company.

As someone who founded Cincom with $600 and a card table, I will always be an entrepreneur at heart. So, I could never even imagine allowing us to become a company that doesn’t support creative free spirits who also seek to pursue good opportunities and, in the process, build new businesses within the company, which will provide new and different ways to better satisfy customers.

For intrapreneurship to work effectively, several important considerations should be taken into account that balances risk with reward and opportunity with difficulty.

Creative listening

Leadership has to be willing to listen to and recognize good ideas whenever and from whomever they arise if intrapreneurship is to flourish. This message must be constantly reinforced from the highest levels of the organization.

Create an environment where an employee’s ideas are taken seriously, properly supported and recognized. You never know where good ideas will come from, especially in a corporate culture that supports intrapreneurship. An account representative could become the catalyst for revolutionizing a company’s entire business strategy when presented with the ongoing opportunity to approach company leadership with good ideas.

Cut the red tape

Create an environment where anyone can come forward with an idea on how to improve any aspect of the business. It should not matter where that person fits on the organizational chart. If the idea is good and the benefits and risks are clearly stated, that idea should get the green light and the support it merits.

There must still be a business approval process, but it should be efficient. Projects that deserve support should be quickly expedited.

Freedom to fail

Many entrepreneurial careers and businesses are built on a succession of minor failures, with the accumulated lessons learned from each leading to ultimate success.

It’s important for companies to allow for a degree of inevitable failure around new projects and initiatives without sending the message that failure is not tolerated.

Companies must strive to provide a “freedom to fail” culture and environment. Although failure resulting from poor planning and execution is not accepted, there should be no penalty for those who come forward with good ideas, assuming they’ve been well presented and competently executed.

Swing for the fences

Many companies are filled with reliable “singles hitters” who play it safe and never really aspire to greatness. Intrapreneurs, on the other hand, swing for the fences. Sometimes they strike out, but when they connect, they can hit it big.

Share credit

It doesn’t do any good to encourage team members at all levels to bring innovative ideas to company leadership if the leaders then take those ideas and make them their own.

“Leaders deal in hope,” as Napoleon noted. But in top-performing organizations, “Leadership is always plural.” No one ever succeeds alone.

Look forward to breaking precedent

Every organization must have processes and rules of procedure and behavior.

The ability to differentiate between rules needed to guide and perform within the current business and rules that may restrict success in building a new business is what discernment and opportunity awareness are all about. Going forward is always a journey.

Ignite intrapreneurs

To start a revolution of initiative and innovation, ignite the intrapreneurs and then get out of the way. Lift off generates a lot of heat.

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems Inc. Since its founding in 1968, Cincom has matured into one of the largest international, independent software companies in the world. Cincom’s client base spans communications, financial services, education, government, manufacturing, retail, health care and insurance. Learn more about Nies at http://tomnies.cincom.com/about/.

Published in Cincinnati

Too many leaders take internal company communications for granted and fail to capitalize on one of the most powerful components in a manager’s tool kit.

They dutifully explain decisions and provide directions to their staff, expecting that managers will pass on the relevant information to their direct reports, who in turn will do likewise, and so on down the line.

The problems with this approach are many. Parts of the message can get lost in translation, some managers simply don’t communicate well, some just get it wrong, and still others choose not to communicate at all.

I’ve learned that when communication from management breaks down, the organization at large makes its own assumptions as to what is behind the company’s actions and decisions, and often those assumptions reflect poorly on the current management team’s competence.

Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced the benefits that accrue to a company from a well-designed, comprehensive internal communications strategy that is well executed.

There is no better way to gain employee alignment with the company’s mission and objectives or to short circuit the company rumor mill that so often negatively impacts employee morale, performance and productivity. Equally important, all employees, regardless of job level, want the same things from their employer: to be respected as individuals as well as for the value they bring to the company and to be recognized for their contributions to the company’s success. These elements can and should be integrated into the company’s communication plan.

Periodic, planned messages from the top to the entire organization are also fundamental to a good plan. These messages are best delivered live to a group audience with time allocated for questions, but video or written communications can also be effective if the coordinating managers are fully able to respond to questions or concerns expressed by those receiving the message.

In addition, business unit and department heads must also hold team meetings at least quarterly to review progress against the team’s objectives, provide updated company information and respond to concerns expressed by their teams. It is important to communicate both good and bad news and to reaffirm the objectives going forward.

I’ve found that setting up common metrics and targets that foster friendly competition between groups or departments ensures that goals remain visible and encourages employees to work in teams and build on each others’ ideas. To be effective, top managers must routinely review and comment on posted charts and graphs and openly discuss progress toward goals or the lack thereof. When managers pay attention to metrics, so do employees.

Of course, individual employee goal setting and performance measurement must be part of the plan and linked to the overall company objectives. Often, this critical link is missing, and employees have little to guide them when they encounter what appear to be conflicting objectives. This can cause a program to go off track or at least slow down progress until the direction is clarified.

Take advantage of all of the possible benefits a sound communication plan can bring to your company. So far I’ve found only one drawback; no matter how often you communicate and how much information you provide, it will not be enough to satisfy your employees.

Now that’s a good problem to have!

George Perry has more than 40 years of experience in engineering, operations and executive management. He retired as president and CEO of Yazaki North America Inc. in December 2009.

Published in Detroit

Inspirational leaders are all too rare, but I was fortunate to serve under one immediately after graduating from officer training.

As the commanding officer, he was responsible for approximately 600 soldiers. Shortly after assuming his command, he had taken the time and trouble to learn all of their names and something about almost every one of them — not just his officers and senior noncommissioned officers but the individual soldiers themselves. He could walk around his barracks or in the field, address the soldiers by name and inquire after some aspect of their life. The health of a sick mother, the chances of their favorite soccer team winning their next match, a light and humorous reference to some trouble they had recently been in.

He obviously didn’t know everything about them, that would have been impossible, but he took it upon himself to learn enough to show that he valued them as individual people, rather than faceless parts of a military machine. By virtue of his rank, he was automatically an exalted figure, but he made sure he was never a distant one, nor did he ever make the mistake of trying to curry favor by being chummy; he was far too wise a soldier for that.

As a leader, he was the antithesis of the philosophy of “Theirs not to make reply, theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s 1854 poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

His soldiers loved him for it and, if been called upon to do so, I am certain would have died for him. He was an outstanding leader and the lessons I was privileged to learn from him I have never had cause to doubt or discard.

But it was a regrettably uncommon sort of leadership. In offices and organizations everywhere owners of companies or their managers pay not the slightest attention to the individual people who work for them. I watch them march into the office without much more than a grunt to the receptionist, silently traversing lines of people, eyes fixed upon their destination, unwilling to stop in seeming fear of being tainted by the lowly status of the cubicle dwellers.

In the course of business, they may well talk to them, but it is more often a distant and impersonal transaction, and they make it obvious they are eager to return to the privileged sanctuary of their office. In company social situations, they do not see it as part of their duty to know more about their staff; instead their staff is expected to be nothing more than an appreciative audience for their views.

A friendly greeting to that receptionist with a genuine inquiry as to how their weekend was, an acknowledgment that you’re glad someone has recovered from a sickness, a thank you or congratulation for a job well done is neither hard nor time-consuming. But it can transform the atmosphere in the company. Not only will it have made their day better, an admirable end in itself, but if the company demonstrates it appreciates the staff as individuals and treats them with the sort of good manners that makes the rest of life more bearable, this appreciation will be passed on to the suppliers and customers.

I do not believe you can have a truly great organization without great people, and I know you cannot attract, motivate and retain great people unless you create an environment where they feel respected and valued. Surely, it is unreasonable to expect that someone whose manager doesn’t value them enough to bother saying “Good morning” to them will value anyone else associated with the company any differently.

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company's Hotel Management and Distressed Asset Management operations, drawing on 20 years experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. Reach him at jhutton@merlinhospitality.com.

Published in Philadelphia

Jon Yob’s company is filled with talented, capable people. Yet when building a team, he looks for more out of his employees than just, ‘Do they have the right skill set?’

“[It’s] a passion for what we do and a commitment to the company and the ability to be a strong team player, because ultimately you can have the best A player, but if they won’t work as a team, you’re not going to meet your objectives,” says Yob, founder, president and CEO of Tampa-based Creative Recycling Systems Inc.

It’s through strong teamwork that Yob and his 237 employees have grown the company in the midst of a global financial crisis.

Smart Business spoke with Yob about how he fosters a culture of teamwork.

Give people time to fit in. We have a culture where people really like each other … but it’s a process to bring them on board and it’s a very important time; they have to understand and see that this is maybe a little bit different culture than what they were used to. Physically, within six months, you’ve got a pretty good sense, and maybe sooner.

There’s a certain amount that they have to take the initiative for themselves and they have to really care and commit themselves to really doing an excellent job for the company. It’s just a process of bringing them on board and being fair to them, because the first period of time is a significant adjustment.

Be clear about people’s roles. With my employees I’m very forthright. I do not try to sugarcoat because they expect from me what I really think. I think [2008] was a time of uncertainty, and we did not know necessarily all of the issues we would deal with as a result of the financial crisis. What I did know is that we were in a very good position and that with a plan for incremental growth we would be fine.

These people are looking for someone to help them understand where it is going, and that, to me, is the critical role of the leader ? it’s for people to have a sense that ‘I don’t know everything that’s going on, but I believe in the leadership and I’m going to do what I need to do as my part of it, because I believe that we’re going to do what leadership is telling us we can do.’ That tie in is critical for every organization.

Show you care. Any leader in any organization faces challenges in regard to building their team and really making sure that you value and you care for your employees. Those are very important things ? that you are genuine, that you care. People see that. When you care about people, you’re going to get one level of return back to you. You’re going to get one level of dedication. If you cannot care, you will not get it.

I believe that my team really gets it done, and I can’t say enough about how good they are. They are a great group of people, but I think it takes a leadership, and that leadership should really excite, a passion and the sense of what we are capable of accomplishing – they truly believe in that.

Look for team players. I’ve seen people who maybe work better as loners, and that’s OK in maybe some aspects of business, but when it comes to your core team, you really need good team players. And it’s really more about the character and the ability to work as a team really than it is if you have all A-plus people. That’s my opinion. Those are the ones that stick with you, that are loyal.

To me, I know that I have total confidence in my team. Part of that is because we’ve worked together for so long … I think for me what it has really done is allowed me to be the leader and spend a lot more time on the overall plan and on innovation and interacting with people who can really help the company go to the next several levels.

HOW TO REACH: Creative Recycling Systems Inc., (813) 621-2319 or www.crserecycling.com

Published in Florida

When Tom Keckeis took over as chairman, president and CEO of Messer Construction Co. last year, he took on a six-month initiative to visit with some of the construction company’s customers. With more than 30 years in the company, Keckeis knew the ins and outs of the business but wanted to gauge customer’s reactions to how Messer had been doing. So he went to Nashville, Knoxville and Indianapolis and met with CEOs and owners with whom Messer had worked.

“I looked at myself and said, ‘Where’s my biggest void?’” Keckeis says. “I grew up in the organization, I understand our culture, I understand our people, and I understand our building process. Where I haven’t been is been the face of Messer out in front and I haven’t been out talking to the customers, so I tried to lead with that.”

What he learned from those conversations was that customers were impressed with the company and, specifically, the culture of Messer. The culture and the quality of its more than 800 employees has been the driving force behind the $530 million company’s success.

Here’s how Keckeis continues to build Messer by listening to customers and focusing on culture.

Find your strengths

When Keckeis set out to meet with customers, he had one main thing in mind: Listen for what he didn’t know about the company and then get to work on understanding it.

“I spent a lot of time really focusing externally listening to our customers,” Keckeis says. “I thought it was a very good experience for me. What I heard was some of what I expected. I talked about our technology and all the technical tools that we use and they all said, ‘Yeah, that’s important.’ But they always came back to, ‘Your people are really what’s different.’ The culture of our company really is a little bit unique and it came out in those six months of listening to the customer.”

Because customers were impressed by the culture, Keckeis knew he had to continue to make that a prominent part of the company. When stepping into a CEO role, it is important to reach out to customers and understand what it is they like or don’t like about your business.

“You have to make sure you spend time talking to your customers and make sure you listen to them and make sure you deliver on that,” he says. “You gain a lot of knowledge by listening to the customer. You can’t just go in and say, ‘Tell me what you think.’ You have to tell them what you think is important and what you’re investing in and then let them react to it.”

Keckeis had the advantage of knowing the business well before he was put in charge as CEO and had an area he wanted to focus on. That’s not always the case if a CEO is new to the company. There are some similarities and many differences to how a CEO would look to drive his company based on where they are coming from.

“[Where to start] would vary based on where the person is coming from and what they are stepping into,” Keckeis says. “It would be a totally different concept if you were coming in from the outside. You would need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the company and the people inside the company as well as know the outside. You kind of have a double whammy there. I had the advantage of growing from the inside. I understand the strengths of the organization. The difficulty would be if I would be blinded by that, thinking that everything we’re doing is great. You’ve got to be careful with that.

“Each person would have to attack this differently,” he says. “You would say, ‘What do I know and what don’t I know?’ You need to understand your business development and how you’re selling the work and what’s valuable to your customers. You’ve got to understand that. Then you have to look at the way you’re delivering that value and whether you really are delivering it.”

Build a unique culture

Messer’s value is in the way it does business every day, and that’s a direct result of its culture and the employees that make it all possible. Messer is an employee-owned company and customers liked how the employees embrace that aspect.

“That ownership mentality came across when I talked to the customers,” Keckeis says. “They realized that our people are out there thinking about the long term — and they are — because their futures are tied to the long-term benefit of this company. Everybody has the ability to have the same ownership as myself or anybody else. If you stay here long enough in the company, you get so many shares of stock every year, and it builds up over time.”

Having an ESOP has turned Messer into what it is today, and there are numerous reasons a company would want to go down that path.

“If you’re a company that’s getting ready to go through a succession, you want to sell the company or move out, there are some real advantages,” Keckeis says. “It really is about succession planning. If you’ve got a strong leadership team that is carrying the day and they are interested in taking on that role and responsibility of owning a company, there are some real tax advantages for the person that wants to sell the company and there are tax advantages for the people that are buying the company.”

An ESOP, if it’s 100 percent owned by the employees through an S corporation structure, allows you to be tax exempt from federal tax. Taxes would be due when retirements are paid out. An ESOP can also be a big help to forming a stronger culture and can also help boost morale and job performance for the employees who have ownership. Customers liked that about Messer.

“To have an opportunity to own a piece of the pie and be able to set your own futures based on what you do every day is huge for morale because you can take the charge with it,” he says. “It leaves your company intact and leaves your employees intact to be able to carry on the day, and there’s a lot of pride there.”

An ESOP isn’t for everyone, but once employees understand it and realize the potential it has, it can be very beneficial.

“People that start with our company, we sell the ESOP and tell them what it means, but until they get in here, it usually takes about five or six years before they build up an account and realize that everything they do helps drive the bottom line and start to feel that,” Keckeis says. “I think people that would be buying the company would realize, ‘Wow, I’m going to own a certain percentage of this company and my future is tied to what I do every day.’ Not everybody would be into that, but the people that are leading the company surely would be.”

Build empowerment

Messer’s employees are very in tune with the company and realize what their actions can make or break. Keckeis empowers his employees and makes sure what they do every day translates into the results that the customer wants.

“I think you’ve got to make sure that what [employees] do on a daily basis ties together with your metrics,” he says. “You’ve got to make sure that you measure the right things and publicly say what you’re measuring and how you’re doing on it. Make sure the things that you measure tie directly to what you want to be successful on. You have to allow employees to see those metrics on a regular basis.”

Allowing employees to see how their efforts play a direct result in driving what customers are looking for will help performance. It is crucial that you are making sure the right metrics are being measured.

“You have to ask yourself if you are measuring the right things that drive value for your customers and are they things that people can feel on a daily basis?” Keckeis says. “Finding a way to connect the things that you measure with what people pay attention to is very important and as a CEO you’ve got to pay attention to those things.”

Making sure you’re doing what customers have expressed interest in is critical, but you also want to make sure that what you’re doing is helpful to your culture and your employees.

“You also want it to be something that ties to what the employees do every day so they can see that what they are doing affects that metric,” he says. “You have to make sure what you’re measuring is going to drive performance.”

Empowering employees is a big part of increasing morale and making corporate culture stronger within your company. Keeping culture at the forefront of your business and making sure you have people who believe in the company is crucial.

“Your culture will beat everything else if you’ve got people that care and want the company to grow,” Keckeis says. “Empowerment and culture is critical if you want to be different in any industry. You have to focus a lot on your culture. You have to communicate with your people regularly about your bottom line, your finances, what you’re doing. You have to get them involved in all of that and get input back from them.”

You have to make sure that you pay attention to your employees in order to keep corporate culture strong.

“You have to listen to your employees first,” he says. “You need to focus on your people and you need to care about your people … that are doing the work on a day-to-day basis.”

Communicating with more than 800 employees can be a tough task, but it is vital to keeping the culture united. Messer has a group of 108 senior managers who act as a system of communication from the executives to the employees.

“We created a system of responsibility to make that communication,” Keckeis says. “I obviously cannot talk to 800 people. We created the senior management position that is the voice and the direction for the company directly. They share that and drive it out to the rest of the organization.

“You’ve got to have a leadership team that you trust and you’ve got to be able to communicate and then you’ve got to be able to have a way that the word gets out. If you’re a small enough company and you’re just in Cincinnati, you can pull everybody together and talk to them regularly. In our case, we can’t do that. You’ve got to create a way where the leaders of the company are identified and are helping drive that and listening to the employees.”

It can be very easy to get tied up with numerous daily tasks and other things on your agenda, but if customers find your culture helpful to how you do business, you have keep track of it and you have to care for your employees.

“Caring is a tough thing,” he says. “It isn’t looking down on them, it is actually feeling every day what they feel so that you can understand that. It’s easy for a CEO to step back and say, ‘Well, I’ve got different problems and I’ve got different issues that I’ve got to deal with. They’ve got to worry about their own problems.’ If you do that you’re going to be in trouble.

“You really do need to understand that what’s driving you isn’t you at the top, it’s the group of people that are there doing the work every day,” he says. “If you can figure out how to stay in tune with that and help nurture it and be attentive to it, I think you’ll be successful no matter what the business. You’ve got to know that they go home and they have kids and they have families and the way you’re treating them makes a big difference. You need to inform them, you need to communicate with them, and you need to make them feel like they are empowered. That’s what you have to create. We spend a lot to create the culture. It isn’t something you just go out and get.”

HOW TO REACH: Messer Construction Co., (513) 242-1541 or www.messer.com

The Keckeis File

Tom Keckeis

Chairman, president and CEO

Messer Construction Co.

Born: Cincinnati

Education: Attended the University of Cincinnati, degree in civil engineering. He went to work at Messer straight out of school.

What was your first job, and what did you take away from it?

My very first job was working for a flooring contractor. I was 15 when I started. I was a laborer, cleaning up and helping scrap and lay floors. The one thing I got out of it was the person I worked for was a true craftsman. That instilled in me a lot of respect for what a craftsperson brings to the job.

What has been the hardest part about being a CEO?

Being disconnected at times, yet still wanting to drive the organization in a direction and how do you make that connection. I feel one step removed from where I was.

What has been the best part about being a CEO?

Seeing the growth of the people. The people who have stepped into my role and other roles and watching them grow has been fun and inspiring.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. When you ask people to do things you want to be able to make sure you would do them yourself.

If you could do something dangerous one time without consequences, what would you do and why?

I have always wanted to be a pilot and fly a plane or maybe skydive. I always wanted to be able to feel that freedom.

Published in Cincinnati

Abraham Lincoln once observed, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”

Implicit in Lincoln’s words is the notion that people who are well informed are well motivated, and therefore, much more likely to work together toward ultimate success.

Effective communications policies not only make for motivated employees, they also help drive results by:

  • Sparking meaningful conversations
  • Driving innovation
  • Building corporate loyalty
  • Fostering employee engagement

Yet in today’s world of increasingly staccato and frenzied communication, the challenge of shaping sentiment and sharing information with employees has never been more challenging.

At NCCI, we’ve devoted considerable time and resources toward identifying effective communication tools and two-way communication vehicles for employees and managers. Among these are traditional methods such as e-mail, meetings, conference calls with video, and individual face-to-face sessions, but we’ve also taken it a step further.

*We host regular town hall meetings, where every NCCI staff member is invited to hear from senior management about our company plans and mission. While the meetings give us an opportunity to speak directly with employees about the vision, employees can also suggest town hall topics and submit questions for discussion.

*We put on “President’s Circle” luncheons where nine employees from across the company are invited to an off-site lunch with just the CEO. These informal gatherings help employees get to know the company head on an authentic, personal level. It’s also a chance to have their questions and concerns addressed directly from the top. In 2010 alone, we hosted six of these luncheons.

*We’ve built and populated our own Intranet site (InfoZone), which holds everything from corporate compliance rules to employee profiles to breaking company news updates. If something is happening at NCCI, there’s an excellent chance that activity is documented here.

*We produce a weekly, all-employee e-mail (InfoMail), offering time-sensitive information about company projects as well as information about new employees, social activities and even the cafeteria menu.

But again, to have effective communication with your employees, it has to go both ways. Developing strategies and tools to better listen to our employees has perhaps been our most effective communications effort in the past several years.

Not only are NCCI’s senior staff and managers accessible to our employees, but we’ve also developed a series of electronic tools to encourage constant employee feedback, including weekly online surveys. We constantly ask employees for their opinions about company news, articles or events, and we’ve put in place an open-door policy for communication between employees and any leader in the organization.

Our continuing emphasis in each of these efforts is to engage managers and employees in transparent and authentic conversation.

So how is our communication effort and emphasis working here at NCCI?

In a recent all-employee communication survey, 87 percent of NCCI employees said they are kept well or fully informed, and 88 percent of employees said the amount of communications they receive about the company is just right.

Perhaps the most rigorous test of our open communication strategy to date occurred last year, when we had to share the difficult message that there would be no merit raises for employees in 2010. Because that message was honestly conveyed ? despite the undeniable hardship it must have caused some ? NCCI employees responded in truly remarkable fashion, breaking their previous record for contributions during our annual United Way drive.

In short, we think Lincoln had it about right. Company leaders may not succeed in every effort, but with informed employees motivated by open, honest, and frequent two-way communication, our failures are not only less severe, they are much less common and far easier to address.

That’s not only an effective communication strategy; that’s an effective business strategy.

Stephen J. Klingel has served as president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. since 2002. Before joining NCCI, Klingel was a leader with the St. Paul Cos. for more than 25 years. You can reach him at Steve_Klingel@ncci.com.

Published in Florida

Charlie Sheen has talked a lot about winning in the past few months. So I couldn’t help but think about the standards of winning in business, and how much they have changed. The truth is this: In this fragile economy, winning is essentially effective risk management. A definitive factor in business success and failure has always been the amount risk one is willing to take. While getting credit or capital is harder these days, that should not stop business owners and entrepreneurs — especially the little guys — from taking risks.

While our company, WDFA Marketing has faced challenges, there have been a few actions that we have taken to help us both manage risk and to take those risks necessary to keep our agency moving in a forward direction. Those actions include the following:

First, increase the level of communication with creditors and vendors.

There is nothing wrong with telling your key partners what’s going on with your company, especially how you plan on growing, when you expect things to get better and what you’re doing in the immediate future to keep things moving. If you’re behind on paying vendors, work with them to create a plan. Chances are you aren’t the only one that’s having cash flow issues.

Second, look at your product and service according to today’s economy.

We live in an on-demand society, so businesses have to be nimble. The consumer wants it and they want it as fast as they can get it. Spend some time looking at your operational processes and figure out ways you can be more efficient. Also, don’t be afraid of incorporating more technology into your day-to-day routines companywide. It’s not as difficult or as expensive as you may think.

Try out different pricing models. This is an economy in which you want to bet on consistent long-term gain rather than monumental short-term gains (though those are nice too).

Don’t be afraid of creating partnerships and be open to revenue-sharing models. You never know when that crazy idea that you drew on a bar napkin flourishes into the next great phenomena.

If you want to test out a new concept or service and can’t find the right amount of funding, downsize your idea and cut costs. Focus on creating a flawless execution that can be easily scaled up. Create results on your own and take those out to help get funding. Note results and numbers that showing potential.

Lastly, spend extra energy and resources on employee morale.

Never forget that the people who should believe in your vision as much as you do are your team. As a leader and visionary, you’re delegating while your team is executing. Without them you would just be talking to yourself.

Buy lunch once a week or bring in snacks and put them in the break room. Happy (and full) people are productive people.

You might not able to distribute the high bonuses or raises that you’re used to, or that your team expects. Instead, talk to them. Discuss your successes and address failures by sharing what you learned. Show them the road that you are walking down and the great potential that it holds.

As challenging as conducting business is today, with a little bit of smarts and effective risk management it’s still possible to move forward, even if it’s just one inch at a time.

Raj Prasad fulfilled a lifelong dream and founded his own agency, WDFA Marketing, at age 25, bringing on his two friends and former co-workers as managing partners. Because of his leadership, WDFA has earned accolades as Inc. magazine’s Fastest-Growing Marketing and Advertising Agency and San Francisco Business Times’ Tenth Fastest-Growing Private Company of 2010. Learn more at www.wdfamarketing.com.

Published in Northern California

There really wasn’t a battle plan for what Brett Healy faced in 2009.

Healy is the president and CEO of Webasto Roof Systems Inc., a company that supplies sunroofs and other roof systems to auto manufacturers. Like just about every other auto supplier, Webasto was dealing with automaker bankruptcies, downsizing and reorganization, and the cascading effect it was creating throughout the industry.

“It involved lots of things that you weren’t going to find in a Harvard Business Journal review,” Healy says. “As we rolled into 2010, it was basically a matter of trying to keep people motivated, because people were very unsure about the environment. People needed to remain motivated around the idea that we still had a viable company, keeping them on task and focusing on getting back to normal business volumes.”

Motivation was a key aspect. Healy and his leadership team had to spearhead a period of consolidation in the company’s head count and plant capacity. Between 2008 and 2009, Webasto Roof Systems— the Michigan-based arm of German vehicle component manufacturer Webasto AG — had to remove three plants from production and reduce head count by 200.

If there was any good news, Healy had begun the consolidation ahead of the economic crisis, so he already had a plan in place for reshaping the company’s future. But when the crisis hit, it took Healy’s methodical plan and turned it into a scramble.

“I took this role at the beginning of 2008, before anybody even recognized a serious crisis was coming,” he says. “Just sizing the company, I knew we were heavy in terms of capacity. We had low capacity utilization in some of our plants. One of our consolidations was executed in 2008 in proper order, but as things started to deteriorate in 2009, we took a plan that was going to take about three years and had to accelerate it into about nine months.”

To get his people motivated, Healy had to restore their faith in the present. To keep them motivated, he had to build a better future.

Be real

As he started down the road of navigating his company through the darkest days of the recession, Healy had to take the most difficult step first. He had to admit to his people that the financial crisis was unprecedented in its scope, and management was getting an on-the-job education just like the work force.

In company meetings and his president’s round-table forum, which Healy holds monthly, he had to face his people with a combination of confidence and humility. He had to be a leader, but he had to admit that the company was sailing into uncharted waters.

“They were asking questions like, ‘We just had a layoff, is there going to be another layoff? Are there going to be any other plant closings?’” he says. “They saw that two of our customers (GM and Chrysler) went bankrupt and wanted to know what that was going to do to us. Those are three loaded questions.”

When faced with answering big questions about your company’s future, you really only have one recourse. You have to tell the truth, and do it without mincing words.

“We told our colleagues that we’ve never been through this before,” Healy says. “We’re checking with other people to see if anyone has information on how this happens, and based on our own knowledge of the business, we’re going to do A and B. And if that works, that’s fine. But if it doesn’t work, we’re going to try C and D. So you simply show your people what you’re going to do. There are companies that tend to have a culture of secrecy, and I really don’t subscribe to that. When people don’t know what is going on, they have a tendency to use their imaginations, and they can imagine things much worse than they really are. During that whole time, we remained focused on making sure everyone had the facts, and the facts were changing very quickly.”

Healy wasn’t trying to sugarcoat the situation, and he wasn’t trying to force his company to wallow in grim reality. What he wanted to do was give his people an accurate reflection of the challenges the company faced, then immediately get everyone focused on solutions to pull the company back to growth mode.

“All is not perfect,” Healy says. “I wasn’t trying to paint a rosy picture, but if you just keep talking to people, it does work. Whether you’re the janitor or VP of engineering, with us you’re going to hear the same exact presentation of our plans and objectives for the year. We had cards made up that put the corporate focus on one side and on the other side, we had our quality actions that drive success. We talk about this in great detail in our first company meeting of the year, and it will be the lead in our company meetings for the whole year. We’ll talk about how we’re doing compared to our corporate focus for 2011 and how we’re doing against the things we’ve been talking about.”

Form a strategy

In any crisis, you need well-defined strategy for the future, aimed at helping your company’s recovery. At Webasto, Healy used industry forecasts and data to formulate a strategy and give his people goals to pursue, both in the short and long term.

“We’re very data driven, because in the automotive world, there are some very good forecasting services,” Healy says. “We started our planning process by triangulating various forecasting services’ projections of volumes. From there, we already knew the projects we had been awarded, and we had a good idea of the projects we’re going to focus on in the future. That is the beginning of the business planning cycle. There are also some other items that go into that, in terms of buying behaviors, customer shifts in desiring various vehicle options, but basically, we start with a projection of what the volumes are going to look like and hone our strategy around that. It’s a five-year plan, and it goes into hyper-detail for the year that you’re in.”

Healy and his management team project their plan out as far as 20 years, though it’s a broadly defined direction at that point. The plan then comes down to 10 years, which is defined a little more, to five years, which gets into planning specifics and, finally, the well-defined one-year plan.

“The one-year plan is set in stone,” Healy says. “But as much as I say it’s set in stone, you still need the ability to move and adjust. It’s just that when you move and adjust, make sure your modifications are still within some guideline of business practice, so you don’t blow your brains out on any of your particular metrics.”

In a crisis mode, when dramatic change is often necessary, it can be difficult to decide where to remain steadfast in your leadership approach and where to change. Though you might be tempted to say you need to remain steadfast on matters of culture and mission, Healy says your budget is another good place to remain rock steady. Any plans you make will need funding to become reality.

“We’re sticklers for cost management and cost control,” he says. “But things change. Literally, by Jan. 2, something has already changed. You have to adapt to it but stay within the guidelines of your business plan. A great example would be capital budgets. We have not exceeded the capital budget plan since I’ve been running the company. To me, it’s pretty simple. It’s like a household budget. You only have so much money to spend, and if something changes in the environment, you have to reprioritize your expenditures. The new widget machine we desperately needed becomes a third priority because something with the ability to generate more growth and EBIT for the company has taken priority.”

When planning your company’s next set of moves, it’s OK to take a little bit of time, ponder the various scenarios and gather input — as long as the pause for research and introspection results in definitive action. Healy took decisive action to plan and communicate with his people. Without that action, his company’s confidence in him would have waned, and he could have become a less effective leader.

“What I have learned is that there is such a thing as acting too fast and moving too fast,” Healy says. “When I took this role, I always told myself that the most important thing is to be decisive. I still feel that is the most important thing, but I have learned over the past three years that it is OK to take a day to ponder something. I don’t think it’s OK to ponder for weeks and months, because people still expect you to act. A company is like the economy. It functions well when there is confidence. Confidence comes from people looking to the management team and feeling that these people know what they’re doing, are agile and decisive, and are looking out for them and the interest of the company.”

Leverage brainpower

Creativity is another key to crisis management. At Webasto, Healy tried to get everyone thinking about new ways to do things. He wanted everyone in the company to get into a problem-solving frame of mind. He wanted people who were willing to constructively challenge policies and processes. In one case, a responsive work force saved Healy a significant amount of money.

“We had quoted a project where a new mechanism was going to be required that was a pretty expensive investment,” he says. “The original review from our engineering department said it has to be new because eventually existing systems won’t work. But some of our colleagues outside of engineering challenged that paradigm and asked the test department to run a part with this existing mechanism on it. The test ultimately validated it and ultimately found out that the paradigms the engineering department had were not really accurate in that regard. It saved the company about half a million dollars and it used carryover standard parts.

“In that scenario, nobody did anything wrong. Engineering did what they were supposed to do. They followed the standards that had been set. But we had some people who embraced the idea of creativity, and we really try to promote that kind of thing.”

To promote it, you need to ask for it, keep asking for it and applaud it when you see it.

“We’ve got a long way to go to continue promoting creativity, but it starts from my level with a culture where that sort of thing is applauded when we see it. Whether it’s large or small, it needs to be recognized as a behavior that is appreciated in the company.”

It’s an approach that helped Webasto Roof Systems rebound to $380 million in 2010 revenue, up from $250 million in 2009.

“You always have to go back to what is important,” Healy says. “Go back to the basics when things get a little weird or a little cloudy. Just go back to the basic premises of the business and the values you are trying to promote. It’s really not that complicated. I think a lot of managers make it more complicated than it has to be.”

How to reach: Webasto Roof Systems Inc., (248) 997-5100 or www.webasto.us

The Healy file

Born: Evansville, Ind.

Education: Business degree, Michigan State University; executive management training at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University

First job: I’ve been working since age 12, when I worked on a horse farm, taking care of the property.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

I’ve worked for five or six managers in my career who were very influential in my creation as a CEO. I wouldn’t say all five were positive. I’ve learned as much from the negative traits of my managers as I have from the positive traits. I’ve learned not to take yourself too seriously and open yourself to criticism. If people are telling you something, it’s probably true, and you have to adjust the dials on your approach.

What traits or skills are essential for a business leader?

No. 1, common sense. No. 2, a sense of humor. No. 3, a keen interest in the company and the people who work there. No. 4, the ability to look at things through others’ eyes. And No. 5, an interest in a balanced approach to short, mid- and long-term objectives.

What is your definition of success?

The feeling that I enjoy what I do, that I made a significant contribution, which allows me the rewards to live outside my business life as to what I need. For a family, it’s the same thing. Balance and a priority to raise my kids the right way, teaching behaviors and expectations, and a partner in my wife aligned on the same channel of expectations.

Published in Detroit

Rose International has come a long way from its early days in 1993 when corporate headquarters were housed in the basement of Himanshu Bhatia and her husband’s home in Chesterfield.

“It was just me and him,” Bhatia says. “Starting yourself, you have to do everything and you have to do all the functions. Cold calling, selling, interviewing, bookkeeping and management — everything is on your own shoulders.”

Flash forward 18 years and Bhatia leads a 5,000-employee business that specializes in consulting and IT professional services with offices across the country and around the world. It’s a completely different world as she now has clients that include AT&T, Chevron, Verizon and the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.

But the principles of relentlessly pursuing growth and always providing opportunity to employees have remained the same through it all.

“The main thing is sharing the vision with all your people and then treating customers and employees both in an equally important way,” says Bhatia, the company’s co-founder and CEO. “If you offer the right opportunity, provide Rose to be a ladder for success for all the people coming in, if they see it as a place where they can grow as individuals and improve their careers, whether it’s the financial returns or their own personal satisfaction and growth, I think that’s very important.”

It hasn’t always been easy and Bhatia vividly remembers challenges such as the buildup to Y2K in 1999 and 2000, which turned out to be much ado about nothing. She remembers the bursting of the dot com bubble and the financial meltdown of just a few years back.

The key is sticking to what you believe in and never losing sight of your goals. Here are some of the principles that Bhatia has followed to help Rose International serve as a great opportunity for her employees to grow and prosper.

Deal with it

Do you ever feel stress in trying to lead your business? If you do, perhaps you need to see what Bhatia has to say. Because she doesn’t believe in it. Ever.

“I don’t think there is a reason for stress,” Bhatia says. “It’s just a matter of managing issues on a daily basis and dealing with it. As a leader, it’s a major responsibility on your shoulders to practice the behavior you want others to follow. So you cannot have outbursts like that. It would be totally irresponsible as a leader to do that. If you handle things in a calm manner, you’re encouraging that kind of culture in your company.”

It’s not Bhatia lives in a bubble or wears rose-colored glasses to work each day. She experiences challenges and hurdles at Rose International, just like the leader of any other business does.

Take the regular power outages that crop up at her company’s offices in New Dehli, India.

“The power goes for many hours and people aren’t able to log into the system,” Bhatia says.

Sounds like a big problem, right? Bhatia doesn’t sweat it.

“That’s the cost of doing business in India,” Bhatia says. “We handle issues on a daily basis. We have issues there where market wages are changing on a rapid basis. There are different issues there. Are we able to catch each one of them in an instant? No. We do our best.”

You can drive yourself crazy if you worry about every last thing that is happening in your business. But in the process, you’ll set a bad example for your people and create a sense of panic in your organization.

“If you want to grow your company, you cannot be everywhere all the time,” Bhatia says. “You have to put the right incentives and the right leadership, management and team structure in place. As big as we are now, we have all the processes and functions defined and delegated.”

If you’ve done a good job assigning responsibilities and putting good people in place to handle their job function, you should be able to handle problems that come up relatively smoothly. When you do need to step in, don’t make it bigger than it needs to be. Your goal should be to get to the root of the problem.

“It’s getting all the parties involved and having an open and calm discussion,” Bhatia says. “It’s really getting to the cause of the issue rather than the result.”

Now certainly, the challenge increases when Bhatia has a problem in New Dehli and she’s in St. Louis, literally on the other side of the world. But Bhatia says she takes the same approach to a problem there as she would at the corporate office.

“In today’s day and age with Internet and e-mail, I don’t know if it’s as much of a problem being connected with people in different cities and locations,” Bhatia says. “At a work level, you are always sharing information.”

And it’s that information that can be the key to maintaining connectivity, no matter the physical distance.

“The teams have their own sense of achievement and celebration and all that, but it’s definitely shared,” Bhatia says.

Get good people

You need to know what you’re looking for when you decide to hire new employees. Everybody wants to hire a good person who will blossom into a great contributor and take your company to the next level.

The truth is some of the clues to making a good hire are not that hard to decipher.

“People that have changed jobs many times, I would not pick those,” Bhatia says. “There obviously isn’t that much patience in that individual to try to make it work. That’s one trait. Look at the depth of experience within the company. If they’ve been able to grow into positions of more responsibility and take on additional responsibilities, that’s a very good sign. That’s a good trait to look for.”

These are things that can be easily gleaned from a resume. But that’s obviously only one part of the process. The questions you ask during the interview can also be revealing.

“Where do they see themselves in five years?” Bhatia says. “Then you know what kind of career ambition they have. What kind of growth do they anticipate for themselves? Does that align with what you have to offer?”

This gets into another important and sometimes overlooked aspect of the hiring process. You can’t just dwell on the opportunity you’re looking to slot this person into and how they will fit into your plans and make your company better.

“It has to be a good match for them to be happy here, as well,” Bhatia says. “It’s not just that we’re getting a good person. Will they be happy here? That’s important. If you hire them and they are not happy and you are, they are going to leave.”

The key to solving this potential hiccup is looking beyond the immediate need that you’re hiring for. If you have an immediate need, you want to make that a priority. But you should also begin thinking about where else this person might fit in your company.

“It really creates a lot of opportunity for our own employees because we don’t hire from the outside for senior positions,” Bhatia says. “We grow our people and if we see talent within, we promote from within for senior positions. That’s very exciting for our people.”

That’s where finding a good match becomes important. If you identify someone who is looking for growth opportunities, and you have growth opportunities to provide, chances are it will be a good fit.

“The growth is very exciting for all our employees because we promote from within so everybody is excited equally, whether they are in any of our 18 offices around the world,” Bhatia says. “They are equally excited about growth. Through all the discussions and meetings, it’s contagious. Believe it or not, people do get that energy.”

Don’t stop growing

Do you struggle to maintain energy and excitement in your work force? Maybe it’s because all you talk about is how tough it is out there and offer excuses as to why your business can’t compete in today’s market.

“Just wanting growth and not doing anything about it is not going to bring growth to your company,” Bhatia says. “I see a lot of companies and entrepreneurs that get to a comfort level and they don’t want to grow any further because it’s beyond their comfort zone. They don’t want to take any risks beyond their local market or put in the investment for future growth. Any time you want to grow, you have to invest heavily into it for the growth to come.”

Rose International operates largely on an IT system that was conceived in the company’s earliest days. It has continued to grow and improve over the years and that effort to keep making it better is part of what drives Bhatia and her employees.

“As we’ve grown, we keep developing it,” Bhatia says. “It’s quite a complex system, but it’s absolutely essential to our growth.”

You need to constantly have goals out there for your employees to pursue. It builds loyalty, motivation and excitement to keep them reaching further ahead.

“The personal growth of an individual has to be tied to the company’s success,” Bhatia says. “Once that connection is there, if the company does well, everybody in the company does well at a personal level. Once that is tied and that connection is there, people pay attention because it means their bottom line.”

So as you offer excuses about why your company can’t grow beyond where it’s at now, you deal one more blow to employee drive and enthusiasm. It’s also a message that you’re sending to your customers.

“As far as clients go, it’s very important to give them value and if they are trusting you and giving you the contract, it’s important that you fulfill and perform beyond expectations,” Bhatia says. “They want to see us handle more and more and help them in areas that they envision doing. Since they are familiar with us, they would rather do that next leap with us than with another outside company. It’s just good overall for us and everybody involved.

“Invest your profits back in the company to support growth. Hire the right individuals and research the market you want to grow into.”

Keep an eye on what’s happening in your market and share your findings with your people. Show them that you’re excited about where your business can go and that you’re excited to have your people go along for the ride.

“Keep up with the latest market trends to be able to streamline your own efforts in a way that is most progressive for you and your team,” Bhatia says. “Know the next trend that might be coming into your industry and keep up with it so you’re not caught flat-footed. … If you want to do it, I’m sure companies would find a way to do it.”

How to reach: Rose International, (636) 812-4000 or www.roseint.com

The Bhatia File

Himanshu Bhatia, Co-founder and CEO, Rose International

Born: New Dehli, India.

Education: School of Planning and Architecture, New Dehli, India; Master’s in information systems, University of Missouri-St. Louis.

What was your very first job?

I worked as an architect in New Dehli. I was 22. In India, people don’t do jobs until you’ve graduated. In IT, we’re building software systems, and it has different components that come together including the databases and the programs. In architecture, your building is actually a building, so there are many components that go toward that. You’re working with a development process that is essentially the same.

What is one of your biggest personal goals?

Having Rose be a truly global, large company with tens of thousands of employees.

What were you interested in when you were growing up?

I was interested in business and I was fascinated by the information and technology revolution. This isn’t college I’m talking about, because we had one computer for the whole college. Coming to the U.S. and going into that field was exciting.

Bhatia on growth: There are very small businesses that in their own way are successful at a small size. But in our industry and our space and our markets, where things are changing on a regular basis, it’s very important to be a certain size and to be bigger and be there for the next change and market that might come.

Published in St. Louis