People matters Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

Randy Hardin often jokes that he started a business so he could wear shorts to work. But while there’s some truth to that, he mainly wanted to make Universal Power Group Inc., a supply chain management company, a place where people feel comfortable working and where they would want to stay. When people enjoy their work, they’re more productive, an approach that has yielded UPG 37 percent revenue growth over the last two years, ending 2006 with $92.6 million in annual revenue.

Smart Business spoke with this relaxed president and CEO about how flexibility helps retain people and grow companies.

Q: How do you find good people?

One way we’ve done it is through our existing people. Some people feel it’s not a good idea to mix friends and family and business, and we feel exactly the opposite.

If you’ve got good people, and they’ve got integrity, and they’re hardworking, then why wouldn’t you want to look at someone they’re related to if they have the same qualities?

Q: What qualities do you look for?

Honesty. People just throw that word around, but we want people to be honest even if it hurts. We have to be very honest with our customers, and even if that means we lose an order, that’s just how we need to be.

The other thing is we hope to treat people the way we’d want to be treated. That’s a key thing of employees, that you’ve got people around you who treat the business as if it were their own business.

Q: How do you gauge those characteristics?

It’s not the easiest thing in a short period of time. There’s lots of things that are an indicator about people’s character.

You can pick up on the way a person feels about his or her job or their future. Ask people, ‘Where do you see yourself in not only the job you’re in now, but where do you see yourself if we were to hire you?’ Ask questions about their ability to get along with other people, how they deal with adverse situations, how you deal with a situation where someone has said some things about you that were untrue.

Q: How can you tell if someone will fit with your team?

Look at where they came from. Were they there very long? What’s the reason for them leaving? It’s one thing for a person to leave because they want to better themselves either financially or position-wise, and it’s another that they’re leaving because they couldn’t get along with the people they were working with.

Do your homework, and find out why they’re leaving the company they’re with. Find out how well they worked with the team they were with.

Q: How do you retain and empower people?

The obvious one is through money. Everyone gets motivated by money. I also wanted a place where we weren’t so black and white. We have some single moms. Do they have X amount of personal and vacation time? Yes. But should we be flexible as managers and directors and as fathers and parents? Yeah.

Be a little understanding when that mother needs to get off because the day care says, ‘Come pick your kid up,’ and they have no family to help them. Or that single dad, or his wife works, too, say, ‘OK, the kid’s got a soccer game at 4 o’clock, and he’d like to go see him play because he’s always on the road.’

It’s little things like that where we don’t just want to be the people that talk about it. We want to say, ‘You know what? You don’t need to write that down as time off — just go watch your kid play soccer.’

Q: How do you get the right people in the right positions?

You find that out by trial and error. Sometimes when you’re a young company and you’re growing, you reward people who helped you grow. In rewarding them, you’re actually not doing them a favor, and you’re not doing the company a favor. You put someone in a position of authority because they paid their dues, and then you find out they don’t have the skills for that job, so it hurts them, and it hurts you.

Q: How do you know when people aren’t working out?

You find out when things aren’t getting done, or you don’t see the performance in a certain area. Analyze it and say, ‘Why is this happening?’ Ninety percent of the time, it comes back to people.

If you’re seeing one particular person who never seems to hit their time line, bring that to their attention. Ask them, ‘What can help you meet these time lines? Do you not have enough resources? What is it that we’re doing or not doing that could help you meet these time lines, or is this something you feel we need to give to someone else?’

A lot of times, someone will say, ‘You know what? This is just over my head.’

HOW TO REACH: Universal Power Group Inc., (866) 892-1122 or www.upgi.com