Luis Spinola Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007
Luis Spinola hates credit cards, and he hates how people rack up debt using them, but he gets more frustrated when he sees people dip into their company’s money to settle their personal financial crises. When leaders do that, they rob their companies of resources to reinvest with, says Spinola, founder, president and CEO of Azteca-Omega Group. By following his own advice, he’s grown his construction company into a nearly $170 million business and survived all the ups and downs throughout almost two decades in the industry. Smart Business spoke with Spinola about developing criteria and how it helps him make important decisions.

Embrace change. You need to listen and be open to change. If not, you’ll stop growing, and you’ll have problems because the economy, market and technology changes every day. Be open to adjustment in your processes and your guidelines.

Years ago, I was invited to a seminar. The theme was ‘Open to Change.’ This person talked about the Swiss watchmakers. They had dominated all the watch industries in the world. At one of their conventions they have every year, they had an engineer come and talk to them about the Pulsar system.

They thought he was crazy. ‘Why are we going to change? We dominate the market. We don’t need to change.’ The Japanese got hold of this engineer, and that’s how the Pulsar watch business went to Japan, and that’s how (the Swiss) lost their leadership in the watch industry. They ignored a potential idea for change or improvement.

Take smart chances. Sometimes there are good temptations and there are good business opportunities that get away from what you do, and you fall in that trap, but it’s a learning experience. You say, ‘I shouldn’t have done that,’ but you learn that over the years.

But if you’re too rigid, then that limits your growth. Some of the biggest investors, some of the most successful entrepreneurs,they have taken chances, and they have been very successful, but it all depends on how you do it.

You have to be smart, but also, you have to be lucky.

Use criteria to make decisions. The first thing you learn is the theory — the knowledge — and that’s what you learn when you go to school. The second that you learn is the practice and practical knowledge. The third thing that is very hard to apply is criteria. That’s what helps you make decisions.

Some people don’t get to that point. They never develop the criteria. They have the knowledge, but they don’t have the practice, or they have the practice, but they don’t have the theory part. Criteria is a combination of both, but not everybody gets to the point where they have the proper criteria to make decisions.

Be careful that you’re not putting people in the wrong position where they can’t make the proper decisions — they can’t do their best. We all have our limitations, and we need to know where to put ourselves where everybody gives their best.

Hire open people. Make sure they have a positive attitude and they’re open to learning — they don’t have that attitude that they know everything. There’s no such thing as knowing everything. Even with the years I have of experience with this business, I know you learn something every day. People who act like they know everything, they are not the kind of people you want around your company.

Foster communication. Be involved with your operation. We need to be able to talk to our people so they don’t feel there are barriers to come talk to us if they have a problem, issue or an idea on how to improve. Don’t make them feel like there is a separation or distance between you and them or between the managers and the people.

Make them feel that they are important to your process and your system — that they are being taken into consideration and not just being criticized or blackmailed because they come talk to you. I don’t want them to be reprimanded if they bring up issues.

Be very honest and always do what you say you’re going to do. Be open with your people. Always tell them the truth, good or bad, so they also tell you the truth, good or bad.

Empower employees. Give people responsibility, and you have to give them a good list of their responsibilities so they know what they need to do. Give them the authority to make decisions, but you have to be careful in knowing and realizing how much power to give them.

There are some people that need time to be able to get to that point. You have to sense people, and that’s why it’s important that you talk to them.

Have a good reporting system. You have to have meetings with people and know and ask how people are doing because as you grow, you can’t talk to everybody, but you can talk to your division managers. They are the ones that are going to tell you how people are doing, and you need to ask.

Remember, it’s important that they feel they are important to the system. That makes them do better when they feel they’re work is being recognized.

Understand how personal issues affect professional work. Ask [employees] about their families. Sometimes they have family problems, and that affects their production and the way they do business.

If they’re under a lot of pressure at home for whatever reason, don’t make them have to make an important decision because they’re probably going to make a mistake. That’s when you have to help them.

Coach people. Recognize when they do something good. When they make mistakes, instead of pointing fingers and trying to blame people, help solve the issues and work as a team to resolve the issues. They all have my mobile phone [number], and if there’s an issue, they can call me anytime, day or night, and I’ll help them, but we also need to sit down afterward and see why we had this issue and how we can avoid having the same problem.

That’s how they will learn to respect you and work more as a team. We all have problems, but it’s how you resolve problems that makes you different. When you use a positive attitude toward obstacles and problems, that helps resolve the issues more smoothly.

HOW TO REACH: Azteca-Omega Group, (214) 905-0612 or