Don Clampitt Featured

1:27pm EDT May 15, 2006
There’s nothing new about paper, so Don Clampitt has had to learn how to grow a business in a mature industry.

Clampitt, chairman and CEO of Clampitt Paper Co. opened a resource center for creative professionals and their clients. The center allows the company to expand its presence and reach new customers by helping them meet their professional goals.

By implementing smart ideas like this one and leading by example, the company continues to grow, posting $137 million in revenue last year.

Smart Business spoke with Clampitt about how he leads his 288 employees and grows Clampitt Paper Co.

Engage with employees. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Engage with your people and set the right example.

I treat people like I want to be treated. That’s a good rule of thumb to live by.

The worst thing you can do is not engage. There are a lot of leaders that are disengaged from their employees. In any industry, in order to be successful, you’re going to have to be involved with your people because without people, you can’t run a successful organization. If everyone knows that you’re committed and 24/7 thinking about their best interest, then you can be successful.

Trust your instincts. There are so many components to making decisions, but a lot of times you know you have a gut feel. If you’re actively involved in your business, you have a nose for what’s right and what’s wrong versus distancing yourself from the actual business. So some of these things you can make on the fly because you know instinctively they’re correct.

Have direction. I set my goals. I ask my entire management team to say how they’re going to implement these goals and when they’re going to do it, and we review these goals on a quarterly basis.

They’re trusting that we’re steering the ship on the proper course. We have a sales meeting, and in the closing, I go through what I believe the goals and missions of the company are, and not just for the next 12 months but for the next 60 months, so these people have an idea of where we’re going.

At the end of the day, people want to know there is a sense of direction and they want to know that people at the top, there are concrete thoughts behind decisions that they make and why we come up with decisions to go in this direction.

Develop a strong brand. A brand is a commitment made and a promise kept. I’m big on the brand. Our service platform has to be top-notch.

If we’re working at one level and we’re taking care of business all the way down the chain, we’re solving problems consistently and we’re telling people the paper is going to be there on time every time. You keep that promise. That’s what keeps people coming back to you.

It’s going to keep the business growing.

Squash problems when they begin. If you see an issue brewing, you need to address it right then, and that’s a big problem, no matter what company you’re in. This is every CEO’s challenge, especially ones that are more people-oriented.

You want to give everybody every chance, but when you realize there’s issues and you realize you’ve gone through the fostering deal, but still it’s not working quite right, you need to do something about it then. If you keep a problem in the organization, other people notice it and it begins to affect their work.

Retain management. The other thing that will inhibit growth is if you begin to change your management team regularly. There’s a great chapter from the book “Good to Great.”

The flywheel theory is you get up there every day and you get everybody pushing the flywheel a certain direction, and that’s how a company develops momentum, and momentum leads to growth. You’re only pushing it just a little bit, but after awhile, it begins to develop speed. If your president changes or your VP of sales changes, then all of a sudden, everybody doesn’t quite know what their marching orders are. The flywheel stops.

The new guy comes in, and he wants to throw it another direction. About the time that thing starts going the other direction, they change that guy. You develop no momentum because people are going one direction one time, one direction another time, so at the end of the day, it’s very difficult to grow because you haven’t developed any momentum.

Develop your skills. You’ve got to always be challenging yourself a bit. I’m involved in a group, and it’s a network of CEOs. These guys are in a noncompeting business, and the whole idea is that you share your problems, your issues with these guys that are in similar roles in different companies.

I go to them and I say, ‘I don’t understand capital markets,’ and they help me with that.

These guys are much stronger than I am, say, operationally, so they’ll ask very tough operational questions, and I’ve got to get my act together.

The other question that begs to be asked is, ‘What the heck do I really want to do long-long term?’ These guys challenge me to do that. Every CEO needs some kind of outside network. A lot of them have boards, but we don’t have a board here, and these guys challenge me to be thinking outside the box and challenge my thoughts.

Seek advice from others. By the time you’ve gotten to that role, you have certain things already in place, but don’t be afraid to seek advice from an outside source. That doesn’t mean you have to act on it, but seek the advice. If you’re engaged in your business fully, you’ll have a nose for your business, and you need to have that.

[Ret. Gen. H. Norman] Schwarzkopf said two things got him through. He says take charge and do the right thing. You already know, internally, what the right thing is most of the time because you wouldn’t be CEO of that company if you didn’t, and doing the right thing also involves the integrity issue of CEOs.

It seems like there’s been a lack of that, but you know in your heart what’s right.

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