Big developments Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

As the boss of a successful company, it’s nice to sit back and think about all you’ve accomplished.

But don’t spend too much time reminiscing about the good times, warns Brian R. Wenzel. The president of Atwell-Hicks Inc., a development consultant company, says it’s sometimes necessary to think about previous successes, but you can’t let it consume your whole day.

“The hard thing is to not believe the hype,” he says. “If you spend a lot of time talking about the great things you’ve done, you’ll find while you’re spending time reminiscing about it all, your competitors are getting smarter and the environment around you is changing. If you aren’t constantly striving to innovate or trying to find the areas you can get better, that’s the first step toward disaster.”

Wenzel used that philosophy to lead his company of 400-plus employees to more than $60 million in 2005 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Wenzel about how to stay focused on the big picture and how to find and retain passionate employees.

Q: What traits does a successful CEO need?

Leaders have to have the ability to see the big picture. All of us, in any business we are in, have the ability to get too focused on one area, be it the area we like, the one we have an interest in or the one that is the problem for the day.

That’s where you run into problems, when you start making decisions based on partial information. You have to have the ability to see the entire big picture.

Once you have the ability to do that, the second thing you have to have is the ability to prioritize. If you think about my job, on any given day there’s either too many people or too much work.

All you are doing all day is balancing those things and moving resources between groups. I have seen many people fail because they didn’t prioritize. They spent a lot of time working on the easy things and not necessarily the thing that needed to get done.

The third thing is the ability to close. Once you’ve figured out what you need to do and once you started working on it, you have to get it done. The ability to close can mean anything. It can mean hiring a new person for the organization. It can mean signing and sealing a deal.

Those people that have the ability to do that or recognize when it’s not going to happen and lose it quickly are the ones that really have success.

Q: How do you develop the ability to see the big picture?

You have to understand what went into getting you there. It’s one thing to manage an organization that is ongoing and you are tweaking, and it’s another thing to get through a crisis situation.

They have to have an understanding of all aspects of the business. I don’t know how you do that if you don’t have an elementary understanding of all aspects of what goes into the product you are producing or the service you are providing.

Q: How do you find good employees?

We have four full-time recruiters in-house. We also have a number of relationships outside with external recruiters who are consistently looking for people.

Obviously, they are people we need to fill roles in the organization, but we’ve got people looking for individuals that have a philosophical and cultural match with the organization. We have always found it’s better to hire attitude over aptitude.

We look at a tremendous number of people. We have a fairly extensive interview process. I still meet ... with at least 75 percent of all the new hires that are made.

Q: How do you retain employees?

Retaining means a lot more than paying somebody market wage. We invested (in excess) of a million dollars in 2006 in training programs for our staff. We use both outside and internal resources to bring about knowledge and information.

We might partner with a University of Michigan or a Harvard to talk about expanding skill sets on people, relationships, management, or sales and marketing, or whatever the case may be.

We have spot bonus programs in place to say thank you when somebody does a job well-done. We have our Impact Atwell program, which is more than an employee suggestion box. It’s something we implemented a couple years ago that gave people, in a variety of different areas — from people to processes to possibilities — the opportunity to help us grow the company.

In the last year and a half, we’ve had north of 1,400 different ideas from north of 400 people, resulting in millions of dollars of savings for the company. In the process, we have paid out north of a quarter of a million dollars to our employees as a way of saying thanks for making the company better.

HOW TO REACH: Atwell-Hicks Inc., (734) 994-4000 or