Jon E. Barfield Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

Jon E. Barfield likens business to a game of cards: Even when a player is down to his last chip, he’s willing to risk it for a chance to win the game. And during difficult times, a company likewise must be willing to take risks to stay ahead of the curve and take advantage of potential growth opportunities, says Barfield, chairman and CEO of the Bartech Group Inc. Barfield, whose father started the staffing firm in 1977, says that many of his largest customers are in the automotive industry, which has seen better days, so his company has been planning new services and products to build on its 2005 revenue of about $200 million. Smart Business spoke with Barfield about how to find motivated employees and rebound from mistakes.

Play for the long haul. If you participate in a business and have never had a failure, you probably have not taken enough risks. Entrepreneurs risk their own capital and past successes for future success. For every disappointment we have had over the past 30 years, we’ve had 10 successes.

The way you rebound is you inspect and try to understand as best you can why you were not successful. You learn from your mistakes. You let people go if there was an accountability issue or a performance issue — without delay.

You counsel people who have made honest mistakes, and you give them additional training so they are successful in the next venture. You treat the history as a learning process for the future. You can never look a management team in the eye and say, ‘We will never make a mistake.’

If you never make a mistake, then you probably aren’t taking enough risks. If you aren’t taking enough risks, then you will probably have a limited life in terms of the longevity of the business.

Know when you need help. You need to know when in the life cycle of a business you need outside expertise. We have managed that very well. We brought in our first team of professional managers in 1995 because the family wanted to take the business to the next level, and we knew we needed additional expertise and thinking.

We also created an outside board of directors. We have an independent board, individual audit committee, a personnel and compensation committee, and a strategic planning committee. We did that to bring in experienced and qualified business leaders to help our family make strategic business decisions.

We, as a family, hold our senior management leadership team, of which I am a part, strictly accountable for results. Through that strategy of bringing in professional managers to supplement our in-family talent, along with creating our offsite, independent board, it has served

us well. We have grown in terms of revenue, profitability and maturity because of those two moves.

You need new thinking, new strategies and new experiences, which, added to your own, spell business success. It’s like the whole notion of diversity and why that is so important in corporate America.

If you take 10 people in a boardroom and they all look the same and have the same experiences and the same view on life, then you can reach a decision very quickly. But it will likely not be the right decision.

Find employees on the fast track. We seek to run a good company and be good corporate citizens first and foremost. We are looking for credentials and a track record of success. We look for people who come out of successful companies and who moved rapidly into more and more responsible positions over their careers, who have had unique experiences in areas we tend to grow in.

Our senior-most hires we recruit with the assistance of outside search consultants. Our process involves me conducting an initial screening of the premier candidates. For the senior-most offices that we

recruit, that involves our board of directors and the approval of that body.

It’s a pretty rigorous regimen that we employ to select great leaders in our business. We take sort of a scientific approach to doing it.

Be passionate about what you do. Everyone goes through periods when they are discouraged or down about an event or personal life crisis, because we are all human. The light flickers on and off on occasion.

It’s just like investing in the stock market. It’s investment over time that matters versus anecdotal, one-time events along the path.

But the moment you lose the passion that causes you to run up the stairs to the office each morning, stay late if you need to and work weekends if you need to, the minute that candle starts burning out, that’s when you should move on.

Communication is the key to every endeavor. It’s always best to be honest and candid with people. When you’re not being straightforward with people, they tend to know it. People are very intuitive and smart, and they tend to know what the answers are. They want you to ask them for their input.

If you communicate well and people understand what they are doing is important to the entire enterprise, you will have the team pulling in the right direction and typically be successful.

We communicate change through a review process here. We sit down twice a year with our leadership and their departments and we communicate to them, and hopefully every job in the business, what our company is about and what we’re doing. Also, successes that we’ve had and disappointments that we’ve had.

More importantly, how we need to enlist the success of every associate in the company to achieve our objectives.

HOW TO REACH: Bartech Group, (800) 828-4410 or www.thebartechgroup.com