Navigating success Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

In 2000, Rich Schwabauer, president of Navigating Business Space Inc. (NBS), purchased one of its competitors, significantly growing the company from about $20 million in sales and 50 employees to about $40 million in sales and 80 employees.

With that growth, Schwabauer knew it was time to change his role within the company and allow his employees to tackle some of the more important issues. “It was that year, I just had to let go,” Schwabauer says. “It was kind of a defining moment where you just know it’s about the team. As we started to grow and see people develop, it became much easier.”

The workspace designer now employs more than 100 employees and had 2005 revenue of about $50 million.

Smart Business spoke with Schwabauer about how to create a fun work environment for employees.

Q: What does it take to be a successful leader?

Finding the right people to add to your team and putting them in the right spots. I spend a lot of time, part of my week and year, recruiting and coaching and mentoring. That’s what makes up a big part of my to-do list.

You really have to be willing to let go and empower once you have those right people. One of the skill sets you need is to be able to delegate, empower and trust that things will get done. If you aren’t inclined that way, then (it) will be a challenge to let go.

You need to reward and recognize and celebrate success. You need to acknowledge those and make them a part of your day-to-day activities.

Q: How do you find good employees?

I put an ear to suppliers we work with and other customers we work with. I’m looking for who they feel is a bright, energetic person that fits the profile I’m looking for.

I personally ask for who is out there. Not who is available, but who is good. I just cold call them. I call them, prospect them and mention I heard a lot of good things about them. I meet with them and pursue them.

Q: How do you retain employees?

I would put that into three buckets. One, we share a lot of information. We share how we are doing as a company. Even though we are privately held, we are committed to [being an] open book. Nobody is without information.

Two, we put fun into the workplace. Our business is to design productive workspaces for our customers, so we work in one. We always have something going on that brings people together socially. They can take some steam off of their day and relax.

Three, we make it personal. I try to make sure I spend time with all our people and play a role that I can in making sure they are successful and feel good about what they do.

Q: What fun things do you do for employees?

We have margarita days. At 2 in the afternoon, we’ll bring pretzels and chips and we’ll let loose a little bit in the late afternoon. We take an afternoon and have a bocce ball tournament.

In 2003, we took the entire company to Disney. We set a company goal and we worked with this book called ‘Inside the Magic Kingdom.’ It’s a book on who Disney is, who they are and why they are successful. I have all the employees read the book and we talk about the concepts and try to apply them to our business.

Half the company left on Thursday and came back on Sunday. The other half left on Saturday and came back on Tuesday so we were able to keep business as usual. We just want this to be a place that people enjoy coming to.

We also have two teams that reward and recognize. One team is called the traditions team. They are responsible for the informal rewards and recognitions we do throughout the month. They are little ‘Way to go’ cards that have really hung on here without losing momentum. They are little cards you grab if somebody helped you out. It’s a way for you to recognize their efforts. At the end of the month, we pull certain names out and give them little gifts and certificates.

The other team is called the mentor team. We felt it was important to establish a mentor team so when we do hire a person or several new people, that they have some go-to people on everything from our business practices to the culture to, really, how work gets done.

HOW TO REACH: Navigating Business Space Inc., (248) 823-5400 or