Plastics and people Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Hearing the same message repeatedly can turn off employees, so Kevin Chase takes care to deliver his message in different ways.

Chase establishes three different themes for his company each year, but one theme, “growth, growth, growth,” always remains the same.

“They may hear me say it 50 times per year,” says Chase, president of Chase Plastic Services Inc. “You need to mix it up.”

Chase, who employs more than 80 people at his specialty thermo-plastics distributor and has led his company to 2006 revenue of about $95 million, once delivered a speech under an unfinished Chase Plastics building, which he used to illustrate his point.

“Instead of saying, ‘Growth, growth, growth,’ I said, ‘Chase Plastics is still under construction. To complete this construction project we have to continue to hit our budgeted numbers.’”

Smart Business spoke with Chase about how to develop employee engagement and how to avoid letting workers down.

Q: What are the keys to growth?

It’s all about the right people.

We are a ‘work hard, play hard’ company. But, if you don’t hit our high expectations, you’re gone. It’s not being a hard-ass, it’s just you can’t be part of this team. Every year, we establish a letter grade for every person in this company. It’s either an A, B or a C. Cs get to Bs, or they are gone.

If you get the right people and compensate them very well for what they do, they will take you where you want to go because they want to grow. You empower them through a very mature macromanagement style or variable compensation, but they have to perform. That’s the driver.

Q: How do you find the right employees?

We have a very extensive recruiting process that starts out with our key human resource manager and our vice president and interviewing these people on the phone. Once we get them through the phone process, they come in with a full-day team interview process of somewhere between six and eight people.

Then we test them on personality, analytical, a writing test, and then, at the end of the process, we get our interviewing team together, get their results and sit around and talk about them. The first thing is, are they a fit to our culture? Are they going to work hard, and are they smart?

Q: How do you engage employees outside of the office?

We do community service projects, and there are other party things we do throughout the year.

We call it employee engagement, but you can’t force them. All you can do is create the opportunity but not become a burden on their private life. We just want to give them an opportunity to be engaged in the company so they feel it is a special place to work.

It gets them outside the four walls of an office building. When they get their hands dirty and work on projects together, all it does is help teamwork. Plus, when you ask them to do something above and beyond, and they see a vice president out there and she’s mixing concrete for a new sidewalk for a disabled person, don’t you think that, if it were the right mindset, you’d be able to get that a little bit easier?

Q: How do you handle failure?

You don’t think about it. You embrace and engulf yourself in nothing but positive optimism that you are moving forward. But, when a problem arises, that’s when you rally together and break it down.

I was fortunate to see General Norman Schwarzkopf, and one of the questions from the audience after his speech was, ‘General, on the battlefield, you are analyzing all these problems. How do you end up making the right decision?’ He said, ‘At the end of the day, you do what’s right.’ During a problem or a failure, even if we are going to lose a large customer, if we have done everything right, that is all I can ask.

Q: What are pitfalls to avoid in business?

It comes back to commitment. Talk is really easy and cheap, but, as a business leader, don’t throw out things you think you can do but you can’t deliver. Those false promises to the individuals at our warehouse or truck drivers will tear your relationship with them apart.

If you are a leader and you can’t follow through on it, don’t say it. But, if you can keep that commitment, then say it, and let them know your expectations are high.

I had bosses that would come right out and lie to me, but I was so naive and in my 20s. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t go in the foxhole with them because I don’t trust them.

HOW TO REACH: Chase Plastic Services Inc., (248) 620-2120 or