Roderick K. Rickman Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
Being a leader can be a very lonely proposition, says Roderick K. Rickman. The founder, chairman, president and CEO of Minority Pollution Solutions Group Inc. says that as a result, it’s important for leaders to talk to their peers and share best practices and lessons learned. And one place Rickman gets that is from his business partner of almost 10 years, Adam Soave, whom Rickman has known since he was a teenager. Being open to advice from others has helped Rickman lead MPS Group — which serves the automotive and truck manufacturing industry — to $80 million in revenue last year and more than 250 employees. Smart Business spoke with Rickman about how he serves the community and keeps a personal life without losing focus on business.

Set priorities. You want to say, ‘I’m going to spend five hours Saturday, quality time with my son playing baseball.’ Just don’t get too far off of it. If it wasn’t Saturday, try to make it Sunday. If it isn’t Sunday, then definitely make it on Monday, and make it six hours. Make up for the day lost. Spend time at home. Turn the business off. Don’t turn it off and lock it away, but you have to hand it off or pass it along and spend that down time. I call it deleting some of that e-mail that is built up in your database because your database is overtaken.

There’s a lot of stress in day-to-day work. The right answer is to be able to turn it off and on at the right time, but that becomes a challenge. It’s knowing the right amount of quality time you need and make sure you fit that in your life.

Watch for continuous improvement. I’m an owner/operator, so I work on my business every day. As I send down messages, I want to see continuous improvement as it relates to cost savings. I want to make sure we have improved our process by going back and reconfirming it and sampling it for effectiveness by actually going in and being hands-on to it.

Typically, when you get too hands-on, your managers will push back because that tends to be teetering into micromanaging, when you find yourself spending 25 to 30 percent of your time doing something that is not in your direct responsibility. Oversight is something you should be able to do in what I call a monthly operation review between your management staff.

Learn to let go. It’s like when your child goes to school. You have to, one, as a leader, identify a vice president or general manager that has your similar disciplines and likes. From a culture standpoint, you guys align. That gives you some comfort when you know you have to step back and let your operating officer operate. I have a daughter, and it’s important for succession.

It’s exactly the same thing. That’s my succession plan, and you have to let them get in there and get their oars wet to be able to make some of those decisions you make every day. The more times you do it, the more comfortable and confident you get.

Remember that you aren’t perfect. Sometimes you can just get burnt out and be too close to things. So take that back to training and identify where shortcomings and gaps were and build strategy to close them and to shore them up.

Move quickly, and then get back in there. It’s not to the point you made a mistake, it was how fast you fixed it to move on.

It takes maturity. It never gets easier. You get more mature and are able, from an external standpoint, to manage better. It’s still tough to have a bad decision and feel bad when you do something wrong. There was no intent or malice, you just have to go back and re-evaluate it again and make the correction.

Get involved in the community. There is a certain amount of charities that we do every year. We try to rotate them. There is not one we don’t look at.

For new ones, I have selected a committee that will consist of 12 people that will be the giving committee, who will go in, look at them and vote who gets the budget. We have a budget of annual giving and we make sure we get all of these well-worthy 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations and charitable organizations well-needed funding.

Another way is to advocate and communicate to my peers who may have not been giving to get them involved, too.

For me, it’s where I come from. I’m from that community. It’s what is needed for the more fortunate to give to the less fortunate. It sets a perfect example for the kids of the community.

One of the requirements is that I do it anonymously. I want you to use MPS Group because we are a good service provider, not because I give to the Boy Scouts or adopt a child.

Create a positive corporate culture. We have incentive programs and plans. In 2004, we gave a 2004 Harley Davidson away. We give away trips. We have recycling programs where the winner gets dinner out for six or their staff gets to have dinner out. They get an upgrade in a hotel for a business travel.

A happier employee is a more productive employee. If they know the direction and future of the company, they are more adaptive to make a change.

As well as you can communicate to your employee, the more informed he is and the more comfortable he’ll feel. Annual and quarterly reports, newsletters, company picnics, team-building things; they are the good, successful programs that drive good culture and good service.

HOW TO REACH: Minority Pollution Solutions Group Inc., (313) 841-7588 or