Flying high Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

Easter is one of the busiest times of the year for Avantair Inc., and that means everyone — from the janitors to the managers — needs to pitch in.

For example, this past Easter, managers jumped in to help with cleaning the aircraft. And when a janitor saw that happening, he approached founder, president and CEO Steven Santo to express his excitement that all the planes were going out on time, which prompted Santo to get excited, too.

“This is not just a guy who is just happy to do his job and basically clean the hangar and get rid of the leaves and the garbage and stuff; this is a guy who is excited by the prospect of what was going on at the company,” says Santo of Avantair, which posted fiscal 2007 revenue of $76.4 million.

Smart Business spoke with Santo about how to create an environment that gets everyone excited about your business.

Leave your door open. Every time I’m visiting a company and there is a bunch of closed doors, I say to myself, ‘That’s a problem,’ because everybody is wondering what’s going on behind those doors and what are they talking about? ‘Are we OK as a company? Are they making plans to do something?’ So, we don’t do that. My door is open right now while I’m talking to you.

 

It’s the simple things. It’s about showing your face, it’s about talking to people, and it’s about being truthful. If you’re truthful about where the company is, where you expect it to go and you come out and say where you are at those different points, good or bad, everybody knows what to expect.

Lead by example. It’s not a hard thing for me to do. There’s so many examples of it. It’s the person who stays at five-star hotels as the CEO of the company and then tells everybody else in the organization, ‘We need to save money, and you all should stay at a two-star hotel.’

 

That happens time and time again. It’s hard for people to believe in you and follow you when you’re not doing the same things that everybody else is doing.

There are other examples. [You say,] ‘I need you to work late and give 100 percent,’ and you leave at 5 o’clock; they feel the wind of you running by to leave.

In order to be a good leader, people have to believe you are the hardest worker at the company, and everybody wants to give that extra effort for you and the company because they believe in what you are doing.

Show employees you trust them. It’s by letting them lead their area. You really give them a long leash to lead in the area that they lead in.

 

Then you meet with them, often, and talk to them about what’s going on in their department and help them. You more help them than discipline. But you have to believe you have the right people in those places. If you don’t, you’re going to have a lot of sleepless nights.

Look beyond the resume. You are looking for certain things backgroundwise, from education to experience. But even more than that, it’s just the fit. It’s just the fit with your style.

 

You can hire the smartest person in the world, but if they don’t fit with your style, you can’t work with them. You’re not excited to be around them, you’re just not going to be productive. So I look for people that I get along with well but also meet those other qualifications because you can’t make money in this industry without working hard and sticking to your plan.

You need to be around people that you like, that you enjoy being around and then you have to trust them to do what they do.

I’m not an operations guy, so I hire people to do that, and I trust that they know a lot more about it than I do and just hold them to the numbers. As long as you’re willing to do that — let the experts do what the experts do — I think you’ll be successful.

Keep an eye on progress when delegating. You concentrate on the details. I manage pretty strictly, so as soon as the details are getting lost, then you have to jump back in and see what is going on.

 

Some of the things that we do here that might be different from other companies is, at least monthly, I’ll meet with departments about the department heads, and just (say), ‘Hey, do you have any questions about what is going on? Do you have any questions about the directions of the company?’

The things that they may be fearful of saying to their direct report, oftentimes, they’ll come out and say, ‘I do’ ... and then you can either see if the message is coming down the right way and everybody’s on schedule or if it’s not.

More times than not, it’s not the manager; it’s the company’s fault. It’s the company’s fault for not educating and grooming that person the right way. So, you have to go back and train.

HOW TO REACH: Avantair Inc., (727) 539-0071 or www.avantair.com