After 25 years in the computer business Art Lambert and Ron Simkins knew exactly what they didn’t like. So when they formed LexJet Corp., a supplier for the digital imaging market, they threw out all the things they hated and built a culture based on the things they liked.
For instance, they didn’t like how financials were off-limits at other companies, so every employee of LexJet knows what everyone else earns. Teaching his employees how to read financial statements was part of Lambert’s plan to give them the tools to become managers. Their unique perspective on company culture has grown the company to 100 employees and 2006 revenue of $35 million.
“If you start with no secrets, and everybody knows you’re not holding back anything, it’s really pretty easy,” Lambert says.
Smart Business spoke with Lambert about how banishing offices and titles has created a fun, money-making mentality at LexJet.
Q: How do you create a culture?
Our three rules are have fun, make money, and don’t get in anybody else’s way of having fun and making money.
We hire young, energetic, enthusiastic, competitive people. If you walk around the office, the energy is high. They’re high-fiving each other, they’re ringing a bell when they get business, they are slapping the support folks on the back for helping them.
And we make it casual. Our dress-up day is shorts, a collared shirt and shoes. On dress-down day it’s a T-shirt and sandals. There are no offices; there are no titles. We’re creating a very unique culture.
Q: How can you have a manager without an office?
Here is a team leader office: It’s a backpack on the back of a chair with their computer, and they are moving around the floor all day long. They’re working with their folks, teaching them, listening to calls, coaching them. It’s the epitome of a mobile office.
There is one big office for all the team leaders. That’s where they congregate for the first hour of the morning. Then they put their computer in their backpack and start moving.
One of the things we used to see in the corporate world is that everybody stays in their office. Now, it’s very easy for someone to sit in an office and look at e-mail all day.
We say use the e-mail for general communication, but that’s where it ends. We want you out doing what you should be doing best, which is teach.
Q: How do you train your employees?
Typically, if you’ve made it through four years of college, you may have partied a bit, but you’ve shown a discipline for learning. That’s what starts it all. If you’re going to enter a learning environment, you need that discipline for learning. That’s why we hire straight out of college.
Then, the first 90 days is immersion. Before you get on the phone and talk to customer No. 1, you know what our philosophies are for the customer, you know our products, you know more about the competitors’ products than they probably do.
When they talk to their customers, we want them to be more than just sales guys; we want them to be businesspeople. We want to teach them the importance of cash management. We want to teach them the importance of total cost of ownership. We want to teach them more than just, ‘Here’s my product, here are its benefits, please buy from me.’
We sell stuff; that’s how we make money. But people buy from us because our guys know what the hell they’re talking about.
Q: Why is training so important?
There are so many companies out there that are their owners. We did not want our company to be us, to be identified with us over time. We thought it was important that the company be identified by its leadership team, by the guys who actually run the business.
Ron and I joke that they threw us out of the office and told us to go work out of our home offices, and they do so well because we stay out of their way. But the fact is, we wanted it that way.
We both had high-level positions at major corporations, so the egos were not an issue. And that is one of the things we’ve tried to relate to those leaders we have now. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
Q: How do you deal with a bad decision?
I make bad decisions on the golf course all the time. I came to the realization you need to learn from it and move on.
Don’t try to hit it under a tree, over the water and a bunker, at least not at my skill level. Learn from it, and don’t do it again.
That’s the philosophy we take to the guys. We’ve all made bad decisions; they are going to make them, too, and they’re not going to grow up unless they make a few. Just make sure you learn from it.
HOW TO REACH: LexJet Corp., (800) 453-9538 or www.lexjet.com