Branching out Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

One of the first things Peter Vosotas learned at the helm of Nicholas Financial Inc. was that there are advantages to successful delegation.

He says giving his employees free rein to solve a problem however they see fit has been a great move, because they come up with solutions much different from anything he would have envisioned. The company has used that strategy to grow to $36 million in 2005 revenue, with 219 employees in 45 branch offices in 10 states.

Smart Business spoke with Vosotas, president and CEO of Nicholas Financial, about the benefits of delegating and how he manages employees in offices across the country.

Q: How do you delegate?

Don’t try to be the expert in everything. It’s pretty clear to my department heads that they know their stuff, and they know they know it more than I know it.

I don’t try to trump them, and that’s important — even if I do know it better than them. It’s giving something up of yourself. The only way I’m going to get you to write well for me is if I allow you to write.

If I’m going to edit what you wrote, I have to be very cautious that I don’t take away who you are.

We give you a lot of rope, and let you go out there and make all kinds of mistakes, but you can’t keep making them or you won’t be working here very long.

It depends on the level, too.

If you’re dealing with your 2-year-old grandson, it’s a little different than if you’re dealing with a $100,000 per year department manager.

If I have to tell you how to do your job, I don’t know why you’re here. All I have to do is give you your job definition, work with you, and then hold you accountable for getting it done, then periodically inspect what you’re supposed to be doing.

That’s the deal.

Q: How do you communicate your message to employees?

If it’s your wife and you running a salon and cutting hair, the communication path is quite short. But as the company grows in numbers of people and numbers of locations, communication is a real issue.

Somehow, every person who receives a paycheck is extracting money out of the company and out of the shareholders’ pocket. You need to know the person and communicate on a regular basis.

Ask them, ‘What are you doing, and how are you doing it? What are your problems? What can I do to help you?’ It becomes more and more difficult and more of a problem every day. If I go through 50 to 60 daily business reports, no matter where I am, I can get a pretty good idea where all my boats are, and if any of them are on fire.

Q: How do you manage employees at so many branch offices?

You need to walk around and talk, get inside the different offices, so I try to travel. We are really hands-on. I’ll call up managers and say, ‘Hey Bill, why is this bathroom in your branch office a pigpen? Look, we pay a lot of money for this office and a lot of money for you, and you’re a pig.’

Now, I’ve worked in companies where the president never, ever went to an office. He was really a performance-based manager. Maybe it’s good that the guy who has six employees having to deal with a dirty bathroom still has great numbers. But I don’t think so.

I think there’s more to the whole package and, over time, if you have all these things in place, if you have a nice environment to work in, good standards for the way things should look and healthy interaction, then you win.

Q: How do you build a successful business?

You can’t go about anything in a half-assed way. I’ve always found that the most successful people put everything they have into everything they are doing. They want to be as good as they can be at that particular task they are doing, whether it’s catching footballs or writing software.

When you’re building a company, there is nobody there to pass the buck to, unless you lay it off on your board members, which is absolutely absurd. You’ve got to give everything you’ve got to it. To me, you can’t go home at 5 or 6 p.m. and the job just goes out the door.

Since 1985, I’ve been 24/7 for this company. It doesn’t mean that your life is abandoned, but everything you do can be integrated. I don’t think you can shut off your business or shut off your life.

HOW TO REACH: Nicholas Financial Inc., (727) 726-0763 or www.nicholasfinancial.com