Never settle Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

When Marie Bartholomew started Tampa Bay Vending Inc. with her husband, Brad, in the 1980s, it wasn’t the high-tech operation it is today. In fact, it was nothing but a Volvo station wagon, a U-Haul trailer and a dolly from Wal-Mart.

But that entrepreneurial spirit was coupled with a plan for continuous improvement. The CEO of Tampa Bay Vending says that the day you consider yourself No. 1 is the day that someone who’s hungrier than you will wrestle that spot away from you.

She, along with her husband, who serves as president, challenges her employees to get better every day, a tactic that has helped the company achieve 2006 revenue of $35 million, with $40 million projected for 2007. “Not bad for starting in a Volvo station wagon and a U-Haul trailer, is it?” Bartholomew says, laughing.

Smart Business spoke with Bartholomew about how running a business is similar to running a ball club.

Q: How is running a business like running a sports team?

As things change, every year is different. The economy is different. You have to look at the past year: Did everybody pull their weight? Do some people need to be promoted? You move people around, just like a football or baseball team. You have to put them in the right position. We look for new players all the time. We go out and hire headhunters and new blood, but we also promote from within.

We never go outside the organization unless we cannot fill the job, because we are extremely loyal to team members. If they can do it, they are offered the job first.

Q: What are the advantages of hiring from within?

They already know the business. If you do a good job, you are looked upon equally regardless.

Somebody might be here for a year; somebody might have been here 10 or 12 years. Whoever does the best job is going to get the job. It doesn’t have to do with how long you’ve been here. It has to do with your performance.

That’s the key to making it fair. Everyone has a shot at being promoted; they know that coming in.

Q: What factors can prevent growth?

Not hiring the right people. If you don’t have the right people in place, it will absolutely destroy you. I’ve seen a lot of companies do that.

The other thing is not reinvesting in your company. A lot of people take the money out of the company and don’t put it back in. We are constantly updating our equipment and

vehicles, things like that, to stay competitive. If you want your company to grow, you have to reinvest money in the company and in your people. Those are the two key elements to success.

Q: How do you know when to reinvest in equipment?

First thing we look at is, ‘Will this piece give us an advantage over our competitors?’

The second thing is, ‘Is it time-consuming?’ If we reinvest money in a particular piece of equipment that will save our technicians time, then yes. That’s why we have three CPAs on staff. We look at numbers on a daily basis. If we’re looking to replace a vehicle, and we’ve spent X amount of dollars on it, then we’ve got the use out of this particular vehicle. Then you can sell it, take it to salvage, whatever you want.

Q: What skill is most important for successful leadership?

You have to be a people person — or have someone in your corporation who can be. If you are the CEO of a corporation and people know who you are, and they feel confident that you are running the company for their future, they will give you 110 percent.

Q: How do you find those people?

We let each department head hire their own people. Human resources does not hire. They do the final interview. But whatever department needs that person, they do the hiring. HR comes in and explains benefits, schedules, those sorts of things.

Q: How does that work?

It’s great — you don’t have someone who can’t get along with someone in that department. You can have the best mechanic in the world, and if he can’t get along with the people he’s working with, the work is not going to be completed.

Whether it’s the catering department or the food production department, each department head hires their own people.

Q: How involved should the CEO be in day-to-day operations?

I’m here every day. I had two days off this year. I’ve seen companies who have key people in place, and they run the company extremely well. One of my friends has a $100 million company, and he has key people in place — it works well for some people. I just like being there on the dayto-day part of it.

HOW TO REACH: Tampa Bay Vending Inc., www.csgvend.com