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A leap of faith Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Linda Moorehead could have just walked away in 2003 when she learned that her employer was on the verge of going out of business. Instead, she decided to buy the company, which soon became Blackhawk Management Corp. In 2005, the 260-employee company, which provides engineering, information technology and program management services, generated $25.5 million in revenue and estimates 2006 revenue of $34.5 million. “Taking risks is a part of personal growth,” says Moorehead, Blackhawk’s president and CEO. “It doesn’t mean that you’re reckless. It means that you understand the impact of your actions beforehand. We had the right people; we just had to do the right thing. And I had to take the risk.”

Smart Business spoke with Moorehead about the importance of respect in business and the value of keeping an eye on the future.

Q: What skills must a good CEO possess?

We should always be mindful that no matter how successful we get, things can turn around. You have to look forward five years, 10 years, and you have to see the big picture.

You need to set new goals after you achieve your old ones. You need to stay hungry and look for new business like you’re starving. Serve your customers like they’re your only ones and support your staff as if your lives depended on it.

Respect goes a long way. Just as I respect my staff and my customer, I respect other companies competing against us enough to know that they will be thorough. So we need to be a notch above.

You’ve got to set ambitious goals and stretch to make them. Lack of imagination will keep you right where you are day after day. Along with that, you need to break through and see the potential in business opportunities and people.

Our (lack of) imagination was what kept holding us back. Adjusting to the new goal and understanding the landscape have empowered us.

Q: How does a CEO demonstrate commitment to success?

By hiring qualified personnel and providing motivation through personal contact with employees at all levels. By sharing company information with customers, potential customers and employees through things such as newsletters, frequent meetings and on-site visits. When you prove that you are committed to customers and employees, they will respond with commitment to the company.

Trust your instinct and the people around you. But keep asking the tough questions. The people who work for you want you to succeed and will be committed to you. But they need to feel that you will do the same for them.

If you don’t listen to the employees who do the work, you won’t know what is going on.

This is a stressful job and a difficult job, but it’s also exciting. The excitement of these jobs is what keeps us moving. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do.

I always have treated every job I’ve had like I owned the company. You have to have an excitement and you always have to be hungry.

Q: How do you control growth?

The best way to successfully manage growth, fast or slow, is to always keep your integrity, customer service and employee relations at the top of your list. If these are not in balance at any time, failure should be anticipated, particularly during fast growth as things are moving quickly and are more difficult to keep up with.

When you’re very small, you really do know everyone. As you grow, you can’t do that. But you also want to have that personal, caring touch because that builds trust and relations.

We are a personal company, but we keep it on the business level. You always have to remember what is best for the company is usually what’s best for the employees.

Q: What one thing can stop growth?

The major thing is not being ready for the next step. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be successful. It’s the ready part.

My leadership style is a heart and mind fully synchronized. But my mind is focused on connecting the one who needs and the one who knows.

Vision is important because truly seeing something as it is and what it could be will keep you in demand.

Growth is impossible unless you put yourself in the shoes of your customer.

You listen to your customers like they’re your staff, and you listen to your staff like they’re your customers. Active listening shows that you value them beyond their roles.

Just like a budget, a strategy needs to be developed carefully and with lots of hands and minds. I work on my vision of the company and work closely with our business development team and set the goals that we shoot at every day.

HOW TO REACH: Blackhawk Management Corp., www.blackhawkmgmt.com