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Legal lesson learned Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Acquisitions can help a company grow, but as Joe Gillen learned, they can also be an unexpected source of aggravation.

Gillen did not see the danger that lurked as he sought to acquire a financially insolvent company and make it a part of Pinnacle Financial Strategies.

“I never knew that people would invest in lawsuits and that third parties, who had nothing to do with either side, would put up money to buy a lawsuit,” Gillen says. “I was pretty naive.”

Despite the litigation, Pinnacle acquired the company. But the experience taught the founding partner and CEO a valuable lesson.

“Not that you want to spend a portion of your revenue on legal matters, but it’s the way of American business,” Gillen says. “Whether you like it or not, it’s part of the landscape.”

Pinnacle, which provides guidance and solutions to financial institutions, grew from $32 million in 2004 to $37 million in 2006 with 125 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Gillen about how to be a strong leader and still have fun with your job.

Q: How does culture play a part in your success?

We wear shorts and Hawaiian shirts if the temperature is right. I wear a Hawaiian shirt almost every day of the week. That doesn’t change the way (employees) do their job. There is just a little more relaxed feeling that the casualness gives you.

It drops the curtain, which I call a suit and tie. You can dress people up, but it doesn’t really tell you who they are. (Our culture) allows people to meet their cohorts on a more level basis and understand maybe a little more about them than just the business side. Hawaiian shirts tell you a lot about a person with the colors and designs you choose. They tell you a lot about a person’s personality.

Q: How does a leader get employees to buy in?

You can have the greatest idea in the world. Unless people are willing to believe in it and execute and continue to provide the very best your customers can expect to receive and hopefully exceed their expectations, you’re not going to be successful.

It’s all about the passion and belief of the people in the organization who all have one common goal of providing the best service to your customer.

The key element is leadership and passion for what you do. All the CEO can do is try to guide it and be a step ahead so everyone has something to look forward to.

Be willing to lead. Be willing to step out there and show them that this is the right way to go. Be willing to take the risk to get the company there.

Q: Where can a CEO gain an edge?

Spend time with the receptionist. He or she knows more than you probably do because everybody walks by the receptionist every day.

That tells you how the attitude of the company is going. Talking with more than your direct reports and spending time with your customer base is key to really understanding where you’re headed as an organization.

It’s wonderful to sit in your office and believe you can read the tea leaves of where the industry is going that you work in. But it’s certainly a lot better to go out and spend time with some key customers and understand where they think their business is headed. That will give you the road map of where you need to be taking your organization.

Never pass up the opportunity to meet someone new who just may be your replacement. Every CEO’s goal one day is to walk away from the organization that they run and leave it in the hands of someone more competent and capable than they were.

Q: How do you deal with failure?

Pinnacle wouldn’t be here today had I not failed many times before. Every morning, you have two choices when you get up. You can get up with the attitude that today is a great day and I’m going to do what I can to make it the best day possible. Or you can get up and say, ‘Today stinks, and I’m going to be miserable all day.’

Failure is an opportunity to know what not to do the next time. I don’t think I’ve ever been scared of failure. That’s probably why I’m sitting here today because I was able to fail quite a few times and not quit.

The difference between people who reach the long-term goal versus those who didn’t is they failed one time more and then finally got the solution. It’s not that people who are that successful are that much more brilliant than the people who haven’t been as successful.

HOW TO REACH: Pinnacle Financial Strategies, (866) 737-1235 or www.pinnaclefinancialstrategies.com