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Let your passion shine Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Kumar Bashyam has never been on MTV’s “The Real World” or on any other reality TV show, for that matter. But as CEO of SGT Inc., he likes to pretend that he has TV cameras following his every move.

“You have to recognize that you are always on,” says Bashyam, who is also the company’s founder and chairman. “It’s like when people go in front of the camera.”

Instead of viewers, Bashyam’s key demographic groups are his employees and his clients at the 500-employee provider of IT and engineering consultancy services.

“You are being watched and monitored and emulated, and you always have an opportunity to demonstrate your passion,” Bashyam says. “You have to perform at the highest caliber.”

This philosophy has brought SGT high ratings, with 2007 revenue totaling $14.5 million.

Smart Business spoke with Bashyam about how to use your visibility with clients and employees to your advantage.

Q. How do you get your employees’ attention?

Be absolutely charismatic. When you speak, passion has to be all over. It’s sitting with an employee for a one-on-one review or sitting in front of a customer or if you’re in front of people addressing an audience.

Have a vision in mind of where the pieces may fit in the puzzle. It may happen in the sequence you want, or it may not happen in the way you want.

I kind of think that I’m in a movie, and it just so happens I’m also the main character, producer and director. It gives you a feeling like you are watching yourself.

You have to be able to be innovative, and you have to balance it and massage it, and then keep them all on track. The long-term goal is getting where you need to get to.

Q. How do you get employees to follow you to that destination?

There is a perception that a CEO is a magical guy who is going to play a part and wave a magic wand. I think it’s more of a team effort.

Build a view of where you are going and figure out your useful role within that. For example, we’re going through a budgeting process. I’m not really telling what to do.

I might just step back and say, ‘Guys, we have a commitment for $20 million in revenue next year. We have to drive that. Get an analysis of what revenues have been for the last year, and tell me how we can get there.’

A great CEO is somebody who doesn’t pass the ball. The team’s playing ball, and he’s out on the court, and the team plays together and intuitively knows how to execute. Things keep changing on the field all the time, so they have to know how to call plays on their own.

Q. How do you help employees develop the ability to execute?

You have to pick and choose where you want to get engaged and where you don’t want to. I get the guys to call me in. It all goes into how you pick your leadership. It’s not just one guy.

It’s people who share the vision that I have come up with and have the same shared values on how to drive it and are able to make decisions and have the comfort level to come to me on issues rather than me telling them what to do.

Between me and my managers, we have a punch list of what needs to get done. The fixes I address in person privately. The broad lessons, good news and other perspective, I address in a broader audience.

I make sure the company is not a hierarchal company. It’s a very flat organization. I’m going to reach two levels below you and take them out to lunch. If I can have two levels below me aligned with me, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.

Q. What can you do to keep everything on track?

Sometimes, management is probably thinking you can get away with not being transparent. With employees, you make a commitment of certain things. Be open enough to be straight with them. People are willing to accept reality and work to make it happen with you.

Growing a company is like raising a child. You are going to have various stages. Crawl, walk, run — it’s going to have issues. Through it all, the broader footprint is kids get to school and to college, and they graduate. That’s a broader goal.

You’ve got to be flexible enough to accept failure and encourage risk. People are going to make bad calls. How do you take the lessons out of it and you make sure you apply the lessons so they never happen again?

Make sure the lesson is a lesson for life. Make sure the failure is brought out and you come up with shared lessons out of it and learn from it. It’s about having the courage to acknowledge what it is and then apply the knowledge and learn from the lesson.

HOW TO REACH: SGT Inc., (713) 979-3970 or www.sgtglobal.com