Driving to the top Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2009

Mark A. Carr admits he can be lazy. However, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“Lazy people are very good delegators,” says the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., an automotive repair business.

But with that delegation, he expects his employees to be accountable at the company, which posted more than $60 million in 2008 revenue.

If employees ask him a question that they should be able to answer on their own, he tells them to figure it out themselves.

“But, when they come with a legitimate question, ‘OK, I’ve got this thing here, and I’m not sure if I should go this way or this way. What do you think?’ I love those questions,” he says.

In addition to asking questions or seeking advice, he also loves when employees ask him for a chance to try something different, which is a way he identifies sharp workers.

Smart Business spoke with Carr about how to delegate to employees. 

Delegate. You evaluate the company and you see the sharp ones and you say, ‘OK, you are the head of this department, and this is your responsibility to run this. My door is open. Every time you have a question, rather than try to solve it on your own, come in, talk to me, and let’s solve it together.’ Eventually, they stop coming in. My son works for me, and I got into a tussle with him. I said, ‘Donnie, why don’t you come to your father and ask him how to solve a problem?’

He said, like I’ve had other employees say, ‘Well, I want to do it on my own to prove to you that I can do it.’ I said, ‘I invented the wheel, why would you want to invent it again, make the wheel a bicycle and run down the road with it?’

So, that’s my philosophy. I’m very open and I compliment my guys for asking questions, rather than trying to solve it on their own. No. 1, it takes twice as long and you run the risk of making a mistake.

Get a feel for employees. My real estate guy, you couldn’t offend him if you took a stick to his head. But, you have other employees that are very sensitive. Again, that’s a read. You have to treat everyone different in those regards.

I use the rule where if I have to discipline them, I compliment them first on the things that they need complimenting on. I hit them with the things that they need to fix, and at the end, I tell them how much I appreciate them.

Reward employees. Projects are important. You have a certain project you need done and (an employee) gets it done or the department gets it done very well and very quickly, you can bonus them. But never set it in stone. All the bonuses come across my desk, and the only one that makes that decision is me. It’s totally discretionary.

When you structure it and say, ‘This is what you are going to get,’ they take it for granted.

I’ll put it on the store level. You take your guys and you buy them lunch every Friday. All of sudden they expect it. Well, if you skip a couple of weeks and they really hit a home run and do $40,000 in a week on a Wednesday, you buy them steaks instead of that routine thing. The bonus structure is the same way. ‘OK, if this store closes, I know exactly what I am going to get.’ Well, that gives you no incentive to push harder. If it’s to my discretion and I can see you are really working and putting in the time, I’m going to give you more, and I’m going to give the other guy less.

Know your weaknesses. The first thing you need to do is be honest with yourself and be honest with the others around you. Because the guys that try to run a company and try to be everything, they usually get to a plateau or they fail. I would recommend you take a personality test. And see where your weaknesses are. And be honest with yourself. They are weaknesses, and people don’t change. You have to recognize that about yourself. ‘OK, I see the weakness; I need to work harder on that.’ But in four months you’re still not doing a good job because you have all these other responsibilities.

Find out, if you’re walking into a company with 50-plus employees, find out who runs those areas better than you do. Watch them and see if they are doing a satisfactory job or a spectacular job. Either get them off the bus or help them grow, but give them freedom. You’ve got to give them freedom. If you are going to give somebody responsibility and you look over their shoulder on everything, it’s just a frustration to people. It’s not fair to that person that you gave the authority to because he really doesn’t have any.

Stay in the know. There’s only 22 of us in the office, so I have a pulse on the things that are incredibly important that we have to carry out by deadlines and that sort of thing. I know what those projects are, so when I come in the morning and walk down to my office, I’m hitting it and saying, ‘Where are you on the Web site, what’s happening, why aren’t you done? OK, you IT guys, you’re designing this infrastructure, and I want to know where we are with it and these important things after the infrastructure. What are our deadlines; what are you looking at for timelines on that?’

How to reach: Christian Brothers Automotive Corp., (281) 870-8900 or www.cbac.com