Molding success Featured

8:00pm EDT August 29, 2006
 Even as a kid, Carolyn Faulk knew how to make money. As an 8-year-old, she created a private club and charged other kids a quarter to join.

As an adult, while working as a teacher and keeping books for local plastics companies on the side, one of those manufacturers left town, claiming there wasn’t money in Houston. Faulk’s entrepreneurial flair kicked in again, and she started her own business.

“I said, ‘This is a great opportunity. I’m a young, healthy woman that is not afraid to work, and if I can’t make this work, I can always go back to teaching,” the president and CEO of A&C Plastics Inc. says. “I’ll always have a roof over my head, so what’s the problem here?”

She saved $5,000, got an answering service and started “just kind of playing Monopoly and built it up from there.” She and her 37 employees work by the philosophy that they sell service and throw in the plastic for free, and that’s paid off. A&C posted $16.5 million in revenue last year, up 27 percent over 2004.

Smart Business spoke with Faulk about growing a company while growing as a leader.

What most inhibits a company from growing?
If you try to grow too fast, you can actually grow yourself out of business. You see all this business you can get, but you don’t have the capital to (act) on it, so you overextend yourself with your vendors. You don’t watch your cash flow. You’re not watching your spending. It’s a domino effect.

You’ve got to take baby steps — one step at a time to get you to the next level. Don’t try to be the front runner and not have the cash flow, the inventory and your expenses to back it up.

How do you harness that energy?
You don’t want to do a little bit of everything and a whole lot of nothing. Stay focused on what got you where you are.

You’ve got to stay within your means but take risks to increase your cash flow and your business. You always have somewhere to go. You know it’s out there, and you know how to do it.

How do you lead growth?
If your employees know the market and know their job, they’re going to take you to that next level. If you don’t know what your competitors are doing, you’re kind of just chasing your tail. You’re in your own little world. You think you know what you’re doing, but you don’t.

You have to be aware of what’s going on around you and how the market’s going. You stay ahead of the market. You try to act.

What qualities do you look for in employees?
I hire for attitude and I train for skill, because you can teach anybody with a great attitude how to do something. Attitude is 85 percent of your job, but if you have 85 percent skill and a bad attitude, you’re dead in the water.

How do you gauge attitude?
You never know anybody until you’ve worked with them or lived with them. We give them different kinds of tests, and then we give them a job description — and we always put on there more than what we’re going to expect out of them.

We watch them. What are they willing to do? How do they react to a lot of questions? I want to hire people who are looking for an opportunity and don’t just want to be on the payroll.

How do you nurture and empower employees?
Get out there and get your hands dirty. Go out there and be visible to all your employees and speak to them. Be hands-on, and let them know that you know who they are, even if it’s just by name.

The most important thing is putting your employees in the position they’re best at. They know they have the opportunity to grow with the company to the next level, which is where I come in and let them know, this is where you are, this is where you can go.

How do you grow as a leader?
Always be a student in your own business. You’re selling service. Stay in tune to your customers’ needs and your employees’ needs. Anyone can be replaced. Even the president and CEO of a company can be replaced.

My dad was a great inspiration to me. He always said, ‘All you have to do is get up early and stay late.’ It comes down to getting up early and staying late and loving what you’re doing and staying focused. It’s not a job. It’s a game - it’s a personal game.

HOW TO REACH: A&C Plastics Inc.,