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Tony Grijalva Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

In 2001, Tony Grijalva was facing a pivotal decision that could make or break the future of G&A Partners. He could keep trying to build a division that his company had put a lot of time and effort into, or dissolve the model and focus entirely on a plan that he believed could really drive revenue growth. Grijalva, the company’s chairman and CEO since its inception in 1995, decided to go with his instincts. He turned his eye toward becoming a professional employer organization, which provides clients with administrative, human resource and and risk management services. The move paid off. G&A took in an estimated $215 million in revenue in 2006 and has 110 corporate employees. Smart Business spoke with Grijalva about doing the right thing and why work ethic is more important than skills.

Find the right people. Any business is driven by people, and we always try to search, identify and keep good employees. But it takes awhile to refine your internal processes in order to accomplish that.

You always look for the experience, but more than that, we look for certain attributes like personality and work ethic. We feel that the actual job can be taught, but work ethic is a key. They don’t require supervision, they have initiative and they have the drive to do the right thing at all times.

It’s also extremely critical to go around, say hello to people and talk about their daily tasks. Give them the feeling that you care. It can be about work, but it can also be about their feelings and their personal lives.

Look for stability. It’s no longer the old model where someone will stay with the same company for 20 years. You expect people to move around, and you expect people to have a broader experience.

But by the same token, I don’t want to see people that move around every six months or every year. We like to see people with three, four or five years’ experience at various jobs. That tells me that whether it was good or bad, they had the perseverance and dedication to do what they were trained to do.

Follow your heart. I think people are born leaders. But I also think there can be a deliberate effort to do the right thing so that people want to follow.

One of the definitions of leadership is that people want to follow you. The key component is integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. When you have that, people tend to follow your steps. They want to emulate you and they want to listen to you. Some people are born with that quality. Others have to work hard at it.

We live in a capitalistic society, so the traps are always there not to do the right thing. Tell yourself what the principled thing to do is. Keep telling yourself that your principles are important.

At the end of the day, if you are principled, you’re going to prevail. Your enemies are going to respect you for it, and your friends are going to like you even more.

Don’t be afraid to grow. For a small business that grows beyond small and starts moving to the middle market, you have to realize that you are in the middle market. You need to spend money and do certain things which are different from what they were when you started. Understand your own success and realize you are in a different league. You are a little bigger and you can do things a little differently. Have a good layer of middle management, which is difficult because middle management and good management require money. But you have to make the decision: Do I invest in people in order to grow even more, or do I stay where I am and become content with that? Business is very dynamic, and things change constantly, either because of technology or new ideas. You have to constantly be looking for ways to reinvent yourself or re-engineer your processes to do better things and to diversify. That’s a constant challenge if you want to grow and compete.

Look at your industry and see the trends and understand that you want to be on the leading edge. If you don’t, it will be good for the short term, but it won’t continue. You have to be constantly vigilant.

Keep employees engaged. Evaluation is the only way you can measure where employees are. It’s critical that we align the evaluation with the job description to make sure that things are going the way you intend them to go. We try to do that every six months. It keeps them focused on results.

Make sure you keep them engaged by sharing responsibilities, empowering them to make decisions and by delegating. Sometimes, it is trial and error. As the employee develops, you start small. As they earn your trust, you keep giving them more.

Focus on being the best, and success will follow. For me, success would be being one of the best employers in town. To know that you created something that people brought to the next level, and your employees and families are well taken care of. Everything else seems to follow that. Personal success and contentment seem to be a consequence of that.

As long as you give, the receiving end will always be there. Humility is important in order to know your limitations. Understand your weaknesses so that you can seek the right help, and partner with other people that are smarter than you so your joint resources can accomplish something.

Realize that everybody makes mistakes. You want to foster the notion that mistakes are OK and not be so severe or critical of the mistake, unless it happens frequently. You can learn from those mistakes and strive not to do it again. You can have an open-door policy where consequences do exist, but candor is never penalized.

Understand that every failure is an opportunity to learn. You try to analyze the reason why things fail and dissect the problem in order to understand it. If you don’t, chances are you’ll do the same thing again.

Take it in and move on to the next item and try to do it right.

HOW TO REACH: G&A Partners, www.gnapartners.com