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Bill Adams Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007
Bill Adams has found that one of the best ways to determine whether a risk is worth taking is to figure out the worst thing that could happen if things don’t go as planned. If the worst-case scenario is deemed manageable, the risk is probably worth considering. That philosophy, along with a culture of communication and collaboration, has helped take Trussway Ltd., a manufacturer of structural building products, to $194 million in sales in 2006 and an expected $222 million in 2007 with more than 1,300 employees. Smart Business spoke with the president and CEO about how to use everyone’s strengths to help grow your company.

Check your ego. You want to be a good CEO? Get the heck out of your people’s way and let them do their jobs. I have a respect for the people doing the job that they know more about their job than I do because they do it every day.

A production manager on a floor knows 10 times as much about what a production manager on that floor should be doing than I do. Why would I go in and interfere with him?

It’s my job to make sure all the managers in our company are good managers. It’s not my job to get in the way of them doing a good job.

Be patient. People like me are very impatient. We have to have the discipline of patience that, once you set objectives and goals, and you agree upon them, you allow the management to accomplish what they are setting out to do. To me, that is leadership.

If you look at surveys about job satisfaction today, usually the biggest problem is not pay. The biggest problem is nobody will let me do my job, and I don’t know what my job is. I don’t know what my responsibilities are. Those kinds of negative trends kill morale in a company.

If people don’t know what’s expected of them, it’s going to have a negative impact all around.

Encourage collaboration. We benchmark (managers) against each other. We have meetings several times a year looking at these benchmarks. We have classes where the good performing managers are educating the poorer performing managers in one particular area or another as to how they can do better.

Usually you’ll have one guy doing well in one area of responsibility and another doing well in another area of responsibility, and they can help each other out. It’s our job to provide the forum to make sure that whoever is doing the best job around the country in any given area has the opportunity to share how he is doing it with his comrades.

Listen to your customer. We stay very close to our customers and listen very hard when our customers have a complaint about anything. If we stay close to him, we’ll never be too far from doing the right thing.

At our national sales meeting we have each year, we have three or four customers come and speak to us about what they expect from our company.

Have personal relationships with the customer.

Look at business through the eyes of the customer and determine what’s important to him. What’s important to him may not be what’s important to us all the time. We look to learn as much as we can about what he wants and what his needs are, and we try and fill those needs.

To me, the customer is always right, even though he may be unreasonable at times. He’s paying you your paycheck. He’s buying a product from us at a price we agreed to.

If he wants to complain, we’re going to listen. Usually, if we pay attention to him, we’ll be better as a company because we’re doing things our customers want us to do.

Accept all opinions. I don’t necessarily want people to see things the way I do. We have a variety of opinions, and everybody expresses them. Our CFO is our main risk assessor, and he always takes a company-liability view of everything. That’s his job to do that.

It goes back to the empowerment. We empower people to say what they think. We want them to give us their opinion. We don’t want people saying, ‘Yeah, this is what Bill wants, so I guess this is what we’re going to do.’

That’s the last thing I want to have happen. I want people that are going to speak their minds. They’re not going to worry about somebody not liking what they say. They know they are not going to be criticized if they are critical.

Seek out input. Human nature being what it is, people would much rather be in charge of their own destiny than to have somebody else dictating to them as to what they’re going to do.

The only thing in our company that is dictated from the top down is that we will have an excellent safety program. The safety program itself is built up by the lower-level production people.

They form their own safety committees in the plant. They get to put the safety program in place, evaluate it, manage it and distribute safety bonuses to their employees. It’s all done through empowerment to the lower-level production management.

There’s nobody up top that’s dictating what the safety program will be. You could find some situations where you would have a top-down approach to safety where there would be a meeting of very top-level people and they would dictate what a safety program would be all the way down to the lower-level people. Then it wouldn’t be their program at the lower levels, and it wouldn’t be implemented that way at the lower levels.

It does give them ownership.

Don’t fear mistakes. We make mistakes and fail all the time. You just get up and get going again. My mantra is, just don’t make the same mistake twice.

I don’t pound my people, or myself even, for making a mistake. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying to improve. But at the same time, you don’t want to be dumb and continue to make the same mistakes over and over. That’s definitely the wrong thing to be doing.

That’s the way I communicate it to our people. Don’t worry about making a mistake. Don’t look over your shoulder. Let’s learn from our mistakes when we make them. Let’s not make the same one twice.

HOW TO REACH: Trussway Ltd., www.trussway.com or (866) 999-8787