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Looking for leaders Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

If a company is to maintain growth during an extended period of time, Ken Meador says that it must have strong leadership that stretches beyond the leadership team.

It is for that reason that TWR Lighting Inc. gets employees at all levels involved in interviewing new job prospects, says its president.

“It educates people about how to interview,” Meador says. “Eventually, they are going to grow up and take over positions, and they need to go through this process for professional reasons. It also gives them a sense of ownership. They know that they are empowered and that their opinion means something.”

Meador says that if you’re going to give your people the authority to make decisions, you have to respect the choices they make, even if you don’t always agree.

By letting his company — which provides specialized hazard lighting and aviation obstruction lighting products and services — grow as a team, Meador has helped lead TWR from 2004 revenue of $9.4 million to 2006 revenue of $13.9 million with 52 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Meador about how to bang your drum to create a healthy corporate culture.

Q. How can a CEO develop and maintain a healthy culture?

It’s a relentless drumbeat. Through my own actions, I try to demonstrate daily the initiatives we set up as a company.

Culture for me is how do people live and react and work with one another in an environment that has a common sense of purpose?

How you create that culture comes down to beating a steady drum, creating openness and having candor. I’m not afraid to discuss problems with my employees any more than I’m glad to give them the good news.

It keeps everybody on a level playing field here. The guy that is in my foundry is as much aware of what the business is doing and how he is a part of that as my VP of marketing and sales and my CFO.

Everybody gets a fair shake, and everybody has a better understanding of their part in the company’s growth and the potential that exists for them.

Q. How do you keep everybody tuned in?

I am a huge proponent of face-to-face communication. I manage a lot by walking around. There are those that call me Mr. Ken out back, but they call me by my first name. That familiarity helps level the playing field.

We have a front of the house and a back of the house. The only thing that delineates those two is a wall. I talk to as many employees on a daily basis as I can. Some of it could be as simple as what they thought about the last ballgame or how the family is doing.

Anything that will help build camaraderie and an openness so that they know my door is always open for them and, even as president, they can come talk directly to me if they so desire.

Q. How do you put your words into action?

I’m a firm believer in explaining to people what my expectation is. How they do that and how they utilize their resources with other people to achieve that expectation, that’s part of learning and becoming more self-reliant. That’s part of empowering them.

When I don’t tell them how to do that, I’m allowing them to work at their own pace and to really think outside the box on their own. That’s what creates really influential employees who learn from their mistakes and move on.

If I continually tell them how I want that done, the myopia in this company would drive itself into such a small little hole that it would all come back into my office. That’s not my deal.

I don’t tell people here how to do their business. I don’t tell the VP of marketing how to do his business any more than I tell the guy in foundry operations how to do his.

I’ve got 40 years of foundry experience out there among three people. They know a far lot more about how to run a foundry than I do.

Q. How do you serve as a role model for your culture?

It’s setting the example by being here early in the mornings — most of the time, being the first car in the parking lot; many times, being one of the last cars out of the parking lot. Showing up on Saturdays if it’s nothing more than to bring in doughnuts.

They may not understand what I do up here; they may not understand what all my capacities are and my responsibilities. It’s being part of the company and showing up and suiting up and not being afraid to get my hands dirty if necessary.

If somebody needs to move boxes and they are there by themselves, then I’ll go out and help them move a box. I can’t just sit back and say, ‘I’ll go find somebody to help you.’ That doesn’t work. That doesn’t prove anything to him. That does not show that individual that I’m on the same team.

HOW TO REACH: TWR Lighting Inc., (713) 973-6905 or www.twrlighting.com