Peter Shaper Featured

6:46am EDT June 30, 2006
Peter Shaper enjoys swimming upstream. When everyone was diving out of the telecom market a few years ago, Shaper was fighting his way in. He used Genesis Park, a private equity group of which he is a founding partner, to purchase CapRock Communications out of its parent company’s bankruptcy. Four years later, as the telecom market comes back into favor, Shaper is CEO of CapRock, a private satellite communications company with revenue exceeding $100 million. Shaper spoke with Smart Business about how he recognizes solid business opportunities and finds the best employees to grow his business.

Understand your business’s personality.
Every company is like a person — they all have a personality. They have a strategy they use in the market, they have a reputation and a brand, and that’s how they’re recognized by customers.

All of those aspects have to come together to be successful. The ones where I’ve been successful are where that personality came together — that combination of strategy, customer satisfaction, brand recognition, management team, people who really came together and really liked the business and were excited about building it.

That personality and gut feel has been a better indicator of which of all the businesses that have a strong financial model will be successful.

Once the numbers make sense, follow your gut feeling.
In general, the cold, hard figures are the hurdles. If you don’t get through those numbers, just walk away.

Once you do get sets of numbers that will work for an investment decision, then you have to spend enough time understanding what are you really trying to do. It’s all about the people.

Spend enough time with people and find out how excited they are, and then let your gut tell you, ‘OK, the numbers work, and not only do the numbers work, but it really is something that makes sense.’

I use my gut a lot, but never without the numbers. You have to use the numbers to get through the hurdles first.

You will never get every hire right every time.
I wish I could tell you I’ve got a 100 percent hit rate on hiring the right people. I’m far from it, unfortunately. The interview processes are so inexact, and I’ve had my share of wrong hires.

For me, you have to spend as much time as you can with the candidate to make a decision. You’ve got to get as many people in the organization as you can afford to take the time to really spend time with the candidate, because then you get a lot of perspectives. In the end, you have to go with your gut. And unfortunately you don’t always get it right.

People don’t always come across as they really are in the interview process. I’m always trying to find ways to improve our hit rate of getting the right people the first time.

If there is potential, work with a new hire.
Our hit rate in finding the best person to fill a spot is probably 75 or 80 percent. There’s a flip side to that: How many times have you picked the wrong person and you need to push them out the door?

That’s probably only 10 percent of the time. That other 15 percent or so is when, after a year or so, you say, ‘We may not have hired the best candidate, but they’re not so bad we have to push them out the door.’

There’s that middle ground that’s a little more tricky. The ones you have to push them out the door, bite the bullet and make the call as fast as you can so you can get someone better suited in the role. That doesn’t happen that often.

Be prepared to coach and train.
It could be something as simple as in the interview process, you thought someone had a lot of experience doing a certain aspect of their job, then after they got here, you realize maybe they don’t have quite as much experience or maybe they did it totally different and you need to train them how we would like to do it.

Maybe it’s someone who is hard on people and they’re in a management role, so you have to coach them on better ways to manage people and lead people and get good production and keep people happy. There will be some aspect where we missed something in the process, but they’re still a good person to have, so they might need some coaching or training to get them where we want them to be.

Hear other perspectives before making decisions.
It starts by doing all the analytics and crunching the numbers to make sure you understand those hurdle issues. Take as much time as you can and talk about it as thoroughly as you can with as many people in your management team as you can.

Go find people with a totally different perspective who are likely to come at it very differently. I happen to be very collaborative because I think having a lot more input is a lot better than having me sit around trying to make a big decision. Typically, if it’s a big decision, you have a lot of input from people wanting to go in different directions.

You go through the data, make the call and say, ‘OK, we’re going to walk out of this room, and even though some of us thought another way was a better way to go, we’re going to stand behind this decision and give it our all, and if we’re wrong, we’ll change our minds later. But let’s get together and make this successful.’

Establish your vision.
When you’re talking vision, there’s no hard data or facts. You need credibility that comes from just a few things. Have you been right and successful in the past? Can you articulate it in a way that is convincing?

You can take someone’s objections and say, ‘Yes I understand those objections, yes, they’re good points, and here is why I think we can overcome that or why we should go this way anyway.’ And the last one is honestly just success.

If you have not been successful, it will be very difficult to get people to buy into your vision. The more successful we are, the more that vision becomes contagious.

Provide the best possible service.
I define success as first and foremost continuing to provide the best service to our customers, to continue to add value to them beyond what they’re paying us.

If we keep doing that, we should be able to grow, which provides opportunities for growth to our employees — opportunities to move up in the organization, opportunities for more responsibilities, opportunities to learn new things and see new challenges, and the opportunity for financial reward. That’s what I consider successful.

We’re protecting the core of who we are, we’re serving our customers and we are growing our business to provide opportunities for everybody. To me, that’s what’s exciting. That’s what gives me personal reward.

How to reach: CapRock Communications, (832) 668-2300 or