In focus Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
 Leonard Cherry has mastered the art of delegating.

By developing junior- and senior-level management programs, he’s maximized opportunities for Cherry Cos. and kept the company focused on its core.

“It’s a progression of growth that all ties back,” Cherry says. “Visually, I like to think of it like a circle. Our client is in the middle, and we do everything we can to encircle our client with the services that we provide.

“We’re a house-moving and demolition company, and we’re a recycler. There may be wonderful opportunities in other areas, but we like to stay focused on what we’re good at and what we do. That focus doesn’t mean we can’t grow and can’t expand.”

It certainly doesn’t, as Cherry Cos. posted $43 million in revenue last year, a 59 percent increase over two years.

Smart Business spoke with Cherry about how he focuses on his 220 employees to grow his companies.

How do you manage growth?
There are multiple facets to the issue of growth in business. There’s market opportunities, liquidity demands, personnel benefits, equipment acquisition, the administrative function of overseeing increased values. If you don’t have dedicated people to accomplish the goals, what you really just have is still a dream.

Focus upon the process, which is mainly driven by the people. Our employees are our single greatest asset. Anybody can buy equipment — you just need a friendly banker. Focus on the individuals and the people that perform the work, and if you do your work correctly, relative to your people, the volume and margins will follow.

Without the people dedicated to the common goal, it’s not going to happen. Concentrate on qualified people and passing on to them your vision, having them buy into that vision.

How do you get employees to buy into your vision?
I express to them what I think, where I think we need to go, the reasons why I think we need to go there, and because our management team has grown, they then have that opportunity for open input and, ultimately, a vote. That’s a growth process.

You don’t bring somebody brand new into the management team — they’re still weak in the concept and the vision and the goal, and they haven’t had that opportunity to show that commitment — and give them a vote. You nurture these individuals until they get to that point, and then you empower them — responsibility with authority.

If they’re responsible, you have to get out of the way and give them some authority. If you choose your individuals correctly and you give them the support they need, they will respond in time.

How do you strengthen the team as you grow?
Education and communication. There’s a constant flow of information that moves in multiple directions. We’ve brought in an outside consultant that communicates with our junior management team and our management team on a weekly basis.

They always have reading material. Whether you agree with the concepts of whatever that book may be at the time, it helps them to broaden their horizon and makes them think beyond the issues of today.

They, in turn, can take that broadened horizon and verbalize it to their people and instruct in their own divisions.

How do you show employees you care?
I’m a firm believer in leading by example. When I’m starting to feel a little frayed and ragged, my people usually are as well, so we need to tone it back a notch - slow down, take a break.

Monetarily, we’re all here to make a living. These individuals’ first responsibility is to provide for the needs and wants of their family, and so much of that is driven financially, so that’s the first issue we need to cover.

Their second issue is they want to feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves. We all do. That’s why we work with the open lines of communication, so everyone understands they are part of the larger picture, and each individual’s application does apply toward the end result, whether that end is positive or negative.

With a company that’s been here over 50 years, we’ve lived through those times when an individual reached retirement age, you’d pat them on the back, and they’d have Social Security to rely upon, and they can watch and come back and visit whenever they want.

We have a number of third-generation employees. It’s important to continue to send the message to the new people coming in that this is a different environment. This isn’t just a place to collect a paycheck.

This is a career. This is a place to stay. You can live out your professional career here with those opportunities for advancement.

HOW TO REACH: Cherry Cos., www.cherrycompanies.com