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Bring it on Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Alex López Negrete has proven he has the skills to develop a business and make it thrive. But that’s not always enough to ensure success in the corporate world, says the president, CEO and chief creative officer of Lopez Negrete Communications Inc.

Without a lot of passion and heart, the entrepreneurial skills of López Negrete and his wife and co-founder of the company, Cathy, would never have gotten the chance to shine.

“It was a leap,” López Negrete says. “We did not have a rich uncle or a line of credit. We poured every bit of our own personal savings into it. We literally put this company before our own needs. We fed our kids before we fed ourselves. It’s that fearlessness. You’re only an entrepreneur when you put yourself on the line.”

Their efforts have paid off as the marketing firm has grown to about 140 employees, with 2006 revenue of $21.3 million.

Smart Business spoke with López Negrete about how to turn passion into success.

Q: What makes a good leader?

You have to earn the right to lead every single day. Leading by example means giving them a clear idea of what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what’s the higher calling of what we do. It’s really not the classic, ‘I’m going to lead. You’re going to follow.’ It’s more of a, ‘Thank you for letting me lead. Let’s go this way.’

I have to be on top of my game every day. The people that have put their careers in your hands trust you to know the big picture and to be in touch with the big picture. A leader who cannot inspire is not a leader. You’ve got to inspire people to do the very best that is in them and sometimes even better.

But you’ve got to do that by doing that yourself. Up the ante on yourself every single day.

Q: How do you inspire people to follow you?

People want to come to work to a place where they feel that they make a difference and where they feel they will grow. Growth comes in a better job, a better title and better money. Growth also comes in, ‘I am a better professional today than when I joined this company X months or X years ago.’

The onus goes on the management to make sure that you are always aware of people’s contributions and that you stay in touch. ‘Hey, so and so is kicking butt. Let’s give her a little bump, or let’s recognize her somehow. Let’s make sure it’s in her file so she knows it’s recognized and it’s not forgotten.’

Make sure that you are diligent about your reviews and that your reviews are thorough. Give your people constructive criticism, stuff that they can really use to make themselves better.

Q: How do you keep a business growing?

Be willing, if not completely focused, on bringing in people that are better than yourself. You really have to decide, ‘OK, what is it that I bring to the table best?’ In ‘Good to Great,’ by Jim Collins, he says, ‘Figure out where you bring the most value and focus on that.’

This is an exercise that I do on a regular basis. How relevant am I to the marketplace? Is what I do still relevant and needed? Is it still special? If you make pipe, are you just another company that makes pipe or are you a company that makes pipe, which happens to ‘dot, dot, dot, fill in the blank?’

In today’s age, you cannot afford to not have a unique selling proposition. People around here will hear me say, ‘Choose your horse and ride it well.’

Ask yourself, have you defined a vision and a mission for your company, and do you live by it?

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

I had a great sales manager when I was in the radio business a long time ago. Every now and then, he’d sneak up behind me and he’d go, ‘No.’

And I’d go, ‘What do you mean, no?’ And he’d go, ‘No.’ He says, ‘That word sounds exactly the same coming from me as it does coming from Johnson & Johnson. So are you going to be more afraid of hearing no from them than from me?’

That taught me that you really have to lose your fear of the size of the door you are knocking on. If you believe in yourself and you believe you are unique and you believe you are relevant and you are living to your mission and your vision, you’ll have something to say regardless of how big that door might be.

Selling starts when you hear the word no. Otherwise, it’s taking an order. That’s not selling.

HOW TO REACH: Lopez Negrete Communications Inc., (713) 877-8777 or www.lopeznegrete.com