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Finding the right flavor Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

Fear can be a great motivator, says Jerry Lasco, founder, president and CEO of Lasco Enterprises LLC. Lasco operates The Tasting Room wine bar, and the company posted 2007 revenue of $6.1 million and has more than 150 employees. Getting there was not easy, however, as Lasco had to dig deep within himself to figure out what he wanted his business to be.

In his first few years, the workplace culture was not a healthy one, and there were times that Lasco feared he wouldn’t make it. And that fear didn’t ease until he came to a realization — it wasn’t that his company’s culture was bad; it just didn’t reflect his ideals.

“If we fail based on that, so be it,” Lasco says. “At least I’ll know I didn’t compromise, and I gave it my best shot.”

Smart Business spoke with Lasco about how to succeed in business while remaining true to your beliefs.

Q. What is the first step to building a strong culture?

The key to culture is truly belief. If you don’t believe in the business enough to live or die over it and you’re just like, ‘This sounds like a good one; maybe it will work and maybe it won’t,’ it’s probably not going to be a strong culture.

Leadership has 1,000 faces. One thing you can’t do is buy one of them and paste it on and guarantee it’s going to work. It’s got to be the one that fits your face.

People spot hypocrisy and insincerity and phoniness very quickly. If it’s something that is the core of your beliefs and the core of your drive and your personality, it’s much easier to get people to drink that Kool-Aid. They see it being acted out every day.

I just really worked hard and tried to absorb myself into, ‘What, exactly, is our culture? What should it be? What do I believe in? What can I preach from the pulpit every single day?’

Q. How did you overcome the fear of making that leap?

Fear of failure has been one of my biggest motivators. It starts with a deep breath and with trying to get a hold of yourself.

The most helpful thing for me is a lifelong history of challenges. Overcoming challenges, whether you won the race or not, you got back up and finished it.

It’s the belief in yourself. If you are terrified for a moment, you can take a couple deep breaths and get back to work and get started doing what you need to do. You’ll end up persevering through it.

Q. How do you initiate a cultural change?

I took responsibility for a lot of the things I felt weren’t up to par. I said, ‘This is going to change. This is the way we’re going to do things going forward. Some of this is going to sound kind of cultlike or obsessive, but it’s what I believe in. I’m not looking for 90 percent of the people’s support out there. I’m looking for about 10 percent of the people’s support.

‘It’s going to be an uncomfortable feel for the rest of those people. I want it to be extremely rewarding for those that do fit. If you don’t fit, that’s not a problem. But we’re going to look for a different opportunity for you with a different company.’

It was a heartfelt and passionate speech. ‘Here’s where we’re at, here’s where I see us going, and here’s how we’re going to get there. You’re going to have to adopt these beliefs, or you’re not going to go along with us.’

Hopefully, it stirs a passion in you for your work. It’s my belief that work is an extremely important part of our lives. If we fill a passion with it, it improves every other aspect of our lives.

Q. How can you stir that passion in employees?

Try to establish that type of culture in our business where people are carrot-driven. Try to have creative concepts in the rewards. It goes back to our culture of our people being our No. 1 priority. It furthers your culture and the acceptance of the corporate culture and your core values.

It generates good ideas, gets everybody involved and builds morale. You have instantaneous acceptance of the decisions because the most popular ones were the ones that were voted in.

It’s not a company that is trying to be a good home for everybody. What we want to do is be a great home for a few.

Individuals that are achieving a lot and those that are really passionate about it, nothing is more frustrating and demoralizing for them than to be getting rewarded at the same level as somebody sitting right next to them who doesn’t have that same level of passion and isn’t producing the same quality of work.

We made it very open and transparent that if you’re not getting the job done and you’re not buying off on it, you’re not going to be with us for long.

HOW TO REACH: Lasco Enterprises LLC, (713) 993-9800 or www.tastingroomwines.com