When Edelmiro “Ed” Muñiz had a heart attack in 2004, his employees began to doubt not only the health of their founder, chairman and CEO but the health of the company, as well.
While he was recovering, Muñiz decided he needed to shift the focus of MEI Technologies Inc.’s employees from worries about him to a more positive concern, so he challenged them to double the size of the $30 million company in two years.
Redirecting their attention worked, and in two years, the company’s revenue had tripled. And in 2007, MEI posted revenue of $115 million.
“This problem that I had earlier just kind of went away, and I was very surprised that I was able to survive this from the company standpoint,” Muñiz says.
The next challenge became absorbing the company’s rapid growth. To do that, he relied on his three keys to growth — trustworthiness, listening to your customers and building a relationship with your banker.
Smart Business spoke with Muñiz about how to grow your company.
Assemble a team of trustworthy and honest employees. You’ve got a set of values that you decide you’re going to have as a company, and you start with hiring people with those same values. I’ve always valued integrity, honesty and ethics.
I try to hire people that have those characteristics very, very visible. It’s part of what makes a business grow.
I don’t have a problem with those who don’t know everything when they come here because they will learn what they need to know after they get here most of the time. But you have to be honest.
I read the resume first, and I try to look for inconsistencies. If something doesn’t make sense, I’ll flag that, and that will be the object of questions in the interview. Why do you say this here, and that doesn’t seem to jibe with what you said here?
If it’s a good response, I’ll take it for face value. If I suspect that somebody has kind of stretched it a little bit, I generally just write those people off.
If they’re not honest when they start with us, they can’t become honest later.
When I look at the keys to growth, trustworthiness I think it’s No. 1. If you don’t have trust and you’re not trustworthy as a business — and that means every employee that you have also needs to be trustworthy — then you can’t sustain a business. Your customers don’t trust you, your employees don’t trust you, your competition doesn’t trust you.
This is what allows you to get new customers, but, more important, allows you to keep the ones you’ve already got. You can’t grow without keeping what you’ve already got under your belt.
Listen to your customers’ needs. We’ve got to listen very carefully to the customer. ... We have to listen carefully to what they want and sell them what they want. Not what we think they need.
That’s very important because we have a lot of engineers and scientists, and they like to analyze, and they like to figure out what the customer really needs. If we do that, we’re really selling our arrogance. Listen and give them what they want.
I try to listen. I try to visit them as often as I can but not too often because I can become a nuisance.
We typically have people embedded in the customer’s organization that’s the type of work we do. They listen to their customer every day, whether they’re talking to them specifically or to someone else.
If you expand your ears to include not only your pair of ears but your management and your employees, you can pick up stuff so that you can gauge exactly what that customer wants.
If they don’t have to tell you over and over, ‘No, that’s not what I wanted; this is what I want,’ they will appreciate it, and they will keep asking you to come back.
They certainly don’t want arrogance, i.e., ‘I see the way you work, and I understand what you do, and this is what you need.’
There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence. You have to be confident with a customer, but you cannot be arrogant. Nine times out of 10, your customer tells you if you listen.
Build a relationship with your banker. The third most important factor in growing your company is having your banker as your best friend. You need to be right in step with them all the way — in good times and in bad times.
Share information with them. Tell them who your customers are. Tell them what they’re doing. Tell them what you’re doing. Tell them who you want your customers to be — your new customers — and why.
Share everything you can with them because when the time comes and you are successful in getting this new business, now you have to pay that upfront money, that seed money.
Secondly, you make a higher profit if you use some of your own money and you use some of someone else’s money. The return on that amount of money is better when you have borrowed some.
It has to be built on trust. You’ve got to communicate with your bank at all times. You’ve got to invite them to your celebrations when you get a new customer. You’ve got to invite them to your Christmas party, to your picnic. They have to know you and your employees.
Then of course, you have to pay what you owe. You have to do what you say.
HOW TO REACH: MEI Technologies Inc., (281) 283-6200 or www.meitechinc.com