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All the right moves Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

While the goal of every CEO is to grow his or her business, Bryan Debshaw says care must be taken to ensure that growth does not spiral out of control.

The challenge at Polaris Laboratories LLC was to make sure the fast-growing company had employees in positions that best suited their talents. “Sometimes, the company was growing faster than their ability to grow their own skills,” says Debshaw, the company’s CEO. “We’ve had to go in there and make changes and get it to where we’ve got enough horsepower to keep on growing and move the company to the next place.”

Polaris provides testing and analysis for oils, fuels, coolants and water-based fluids. It has seen its revenue rise from $4.25 million in 2004 to an expected $7.5 million in 2006 as the number of employees has grown from five in 1999 to nearly 100 today.

Smart Business spoke with Debshaw about the importance of taking ideas from imagination to implementation.

Q: Describe your leadership style.

I view what I do as being very strategic. I view what my managers do as being very tactical. I am an officer in the Air National Guard, and that probably does influence a little bit of how I run the organization.

The key is keeping them involved in what we are doing with lots of communication. Develop that strategy and vision of where the heck we’re going, and then get out of the way so other folks can carry that out. Make sure everyone understands where we’re going and what we’re doing.

Celebrate our successes and certainly learn from our failures.

Q: How do you plan for the future?

In the past, we’d start out each year with great ambition and great desires of where we wanted to be and the major projects we wanted to work on. And then the day-to-day would get involved.

We would be responding to the current needs and current issues, and consequently, as managers and departments, we couldn’t get to our major project improvements and development work.

By clearly defining what those (goals) are at the beginning of the year, writing them down and then working with the managers throughout the year, we’ve found that we’re much better at them accomplishing the objectives.

If we’re not getting things done, we’ve got to analyze why. My job is to make sure they have all the resources to get done what we need to get done.

Q: How important are employee evaluations?

Performance evaluations are extremely important. We’ve started with our managers doing it more frequently because we think it’s important that they get feedback continually.

There are fewer surprises at the end of the year. People have a better understanding of what they are doing and how well they are doing and where they fit in.

Being a financial guy, if I looked at the numbers once a year, how am I making decisions throughout the year? I look at giving feedback to our employees the same way. We need to do it frequently, but not always in a formalized process, so they can make adjustments and corrections as they go.

They need an opportunity to know how they are doing more frequently than once a year.

Q: How do you identify leaders?

In the early days, I probably interviewed and hired every employee we had. Now I very much focus on the management team. Whether they report to me or not, I want to be involved in the hiring of all our managers.

My goal generally is to talk to a lot of people. Always be talking to people everywhere you go. When I meet people anywhere, I group them if I see traits or qualities that I like. If you don’t have a position right now, keep them in mind and stay in touch with them because there may be something that works out in the future.

You’re always going to have other demands. We’re always assessing and looking for good people to add to the team.

Q: How important is having a vision?

You can have all the strategies in the world, but it takes a whole lot more than an idea to be successful. Implementation is everything. It’s my job to come up with that strategy and that vision, but that alone won’t make you successful. You’re entirely dependent on those folks carrying it out. There’s a whole lot of folks that have had all the best ideas in the world but couldn’t implement them.

If you want to be willing to try different things and change, you’ve got to be willing to fail, too. We take risks, but to me as an entrepreneur, they are all managed risks.

We haven’t taken what I see as really great risk, but we haven’t been in situations where we have had spectacular failures to overcome, either.

HOW TO REACH: Polaris Laboratories LLC, (877) 808-3750 or www.polarislabs1.com