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Keep looking ahead Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

One of the best pieces of advice Frank St. John has on growing a business is that the process never really ends, at least not if you want to keep growing.

“It’s an ongoing effort every day, every hour, to keep the business growing and moving forward,” St. John says.

The co-founder and president of Applied Engineering Services Inc. says he and his executive team are constantly looking at the future and checking their vision against it to make sure they match up.

“You have to have some way to look down the road a little bit and say, ‘Is what we’re doing going to continue to grow?’” St. John says.

That strategy has helped grow the engineering solutions company to 2006 revenue of $10 million with 47 employees, up from $5.8 million in 2004.

Smart Business spoke with St. John about how to find the right people to grow with your business.

Q: How do you find the right people to help grow your business?

We will talk to just about anybody who sends in a resume that looks like they have got the experience and the knowledge that corresponds with the work that we do. Whether we have a current opening or not, you never know until you actually meet them.

Our interview process for those types of people includes more than just meeting me or my partners. We’ll run them through a whole morning of talking to some other key people here. By the time we’re all done with that person, he knows quite a bit about us, and we know a lot about him.

Sometimes somebody will send a resume in, and we look at it and go, ‘We don’t really have a mechanical engineering position open right now, but this guy is just too good not to talk to.’ If we bring him in and find that to be true, often you’ll find a way to get that guy in here. If somebody drops on your doorstep that you think is a good fit for you long term, then you talk to them.

Q: How do you empower employees?

If we hire a brand new engineer out of Purdue, and even within the first three to six months, he shows that he can do more than just sit there and do calculations for a senior engineer or sit there on a board and do drawings, we recognize that and start giving him opportunities to grow early.

It’s all just part of our culture to allow people to grow in our company as they are ready.

Younger people definitely want to see a path. That path often is dictated by a growing company. If everybody is sitting here this year, the company is the same size, and they are doing the same thing they were last year, the growth isn’t there.

Q: How do you encourage employee input?

As I walk by my partners’ offices, there are always people in there. There are people in my office. When they have something to discuss, they know they can walk right in. They don’t need an appointment. They don’t need to call me. They just walk in.

If I’m not on the phone, I tell them to sit down and let’s talk. I think it’s just by example. It’s just part of our culture. People know we’re very approachable, and if there are problems or issues or something they want to discuss, people don’t have any problem talking.

Be sincere. If there is an issue, it doesn’t end when they walk out the door. You have to follow up on that issue or make a change or dig into it some more. The follow-up when somebody does have an issue they want to talk about is the important part.

Q: What is the key to a healthy customer relationship?

Honesty is a key element. We’re being hired for our professional expertise. The client may not want to hear what the facts are, but it’s our job to tell him what our opinions are.

I’ve always stated that very clearly. This is what we believe. You’ve hired us to give our opinion. It’s still your building and your project; you don’t have to do it this way, but here is our opinion.

Q: What one thing can really help any company?

Any product or any report or anything that would go out to a client, it needs to be reviewed by somebody who didn’t spend the last 12 hours trying to produce it. He’s done looking. He’s burned out. He’s looked at the thing, and he thinks it’s done. Our process is to get some fresh eyes looking at it and say, ‘Yes, I understand,’ or, ‘No, I don’t. Why did he say it this way? Why is it laid out like this?’

HOW TO REACH: Applied Engineering Services Inc., (317) 585-8920 or www.applied-e-s.com