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A creative success Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Alittle fear can go a long way in helping a CEO to keep his or her eye focused on success, says Mat Orrego.

It certainly did back in 1993, when Orrego, president and CEO of Cornerstone Information Systems, wondered if the professional services company he had just founded would generate enough sales to meet its next payroll. Ultimately, the sales were made, Orrego was able to pay his employees and a valuable lesson was learned.

“We got the affirmation that what we were doing was truly something that had benefit in the marketplace, and people were willing to pay us money to do it,” Orrego said.

With 56 employees now on board, Cornerstone’s revenue has increased from $5 million in 2003 to $7.5 million in 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Orrego about the importance of creativity and using fear to your advantage.

Q: How do you find employees who fit your vision?

You’re constantly recruiting. Our success is predicated on bringing people in that understand our industry and understand a specific job skill that we need as a company.

Ideally, they have worked in other industries where they can apply some of their insight and creativity.

I like to see people that have taken a problem from its infancy and developed a solution around it. The people that we have here have a culture of figuring problems out.

We don’t have a structure that says, ‘This is the way we do it, and this is the only way we do it.’ We leave it open to opportunities.

Q: What skills must a good CEO possess?

You have to be able to navigate situations and deal with them with a high degree of objectivity and not have too many things stick to you. Good leaders are ones that continue to see things in an objective manner. They don’t get burdened by not being able to make a decision because they’re weighted down from the past decisions they have made.

Ask an athlete what’s the [key to] success for them, and they’ll say, ‘Keep your strength up, follow a good workout routine and keep your weight down.’ It’s the same thing to survive as a CEO.

You can’t get burdened by events and decisions. Don’t let decisions hang on to you, because that adds to your emotional weight

You’ve got to stay very limber and not assume the weight of decisions.

Q: Describe your leadership style.

The role of a CEO is to try to continually reaffirm the direction that I want to take the company in, constantly looking back at anything that is tactical and drawing a direct line to the strategy, and communicating that as frequently as possible.

I tend to put a filter around tough decisions that need to be made at various junctures, whether they are decisions to release a product or develop a new product or dealing with a customer issue. I try to provide that filter of strategy and vision.

It’s a constant affirmation that whatever decision needs to be made, or whatever action needs to be taken, does it fall in line with the vision? I explain, ‘This is why we’re making this decision, because it’s in line with the vision,’ and I repeat the vision again. Repetition gets you into habit, and then it becomes a natural process for people to act upon.

Q: What skill does a CEO need to succeed?

A great skill for a CEO is time management. I’ve got a couple companies out there that I’m involved with and a lot of different issues that come to me on a day-to-day basis. It’s a matter of prioritization.

It’s a process of keeping your mind clear at all times. The way that you do that is, ultimately, you are fanatical about your organization methodology.

If I can’t deal with something in two minutes, then I file it or categorize it. This is when it’s due, and this is when I’m going to work on it.

I really believe in the philosophy that if you have everything categorized and in place, then your mind is clear and you are ready to deal with the ad hoc of life. I try to keep my mind as uncluttered as possible. I’ve got a ton of stuff on my to-do list, and that’s where it belongs. It doesn’t belong in my head.

You can’t get paralyzed by fear, but there’s nothing wrong with running a little scared. It fine-tunes your perspective. You put it through that litmus test, and it just makes you more acute and your senses more heightened.

I’ve gotten used to running a little scared and looking at things that create that level of acute senses to situations so that you can constantly make sure you’re looking out for that point where things can go bad.

HOW TO REACH: Cornerstone Information Systems, www.ciswired.com