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Engaging leadership Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2007

G & S Research Inc. has come a long way from being run on credit cards and out of a couple of spare bedrooms, says Gary Schwebach, who co-founded the company with George Grubb in 1997. Since then, G & S has grown from that tenuous position to 2006 revenue of nearly $8 million and about 50 employees.

Schwebach, president and principal of the company that does market research for firms in the health care industry, says that during the past 10 years, he has learned a lot about what it truly means to be a leader.

“My job in the company is to set a strategic vision for the company, where we want to go and how we want to get there, and then put the people in place to be able to drive that,” Schwebach says. “It may not get there on the original plan or the original path that I used.”

Smart Business spoke with Schwebach about letting others help lead your business.

Q: How do you build a leadership team?

You need to make sure that they can get on the same page with the existing leadership and yet feel like they can bring new ideas to the table. We have some pretty brutal executive meetings where I’ll come up with an idea, and I’ll ask a couple people, and they’ll look at me like I’m crazy.

Then they lay it out. We figure out, ‘OK, maybe I was a little off on that one.’ We are open to communicating and to hearing new ideas and taking action.

We get very involved in a charity event where the whole company goes down and works for five hours sweating their tails off. It’s a motorcycle ride for Riley Hospital. When you’re running around under a tent in 90-degree weather in June, barriers break down pretty fast. That transcends and goes to where now they can come and talk to me about other things.

It’s part of that emotional intelligence that allows you to work and treat other people as equals even though, on the chain, you’re not. Once you get away from that chain, there is no difference.

Q: What advice can help any CEO be more successful?

Running something, whether it’s a business or an organization, can be an extremely rewarding experience. But it can also be extremely frustrating. The key to doing it successfully is doing the things that make the rewards come more frequently than the frustrations.

I can walk in at any moment and there will be an e-mail or there will be something that goes on or somebody will come to me with an issue, and I have to go into problem-solving mode. You deal with those and you fix them, and you move on.

The real reward comes from coming up with an idea or going out and talking to one of the more junior people, and they say, ‘Hey, have you ever thought of doing this?’ You come back and think about it and say, ‘Hey, that might work.’ You put it into action and find out, ‘You know what, it did work.’ It can be very rewarding in driving that.

The old saying is that it’s lonely at the top. It’s only lonely if you isolate yourself. It’s not lonely at the top if you have a good team and you encourage communication.

Q: What one thing can get a CEO in trouble?

I have confidence in my own inability to know everything. People who follow that first style of management really shut themselves out to a lot of good ideas and an opportunity to make a lot more money. Even Jack Welch was not innately born with all the good ideas in his brain.

A lot of it comes from interacting with people as you’re moving up the ladder. Just because you reach the top of the ladder doesn’t mean you should stop interacting. Being promoted to run something, there isn’t a light beam that comes out of heaven and pops you on the head and all of a sudden, you have all the wisdom of Solomon. It’s a process.

Q: What is the key to a healthy business partner relationship?

You don’t have to be cut from the same cloth, but you have to trust them completely. The other thing is a total commitment to each other. No matter what happens, we’re going to look out for each other. We’re going to make sure the commitment we have to each other in a business sense is the most important one.

It’s almost like a successful relationship. I’ve been married for almost 30 years. The reason I’ve been able to stay married that long is I always put my wife first. I always look out for her, and she always looks out for me. This is a similar thing.

HOW TO REACH: G & S Research Inc., (317) 252-4500 or www.gs-research.com