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Operating with confidence Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Greg Ranger had positioned himself quite well at St. Vincent Health. His team of nearly 20 people had taken over servicing of the organization’s biomedical devices and saved St. Vincent about $2 million that would have otherwise gone to outside vendors to do the same work.

“Instead of waiting for a call back from a manufacturer and that person showing up within a day or two, they had somebody standing in the department in 15 minutes,” Ranger says.

Word got out about the great work and soon, Ranger was being asked to take on jobs at other surgery centers and physician practices. So he put together a new business plan and with the blessing of St. Vincent, branched out to provide service to others in the Indianapolis region.

“We went out and operated as a DBA for about six months and grew the company almost $4 million in that six-month period,” Ranger says.

Seeing the potential for Ranger’s team, the hospital advised him to look at forming a separate limited liability company. A new plan was developed, and in 1999, TriMedx was born. The next year, ownership changed hands and TriMedx became a part of Ascension Health.

“Initiating the business concept and growing out of the hospital was a fairly large challenge,” says Ranger, the company’s founder, president and CEO.

Equally challenging was trying to develop a common set of beliefs that everyone could get behind in an environment where the business was expanding by leaps and bounds.

“You are hiring someone for about the size of the business you are,” Ranger says. “We were growing in the early years at a 30 to 40 percent or even 50 percent growth rate. Two years after we got the person on board, with a lot of folks it would be more than they could handle again. Becoming more disciplined in that whole arena and developing skills around development and progression planning was very critical.”

Today, TriMedx has 500 employees, and in fiscal 2008, it garnered $150 million in revenue.

Here are some of the things Ranger learned about successfully growing a company along the way.

Watch yourself

Ranger had set a goal for TriMedx to be profitable within its first three years of existence. As the second year was drawing to a close, it appeared this ambitious goal was within reach.

“We were making money, our first profit of several hundred thousand dollars, and it felt good,” Ranger says. “We were ahead of budget. My boss was very proud of the fact that this new young company that had spun out that nobody else would have done was ahead of its budget and doing very well.”

Unfortunately, there was a problem. It was discovered that a customer had been paying for a service that was no longer being provided.

“We hadn’t changed the contract,” Ranger says. “They never would have found it. We could have waited until the end of the year and changed the contract. But we went back to the client and told them that this error had been made, and we needed to give them a credit. It cost me my profit margin.”

But what Ranger earned from his employees by admitting the mistake was of much greater value. It set a tone for how Ranger expected things to be done in his company.

“It was the ethic around it that really got some people strong in the company that this is the thing we stand for in this business,” Ranger says. “That’s how we operate and how we do things. It’s what is right.”

Ranger is acutely aware of the microscope he works under as the leader.

“People are all watching you, as you walk through the company’s office area where the cubes and hallways are and as you stop at one person’s desk and say something to them, you could hurt the feelings of three or four people if you didn’t stop and say something to them, too,” Ranger says. “All you were doing was saying, ‘Hey, I remember you were doing this today,’ to somebody. You have to remember what you don’t say or don’t do says something, too.”

Obviously, no one is perfect, but Ranger says it’s a lesson that you have to stay cognizant of: You are a role model for your employees.

“I’ve got to be able to look every one of these folks in the eye every day,” Ranger says. “There’s a verse in the Bible that says, ‘We reap what we sow.’ Not only do we reap it, we reap it in multiples. I want to reap the good stuff. I believe that with all my heart. It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. We all make mistakes. It’s what we do when we figure them out.”

It’s not just about admitting when you did something wrong. It’s also being forthright when you didn’t make a goal or failed to live up to your strategy in some way.

“People want to see that when something doesn’t work out, you don’t just bury it,” Ranger says. “You need to share why you did it and whether you’re going to try again or if you’re going to move to something else.”

The idea behind this transparency is to give your employees a clear sense from top to bottom of how and why things happen in your business. When information is kept from them, good or bad, they feel less a part of the business and less valued in being a part of helping the business grow.

“Integrity is huge,” Ranger says. “People have to trust you. If they don’t trust you, they don’t want to work for you.”

Work with your people

Ranger is a firm believer that your interaction with employees and the opportunities you provide for them to interact with each other can make a big difference in the success or failure of your business.

“This younger generation, and I’m saying younger because I’m 52, they want more out of life than just going and getting a job,” Ranger says. “They want more than just hitting a clock and sitting at a desk and punching numbers and then leaving at the end of the day. They love having community with Facebook and texting. That’s fulfilling needs I think the employer of today needs to know and understand and provide for.”

It’s that sense of community and belonging that many employees are searching for with their work lives. They want to feel like they matter in the company’s pursuit of growth.

It’s why Ranger puts more stock in employee engagement than employee satisfaction.

“Employee engagement touches on different categories of how people feel about their jobs,” Ranger says. “How do they see their organization? Is it innovative? Is it sensitive to a person’s needs? Does it give me opportunity? Does it take an interest in me so that I can develop and grow? Does it listen to what I have to say?”

When it comes time for TriMedx to do strategy planning each November, group sessions are a vital part of the process. Make time each year to get away from the day-to-day and think about where your company is going.

“We said, ‘This is what we’re doing today. These are our metrics today, and this is where we’re trying to get to by 2010. Let’s brainstorm on what we need to do this year to make that happen,’” Ranger says. “All the groups go out into their little breakout sessions and develop these concepts and ideas. We bring them back and report them out as a team.”

By asking your employees for input about the direction of your organization, you give them a stake in the game.

“We facilitate through the common themes a nd arrive at anywhere from eight to 10 objectives for the year,” Ranger says. “They were their ideas. If I just sit back and decide what they are going to be, people are going to say, ‘Those are Greg’s ideas.’ Seeing that vision and transparency from (the employee) to the company being successful is huge.

“We feed back to the employees what the objectives are that we have landed on. They get nurtured and put into a charter. They get a person assigned to lead that project; that person builds a project team.”

The plans are published in a booklet that goes out to everyone in the company and lays out the strategic plan for the year ahead. It’s the follow-through on new ideas that are generated that is the key to gaining support.

“We used to see these ideas and projects end up running into more than a year to get done sometimes,” Ranger says. “The improvements have been that everybody sees them, everybody knows them and everybody knows what we’re trying to get done during the year.”

People want to feel like they are working on something fresh and new.

“People get excited by that stuff,” Ranger says. “They want to be part of something that is on the edge and creating and not just competing.”

When goals are accomplished, the sense of wanting to belong only grows.

“By being able to constantly put back in front of people these goals that you hear today that you may look at and go, ‘Wow, we can’t do that,’” Ranger says. “But if you’re going back and saying, ‘Remember when we said we’re going to do this? This is what it is today.’ Bringing that information forward of what we’ve accomplished and being able to demonstrate how you delivered what you said you were going to do, that begins to give people confidence.”

How to reach: TriMedx, (877) 874-6339 or www.trimedx.com