Rick Dennen answers his own phone, types his own letters and sets his own calendar and he expects his employees to do the same.
“Everybody in the company is involved in the leadership,” says the co-owner, founder, president and CEO of Oak Street Funding. “Everybody in this company contributes to the bottom line of this business.”
Declining to hire administrative staff is one way that Dennen, who founded the company in 2003, keeps overhead at a minimum at the commercial finance company serving the insurance industry. Today, the business has 36 employees and posted 2007 revenue of $15 million.
Smart Business spoke with Dennen about how he hires his staff members and fosters their leadership skills.
Q. What is the key to growing a successful company?
The key is hiring good, ethical, talented people and giving them all the resources that they need. That includes technology and proper training to accomplish their job in the best way they can.
Q. How do you find the best people?
Our most successful employees have come from referrals from other employees and from colleagues. If they’re good, we’ll find a place for them.
If you could find somebody through your own referral network, they seem to have a higher success rate. People can put a lot of different things on resumes, and it’s tough to validate that.
We try to have many people interviewing candidates. I try to at least walk in and introduce myself, if I know a candidate is in, and be a part of all that.
Q. How does having other employees interview candidates help you find the best people?
It’s important so they get a different perspective. I don’t want them hearing just my perspective on the culture. I might be a little bit biased, being the founder. I want other people’s perspective and honest feedback on what the job entails and what the dayto-day is like.
We undersell versus oversell. I don’t candy-coat what their job is going to be or how hard it’s going to be. I take the opposite approach; I tell them that it’s going to be more difficult so when they come in, they’re happy. If a company over-sells, they immediately have a dissatisfied employee.
Q. How do you ensure that a job candidate will fit into your culture?
We try to introduce them to as many people as possible, and we explain our family-based culture. That’s clearly a top priority for people when they come to work here.
They still have a job to do, but if they’re happy at home, they’re happy here. That goes a long way for job satisfaction, turnover and all those types of things.
People aren’t working 50, 60, 70 hours a week, but they’re going to learn the business and be around here over a longer period of time. Having that tenure in a company is more valuable than working people and blowing them out the doors every year.
Q. How do you invest in your employees’ futures?
We do leadership training once a quarter. We bring in an outside company and put together a long series of leadership classes.
We’ll shut the company down for about four hours and focus on leadership or team-building, something that’s going to make these people better. We also hand out a book for the employees to read after the class, like ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ by John Maxwell or ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins.
These books are tied into the training that we’re doing.
Q. How do you determine what the training will focus on each quarter?
We look at gaps that we have in the company. Maybe it’s a sales gap, communications training or just management leadership everybody being held accountable for their actions. Rarely is it technical. It’s more of the soft skills that you need.
Everybody needs to be a leader here, and everybody needs to have good skills. It makes things run better. The company is going to be more successful if everybody knows they have a job and knows that they have decision authority. They need to be a leader to make the company the best company it can be.
Q. How do your employees know they have that authority?
I communicate it to my people. My philosophy is, ‘It’s better to ask forgiveness than it is permission. My people know that, and I encourage them to make decisions. When people first come in, they are a little hesitant to take that approach, but a good leader will make the right decisions, and it speeds things up.
It’s good diversity for the company to have more than just one person making decisions. The business can’t grow if one person is making all the decisions because things just get bogged down. One person can’t be everywhere; they can do that when there are five people in the company, but as it grows, everybody needs to be making decisions.
HOW TO REACH: Oak Street Funding, (866) 625-3863 or www.oakstreetfunding.com