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Thinking ahead Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

It isn’t nearly enough to say that Michael W. Wadsworth has overcome a lot to make Red Line Graphics Inc. a success.

In 1990, he nearly lost his life in an auto accident and spent the next 15 months recuperating. During that time, he came up with a vision for a company that would combine a printing business with signs, promotional products and apparel. But vision by itself is not enough, Wadsworth says.

“Business and life is like a chess game,” Wadsworth says. “If you want to be successful, you can’t be working on the first move and then start thinking about the second move. You have to be on the first move, already past the second move and into the third move, thinking. And that’s the difference.”

Red Line has been growing at an annual rate of more than 20 percent since it was founded nearly 18 years ago, with 2006 revenue of $8.1 million and 46 employees.

Smart Business spoke with the founder, president and CEO of Red Line about hiring for potential and having the patience to let it bloom.

Q: What is a common mistake CEOs make?

A lot of people think to be successful, you have to take risk. I disagree with that. What you have to take is calculated risk. The terminology is wrong.

The difference is that you do your homework. It gets back to that chess game. You don’t look at the first two moves and say, ‘Wow, this is a great idea.’ When a supervisor comes up with an idea, you say, ‘OK, let’s talk about it.’

When you sit down and talk about it and they don’t have a piece of paper in front of them with any facts on it, you say, ‘Well, before we’re going to talk about this, you need to go back and you need to do your homework.’

What are the advantages? What is the time frame? How we going to accomplish this? What are the positives? What are the negatives?

I’m more of a coach than a CEO. I don’t believe in sitting in the ivory tower and sending memos down. The majority of my time is spent with teaching for the future and not teaching for today.

Q: How do you find the right employees?

I’m very big on hiring from within and promoting from within. I use a football analogy. A lot of the second- and third-round draft picks that I made 10 or 15 years ago are now developing into second- and first-round draft picks.

They may not have the exact skill set you want today, but they are people that you can train and motivate and get to head in the right direction.

You hire from within, you get the right people and you develop them your way and you train them. We’re bringing on a new sales rep out of college that really wants to be a human resource director. He’s got all the right things that we need, but we’re not ready for him. So he’s going to have to pay his dues.

We’re bringing him into sales. We’re going to spend time and evaluate him as an individual. And then, by the time he elevates himself to that position, he’ll understand our culture.

Hire the person for the person and not for the job. Look for somebody who has got heart, who’s got the right attitude, the right demeanor, and then you go back and let your coaching instincts come into play.

Q: How do you deal with unhappy employees?

I would say 75 percent of my employees love coming in and probably 25 percent don’t. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of personnel problems out there in the world today. Most employees want to bring their problems to work.

You have to address them. Letting them fester will not help you. As soon as you have the issue, you have to deal with it. You pull them aside and you try to get on a personal, friendly level. You start off with a little smile. Let them know that, ‘Hey, look, I’m not here to hurt you. But I’m here to let you know that we can’t move the ball if we’re spending too much energy going backward.’

Anything that’s not moving the ball is going backward.

Q: What should all CEOs keep in mind?

When you hire employees, you have their livelihood in your hands. You’re asking those employees to be loyal to you and to work hard for you and to help you achieve your vision.

But at the same time, you should have a sense of responsibility back to them to protect them and be loyal to them.

HOW TO REACH: Red Line Graphics Inc., (800) 643-7750 or www.redlinegrp.com