Sweet smell of success Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

In much the same way that Jill Belasco crafts perfect scents for her clients, she works to craft a positive and productive chemistry within her team. As president and CEO of Latitudes International Fragrance Inc., a private label designer and manufacturer of fragrance products that she founded in 1994, Belasco has worked to inspire passion in her 150-person work force — something she says starts at the top.

“The most important thing is that they see my passion for the business,” Belasco says. “If the person who is leading you is motivated, then you are motivated. If they are passionate, then you become passionate.”

With $16.5 million in 2006 revenue and projections of more than $22 million this year, something is working.

Belasco spoke with Smart Business about the art of building a team and why a leader has to be willing to go for it.

Q: How do you develop team chemistry?

I have had, over the years, mixed results, as I’m sure most managers have, with building the right chemistry within a team. It’s difficult to find the right talent, but some things can be taught. Personality and chemistry cannot be taught.

We are more likely to bring people on board that we feel are a good fit emotionally and personalitywise who may not have industry experience or who may not have the exact experience we’re looking for, because that can be taught. We’re more likely to try somebody out for three or four months on a contract basis to make sure the team is correct, because we have been caught, like any manager has, in the ‘hire because we’ve got an opening and we really want to fill it’ and had somebody not be the right personality for our culture.

The first part of building the team is being really careful who you put in there and weighing other aspects besides experience, other characteristics. For us, that’s important. Once you have a great team that works together like one unit, it’s easy to keep them motivated because they really want to achieve the same goals that the company wants to achieve. They have clarity of what we’re targeting.

Q: How can a leader best communicate his or her goals to employees?

Apart from traditional quarterly staff meetings and regular management meetings, which everybody does and we do, reinforcing targets and goals and the company philosophy is sort of a daily and weekly thing. You show it in your actions and in every interaction with your colleagues and staff.

We always talk about, ‘How does this fit into the bigger company goals?’ and we remind ourselves what our goals are regularly. If we have to make a major decision, how does it dovetail into the goal we’re trying to achieve?

It’s regular discussion about what the company’s targets are and what the company’s goals are. We’re also pretty transparent with information here, and that lets people feel that they have a hand in it.

Q: What are the other benefits of being open with information?

Anytime an employee has a sense of ownership or a proprietary feeling about a company, you’ve got a long-term employee on your hands. You’ve got someone who wants to grow with the company because they believe in the team.

You can really see the difference in companies where people don’t feel they have any kind of effect on the business. We talk about having an owner’s point of view all the time, and we make sure that if people have an owner’s point of view that they’re rewarded.

We’re a privately held company, but we make sure our bonus program reflects people that have an owner’s point of view. If the company succeeds and has a great year, then our people have a great year, especially if they feel they are part of the team.

If people feel that they have a stake in what’s happening to the company in whatever form, whether stock or a bonus program or whatever it is, and that they can affect the company’s direction, you’ve got a partner for life.

Q: What is one trait that all successful business leaders share?

I don’t know if it’s bravery or stupidity, but I think it’s probably bravery. You can’t run a business if you’re too chicken. You can’t be a coward and be a business leader, and you have to be doubly brave if it’s your own money and your own company.

You can’t be afraid to say yes or no, if no is the right thing to say, and you have to be able to take a risk or your business isn’t going to grow. The only way businesses grow is if somebody says, ‘Let’s go for it.’

HOW TO REACH: Latitudes International Fragrance Inc., (866) 639-3999 or www.latitudesintl.com