Brian Whiteman was an enterprising young man while his high-school classmates were hanging out at the mall, the 15-year-old Whiteman was laying the foundation for what would become PrintsMadeEasy.com, an online printing company specializing in business cards and, he says, user-friendliness.
Whiteman has come a long way from making color copies in his parents’ garage with five employees; now with 100 employees, his company posted 2006 revenue of $15 million, and, as Whiteman says, the sky is the limit.
“It’s just a matter of time before we become the largest online printing company in the world,” Whiteman says. “I’m extremely, extremely passionate about what I do. I live, breathe and eat what I do, and we try to pass that passion on to all the employees.”
Smart Business spoke with Whiteman about flexibility, inspiring passion and planning for the future.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to let my employees know that they can make a difference in anything they do. I like for them to be able to act as though they were the owner of this company, that they are the entrepreneurs.
They can make a change, and I give them the flexibility, within reason, to do whatever they think they would do if they owned the company to make the company better. I give them a tremendous amount of flexibility. As a result, they don’t feel like they are chained to a desk.
The benefits are they can grow with the company in any way. They can do one segment of the business, and six months later, they can be doing something totally different. The sky is the limit here. We tell all the people to buckle their seat belts and get ready for the ride.
Q: How do you identify those who can handle responsibility?
We give everybody a fair shot, and we see what they can do. If we don’t give them that opportunity, the company is not going to grow. People aren’t going to be happy in the environment.
I have never worked for anyone my entire life. I have been doing the same thing since I was 15 years old, so it’s been almost 18 years now. I treat my employees as though they’re my kids. It’s an extremely pleasant environment.
We are all working almost a third of our lives in a company here. If it wasn’t pleasant, I wouldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t want them to do it either.
Q: How can a leader communicate his or her goals and vision?
I convey it by being extremely positive and extremely passionate about what I do. I don’t see how an employee can go to work for somebody if they don’t see that passion and that excitement in their employer.
I would have a hard time going to work for someone if I did not see that the owner of the company was passionate and excited about it. Whenever we talk and I’m around the employees, everything is always upbeat and exciting, and I’m always conveying the message that the opportunity for people to grow here is mind-boggling.
They see the way I interact with other employees, they see the way I interact with customers, and they believe in the dream that they are working for the best online printing company out there, and that we’re going to be the biggest online printing company in the world. If I keep mentioning that to them, and we’re all striving for the same goal, we will achieve it.
Q: Is it possible to grow too fast?
We keep doubling every single year and our products become better, our quality becomes better, our prices become lower and the customer base keeps on growing. We set up the right foundation from the beginning to give our employees the right tools to be able to handle the customers.
Leaders have to look into the future. They have to realize what their company would be like if they went from 20 employees to 500 employees. You can’t get to where you want unless you can visualize it, and you’ve got to set the right procedures up so you know you can achieve what you want. The danger in not doing so is that you won’t achieve it.
If you don’t have a vision and you don’t know where you’re going, you’re never going to get there. I started out of my parents’ garage, and I knew when I was 16 or 17 years old that I wanted to have a 100,000-square-foot facility, and it took me five moves, but we finally did it.
HOW TO REACH: PrintsMadeEasy.com, (800) 263-0847 or www.printsmadeeasy.com