Keeping it in perspective Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

David B. Wright’s father used to tell him that everything looks different depending on where you sit.

And it took awhile, but the chairman and CEO of Verari Systems Inc. says that, over the years, he has grown to understand the corporate wisdom in that advice.

“The ideas that you get from your perspective are different from the ones that somebody else might see from theirs, and that’s OK, because they might be closer to the solution than you are,” says Wright, whose company develops energy-efficient data-center and desktop-consolidation platforms.

Wright says another lesson he learned from his father is that the people you see going up are the same people you’re going to see going down.

“I used to laugh about it, but basically, he was saying that everybody counts,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Wright about how he combined those lessons to lead his 310 employees and grow his business.

Hire the person, not the resume. During the hiring process, everybody gets excited about where the candidate went to school. I don’t. You know what I usually look at first? I look at what they did while they went to school.

I look at people who got involved in the community — whether it’s sports or social — because I want somebody who wants to be part of society. That’s really important to me. If you can’t be part of society, you can’t be part of a team.

Second, you can tell a lot about people based on their personal life. If I know that somebody is a good father or a good mother, most times, that person is going to be a very good employee because they are unselfish.

Look at their eyes; either they have passion, or they don’t. I always tell people, ‘You can’t create passion. You have to keep it alive, but you can’t create it.’ Once it dies, it dies. You can tell — how do they look every day, how do they look at themselves, how do they want to operate as a businessperson and also as an individual?

Also, I can deal with anything but lack of integrity. I don’t think you can teach that; if you don’t have it, you don’t have it. If you’re born a dog, you don’t die a cat — as they say. People are what they are. I don’t believe people change that much in certain areas. They have integrity, or they don’t. It’s that binary to me.

Focus on the strengths. My leadership style is geared around the team. As an executive running a company, one of your responsibilities is the people — building and keeping your intellectual capital.

What you do from a team approach is look for the positive strengths in every person. What do they bring to the table? What do they bring to the team? What do they bring to the game? How do you complement that for that person and also for the team?

I’m a big believer that you can make a weakness into a strength. You can neutralize negatives and invest in positives. If you ask most managers what they spend most of their time on, when it comes to people, they probably spend more time on the poor-performing employees than on the good ones. I have a very different perspective on that: You do a disservice by not spending more time with the performing employees. I believe in finding that positive in that person and working that pretty hard.

I have a lady who works for our software operation in Alabama. She’s phenomenally bright, and she had enough experience in the back room. My job was to say, ‘Hey, I think you’d be great in front of these customers. Meeting with customers is just a conversation between two human beings. It’s not a win or lose in how you did.’ In the beginning, she didn’t believe it, but I believed it.

Seeing potential in people is something you do after a period of time. And there are times when I’m wrong — where my expectations are higher than theirs — but I’ve never set an expectation lower than the person thought they could do.

Require employees to be students of the industry. Look at yourself: Every day, you want to wake up and be better. You’re probably always trying to find out how to do that. When you know about the company and the business you’re in, you become better.

I require every employee to have two weeks of education every year. We spend a lot of time trying to make sure that our people know what the company’s values system is and what we’re trying to accomplish. We also explain that they’ve got to earn the right to have that customer.

For example, we run a management leadership class once a month, and we bring people in to talk to them about subjects like team-building, understanding the financial parameters of the business or how to be a better manager.

The only way that I know how to be the best is to invest in employees. Knowledge is an investment. In sports, people go back to training camps, and in business, once a year, you have to sit down and revisit how you did, where the business is going, what you can do better and how you can learn more about it.

HOW TO REACH: Verari Systems Inc., (858) 874-3800 or www.verari.com