Youth movement Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008
Mike Rippey admits that he would love to be lazy.

“My selfish objective is to do as little work as possible,” he jokes.

Of course, Rippey hasn’t given anyone the opportunity to call him lazy. The CEO and majority owner of auto-parts distributor Radiator Express Warehouse — which does business as 1-800-Radiator — has twice grown companies to land spots on the Inc. 5000, including when his current company jumped from $60 million in revenue in 2004 to revenue of $116 million in 2007.

And Rippey is getting closer to his goal. 1-800-Radiator can credit its boom to expanding via franchising starting in 2004, and Rippey happily concedes that it was his employees who designed the necessary technology infrastructure.

He’s not exactly putting his feet up on the desk, but Rippey has become comfortable growing his company with a young and purposefully less experienced team that adapts to the incoming technology of the field.

Smart Business spoke with Rippey about why you have to trust your best people and why someone with lots of experience knows too much about the ’80s to find technology-driven solutions.

Forget experience, hire young to fit today’s technology boom. Try to hire young people. I had another company back in the ’80s that was a fairly fast-growing company, as well. We went from zero people to 500 people and zero dollars to $50 million in sales in just about five years — and with that company, as we grew, the main thing we looked for was experience in the industry.

Today, when I go try to find someone, I don’t go for experience at all; I go for youth because young people understand the current technology much better than anyone who’s got a lot of experience does. They look at solutions from an IT standpoint, and that has helped us really leverage it more, and today, we’ve got almost three times as many young guys and girls that really get the IT side of stuff as we did when we first started growing. And this is in a world where today’s kids know how to do the parental locks for televisions at home better than the parents do.

I’ve had a lot of older people who come in who have a lot of motivation and drive, but today, they just don’t have the technology, and the solutions that they come up with are solutions that apply 10 or 15 years ago. They don’t think about going on Google and finding an answer that way. Or they don’t know things.

For example, most of the people here know how to write SQL (structured query language), which is a computer code associated with most Microsoft products. And these guys that have been around corporate life for 10, 15, 20 years don’t even know what SQL is.

Hire the friends of your young employees. It’s been word-of-mouth and friends basically who have formed the nucleus here. We’ve found some people the traditional way, but mostly, it’s about knowing people who are already here.

Friends of friends are usually similar to the friends that are here. They happen to be the right type of person to begin with — otherwise, they wouldn’t have been friends with the successful people here.

And the people inside who chose the friend to come in here, chose that friend because they matched what we have here. They didn’t choose the friend that’s sort of lying on the couch all day long. So that recruiting process was a big part of it, and once you have them in, if you have the right kind of person, you don’t have to do much with them to get them to adapt — they are already the right kind to begin with and have the natural personality and skill set to fit with what we have here.

And if there is anything I’ve found over the past 35 to 40 years of business, it’s that it’s a hell of a lot easier to find somebody good than to get somebody who isn’t good and teach them how to be good. The second is virtually impossible.

Once you’ve got a good team, put them in control. Once you’ve got a good enough crew working with you, which took us about six or seven years to build, the most important thing is you’ve got to give them tremendous responsibility and you’ve got to let them do their stuff with a minimal amount of interference. I’ve always been a little bit more on the loose side as far as structure.

I just can’t imagine doing it another way because then you’re just micromanaging 18 hours a day, literally, and there’s no way you can be good enough to cover all the bases with that kind of an approach. So you have to be very encouraging, upbeat; you have to really forgive mistakes easily.

Obviously, if a guy makes a lot of mistakes, he’s by definition not a good person to begin with. But if a person’s good, he’s going to make mistakes, and you just can’t come down on that in any kind of a big way. You just have to sigh and say, ‘Great, not a problem, let’s try not to make the same mistake twice.’

But if a person by definition is good, that person will not make the same mistake twice. You have to allow that. So the more I can have good people doing all the work, the more it accomplishes my personal goal — which is to have everything work out great with me literally doing nothing.

HOW TO REACH: Radiator Express Warehouse, (866) 780-9392 or