Hands-on delegation Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

When you run a privately held, family business it’s important to be hands-on, says Bruce A. Black.

“I need to know firsthand every aspect of our business,” says the founder, president and CEO of Peninsula Valve & Fitting Co. Inc. “I need to be willing to get my hands dirty, and I kind of use the cliché of, ‘Don’t ask anything of any of my employees that I’m not willing to do myself or have been willing to do myself at one point.’”

Black, who leads the $28 million supplier of fluid handling components and systems, says that letting employees see you getting your hands dirty with them gains you the respect of those around you.

Smart Business spoke with Black about how and when to delegate responsibilities.

Q: Do you ever find yourself getting too hands-on in running your business?

Absolutely, in the early days of the business, when I literally started it myself with no employees and I was not making much money. The thought of having an employee that would begin to take some of the money that the company was generating, that wasn’t really exciting since I was desperate for money.

I made sure that I would take the business as far as I could by myself before I added my first person and then my second person, and what that developed into is that I became so hands-on that I became really reluctant to release some of the jobs. Even when the company was 20-plus years old, I found that I continued to be too involved.

I wanted to micromanage, and that was not good. Only when I truly stepped back and said, ‘I’m hiring good people, and I’m giving them responsibilities, and I need to let them do their job,’ and [I] fortunately began to do that as this business grew. As we expanded, I knew that I needed to release the jobs to other people, and that allowed us to grow.

Q: How did you know that you needed to delegate?

It happens over time. It isn’t a bolt of lightning that says, ‘OK, I’m going to change the way I am doing things.’ I think it happens over time, and that time is probably years where you’re finding that you either could hand off this particular job to a person who’s got time to do it. It finally begins to sink in that you can (do) more yourself, personally, on accomplishing the goals that you want to be able to do as the manager, the owner, the CEO, whatever you want to call yourself for the business, if you can release maybe more of the trivial, mundane stuff.

I’m thinking accounting. I still act so much in the accounting department because it is my money, I’m watching over it, and things like that need to be released from me as well as worrying about the sales accounts and all the customers. Little by little, you begin to wean yourself off of the need to be so intimately involved in everything on a daily basis, but it does take time.

Q: How do you know, today, when to delegate?

I think I will continue to handle the handful of key financial things that are reflected in the day-to-day, the month-to-month and the year-to-year business in relationship to the balance sheet and the P&L, payroll.

As old as my company is ... I’m still, even though I use a payroll service to do my payroll, I am the only one that is involved in the payroll inputting, and nobody else in the company knows what anybody else makes. I handle the bank statement and reconciliation of the bank, even though I’ve got accounting people.

Key financial aspects of the financial well-being of the company remain with me. Everything else I am perfectly happy to have everybody else handle. Again, that’s been over time as you relieve yourself of those things that can be handled by other people.

Q: So no one but you knows what employees at your company make?

Certainly, the people can certainly ask a fellow employee, ‘Well, what do you make? I’ll tell you what I make.’ I know that has happened. I think the fact that everybody knows how fair the company has treated the employees, I think the assumption that I’ve made — and it’s been well founded — that everyone feels that things are competitive and everybody is being taken care of by the company the way that it should be.

As long as I am at the desk, I will continue to do that.

HOW TO REACH: Peninsula Valve & Fitting Co. Inc., (650) 965-4197 or www.penvalve.com