Family first Featured

7:00pm EDT January 29, 2008

If it’s the day before a three-day weekend, the employees of Kelmoore Investment Co. Inc. will be getting out of work early. Chairman Ralph Kelmon allows them to leave early to show that he cares about them and that he realizes how important they are to the company.

“If they are going someplace, they can get a head start and they can not be in the thick of traffic,” Kelmon says.

Kelmon says his company, a licensed general securities broker/dealer with $250 million in assets under management, does everything it can to accommodate a family-comes-first mentality.

Smart Business spoke with Kelmon about how a family atmosphere helps Kelmoore succeed and how he deals with bad decisions.

Q. How has the family atmosphere benefited the company?

We’re small, so it would be nice if all work were linear. There are times I need something extra, so they will all pull together to make sure we get projects that we promised out on time.

They will stay extra and do extra things because I’ve made an investment in extra, if you will. It all comes back. Basically, because I’ve made a heartfelt gesture toward them, they make heartfelt gestures toward me as well as providing the work they can. There is an aura of they actually want to please me, and they want to please the company.

Q. How do you handle bad decisions?

As soon as I think we’re wrong, I open up discussions of what we ought to do. ‘What do you think? If this isn’t working, what do we need to do?’ Get contributions from people. Basically, tell them that the blame goes to me.

Leadership means you take the blame. Leadership also means that when there is credit, the credit goes to everyone.

Human nature is that people are afraid that the risk/rewards, in some businesses I have been in, in the past, if you were to blame, you certainly would not be anxious to contribute again.

For us, I need my whole 20-cylinder engine pumping and not being afraid that when I walk down there, I’m going to go, ‘Well, you missed this.’ If anyone missed it, I missed it. If it is working well, then we were very successful in doing what we do.

Q. How do you communicate your message?

I manage by walking around. I do have an office, but it is not the kind of executive office where I call people in. I actually go to each one of their stations, talk to them and ask them how they are doing.

I will ask salespeople what the messages on the phones are. I will ask the performance people, ‘Are you having a good day; what do the numbers look like?’ Basically, I try to lead by saying, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you? Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?’ If, in fact, the best thing I can do is get out of your way, then I will get out of your way.

Q. Why is walking around more productive than sitting in your office?

They can see in my voice and in my heart that I want this to be a successful operation, and I want the success not only for me but for them, and that the big effort is a ‘we’ effort. We can make it happen — I can’t make it happen by myself — and how important they are to me.

They have direct access to me, so whatever they’d like to talk about, it’s not going to be they have to wait for their yearly review or whatever to talk. I look to see if people have something bothering them. I try to keep as few secrets as possible, so they are used to dealing with confidential information — what I am trying to accomplish and what the goals are and how we are doing on them, I think they ought to know that daily if I could do that.

Q. Has being open been a drawback at your company?

If you try to keep secrets, there’s a human nature around it where people want to know stuff. Part of leading people is to keep them as productive as possible. There is no productivity in the currency known as gossip. There is no allowing people to think that they have some kind of edge on information.

Do I keep what I pay people a secret? Yes, I do that. That is a privacy deal between the company and them. Other than that, what we are trying to accomplish or what is facing us, most good, intelligent employees kind of know what is going on.

The more you keep them in the know, the more time they can be productive and keep the machine going.

HOW TO REACH: Kelmoore Investment Co. Inc., (877) 285-1026 or