Thomas Raimondi Jr. Featured

9:16am EDT May 1, 2006

MTI Technology Corp. was a growing company, but Thomas Raimondi Jr. decided it needed to change course. After surveying the market and listening to his customers, the chairman, president and CEO saw the need to shift MTI’s focus from being an OEM manufacturer that sells and services its own products to a focus on consulting services. That risky decision paid off, and the company’s revenue rose from $83 million in 2004 to $132 million in 2005. MTI now provides complete IT and infrastructure solution sets to the Fortune 1000 marketplace. Smart Business spoke with Raimondi about how he engages his employees, his customers and his board members to continue to grow MTI Technology.

Have a plan.

Businesses do not grow accidentally. They grow because the management team has a very defined plan. It’s a plan they can execute against and that they’re able to come back and modify.

Sometimes you start to grow, you stumble a little bit, you step back and you have to ask yourself, ‘Is it the people? Is it the market? Is it the offering? Is it how we’re positioned?’ It’s kind of like baking a cake. It’s a variety of different elements within the recipe that you have to constantly manage and fine-tune.

Enlist your employees.

Great people attract great people. And high-performance people typically surround themselves with high-performance people. Our best people are our best recruiters.

You have to really surround yourself with people that are up to the challenge for growth. It’s people willing to push themselves to extend the business, and it takes a lot of hard personal effort and a lot of hard work to grow a business. It’s having a management team that’s really willing to lead its people, push its people and show them a path.

Repeat your message wherever possible.

You really have to communicate the vision and the message daily in most anything you do. And no matter how often you communicate the message, someone will always say, ‘What’s our message? Where are we going?’

That just reinforces to me that we have to be constantly reminding the team. Just because I know the message and the strategy and half a dozen people that work directly for me know the message and the strategy doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody that works for someone, who works for someone, who works for someone, that they get it.

I find communicating the message is a constant process that we have to do at all levels. You do it formally — company newsletters, company events, company meetings, company presentations, analyst calls. Then, it’s at lunch, it’s at breakfast, it’s at dinner, it’s at local office meetings, it’s when you’re out with an employee making a sales call or a service call.

Act as a team.

You cannot dictate a strategy and a vision. You have to have them be part of the development of it.

When you’re going to make a shift, when you’re going to do something slightly different, you have to bring the team in. You have to discuss it. You have a lot of collaborative meetings. You have to do workshops.

People want to be involved in winning. They also want to know that they are part of the bigger picture, that they’re a contributor, that their brain power, their ideas, their passion has been incorporated into it. Once they get it, then they start to participate, then they start to communicate, then they start to add their twist to it. Then it gets very exciting because that’s when the passion really builds.

Listen to your customers.

You have to be a good listener to really understand the marketplace. Your customers will quickly tell you whether or not they think you’re a credible supplier of product or services within the niche that you’re going after and what challenges you need to overcome. A market can be growing, but you may or may not be considered an appropriate vendor or partner within the segment that you think you want to go after.

Utilize your board’s resources.

The board is a partner for the company. Board members want to get involved, like to get involved. And what I find with board members, the more you ask them to participate, the more they will. The less you engage them, the tougher it is for them.

Use your board members to help you recruit. I’m one of these CEOs who likes to engage his board, likes to make them part of the vision, the strategy. I meet with my board as much as I can on a formal and informal basis. They help me fill the gaps.

Care less about profits.

Business is very personal. If you’re just there to do the transaction, you’re one of many. You won’t get the next deal.

When someone sells you something, you want to have a fair transaction, good quality, great follow-through, and know that the person or the company that sold it to you actually cares about your satisfaction. You have to have an attitude that says, ‘We’re here to be of service to you,’ and really mean it.

Anybody can sell something to somebody once. It’s how we service the customer and partner with the customer on a daily basis after they gave us their money, after they paid their bill, that decides whether they buy from us again.

Exceed expectations.

We want to actually go out and solve the customer’s issue. That’s how you create a bonding relationship of success.

The way we exceed expectations is by making the extra effort, doing the extra little things that need to be done, not trying to nickel and dime the customer.

People don’t buy services, product, solutions sets just because they need to. They buy them because there’s a specific business issue and challenge that they need to overcome. And when you can overcome that problem for them and help them realize the gain that they were looking for, that’s when you meet and exceed their expectations.

Take the fall.

If the customer’s not satisfied, then it’s my fault. I don’t care whose fault it is, it’s our fault. We screwed up. If you can take that attitude that the customer truly is king, then you can satisfy an unhappy customer.

HOW TO REACH: MTI Technology Corp., www.mti.com or (800) 999-9MTI