When Fred H. Lerner was working to get Ritz Interactive Inc. off the ground in 1999, he was very careful about who he asked to invest in the new company.
“It’s not that difficult to get money,” Lerner says. “It’s difficult to get money and keep control so you can implement your business plan and your model. It is better to have a strategic investor who is interested in your success rather than a financial investor that is only interested in making money.”
Lerner chose wisely, and the e-commerce service provider has grown its revenue from $33.1 million in 2001 to $99.1 million in 2006 with 50 employees.
Smart Business spoke with the co-founder, president and CEO of Ritz about how his core values of persistence and determination have helped him grow his company.
Q: How do you keep attuned to your employees?
The best people to tell you what goes on in your business are your very own employees, if you bother to ask them. What a wonderful thing if you can communicate with them on a regular basis to your superiors.
I’m not very supportive of many meetings. I’m more of a oneon-one manager. A lot more can be accomplished in one-on-one communication rather than in a group discussion. People are more likely to communicate their true feelings, their real thoughts, one on one rather than in a group situation.
Q: How do you keep good employees?
Create an appropriate workplace. Very rarely do people leave just for money. People who feel they have a best friend at work very rarely leave their job.
Obviously, some of the factors of fair pay and fair treatment go along with it. But if you create an environment where people can develop relationships, it helps in terms of people being happy where they are.
One of my roles, I believe, is to try to mentor others. Talk to them, listen to them and see if they have an interest in growing. If they seem to be responsive, I continue to work with them.
We have an advantage today because of e-mail. Periodically, I’ll send out an e-mail blast to all our employees telling them, ‘My door is open most of the time. Feel free to drop in or send me an e-mail if you have some thoughts you’d like to communicate.’
Q: How do you create that environment?
Shut up and listen. If you’re talking, you can’t learn anything. The only way to learn something is by listening to others.
If you’re a parent or a spouse, being an active listener and engaging another individual comes with a commitment, and it comes with practice.
It’s the Socratic method. The best way of listening is to ask questions. When you ask a question, it typically elicits a response. If (you) ask the right question, you can engage virtually anyone.
Q: What other tips can help a CEO succeed?
There was a very famous quote by Calvin Coolidge. It’s called persistence and determination. What Calvin Coolidge said in a rather long quote is, ‘The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.’
When I was growing up in business, the thing that I observed from my mentors was a passion for the job and their ability to keep trying to accomplish their goals and objectives regardless of the obstacles.
After observing that, I came across the philosophies of others, which just reaffirmed in my mind that it’s persistence and determination and never, ever, ever giving up that are the cornerstones of success.
To me, it’s rather simple. If you love your work, then it’s no longer work.
Q: How can a leader get through tough times?
A leader cannot be tied to the past. I came across another definition and I don’t know who to attribute it to. It was a definition of a CEO as an agent of change.
Any CEO will tell you that the thing they do best is change. I have an expectation that tomorrow when I walk in, I’m going to see what things we can do better and different than we do today. I do that every day of my life.
I think it’s just called growing up. We all go through that. You’re different today than you were three years ago, and you’ll continue to grow and evolve. We all should grow and evolve.
Management is a little bit like a marriage. Half of all marriages fail. But everyone starts off a relationship in business or in their personal lives with an expectation of success. Through time, you see whether it will be successful or not.
HOW TO REACH: Ritz Interactive Inc., www.ritzinteractive.com