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Seriously fun growth Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

When you work at PACE Inc., you get a lot of perks. But Mark Krebs says it’s not the office massages, the putting course or the summer family barbecues that drive his 100 employees to keep the company growing.

“Work, although it’s serious, can be fun, and it should be fun,” says Krebs, president of PACE. “But without the ability to grow and learn and prosper in an individual’s career, no amount of those fringes makes a difference.”

The water-resource engineering firm has grown revenue from $5.6 million in 2003 to $14.8 million in 2006, and Krebs says the key to fast growth is maintaining a culture that empowers people to seek bigger challenges.

“Get quality people who are interested in what you are doing and help them understand the direction,” Krebs says. “Then get out of the way and support them. Let them learn, grow, struggle and succeed, and do what they need to do.”

Smart Business spoke with Krebs about the similarities between a business and a family.

Q: What traits are the most important to being a good leader?

It’s the ability to focus on a course of action, and don’t be deterred from that focus and that direction. Yet, you have to see opportunities in people.

We’ve done a good job with coming up with a clear, strategic plan that has set a course of action for us in terms of the types of projects and the geographic region we want to be involved in. But it’s not something you can set in place and blindly go forward with it. You have to react to the marketplace and to potential opportunities.

Define what you’re good at and what do you want to do. Where do you want to do it? What are the resources that you have to move forward in your business? Have a senior management team that meets periodically — more as we’re developing the plan and less as we’re just reviewing and updating the plan.

Q: How do you ensure you have satisfied customers?

It goes back to making this connection and commitment to projects that are interesting. People can be very creative and innovative, and they can leave a part of themselves on each and every project they work on.

The level of commitment is when you walk in, how is it presented? Make yourself a part of the experience. Everybody has got a problem that needs solved, or they wouldn’t be in front of you. Be creative and innovative on how you solve those problems, and you’ll have an impact.

Q: How do you get your employees to be creative and innovative?

Walk the talk. You have to live and breathe what you are promoting to be the vision of the company. Nothing beats the day-to-day explaining of how to work on a project team. You’re advising the team on how to move forward with the project. You have an opportunity to bring in vision. Bring in the long-term focus of the company, and supply that on each and every project.

We do annual meetings, and we do newsletters. We do just a lot of different ways to continually go back to that. Not only does the president not lose focus on what the vision is and what the plan is, but eventually, all the employees understand what the vision and what the plan is, how each project they are working on can make a difference toward working that specific vision and goal.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

It came from our chairman and founder, Johan Perslow. Initially, it didn’t really mean that much to me because I wasn’t a parent at the time. I now have four children.

His advice was to treat your employees like your children and like your family. It means in a healthy family environment, there is a tremendous amount of support, trust and openness. That was really what he was telling me.

The only difference between your employees and your children is you’re never going to fire your children. You do everything you can to make it work out with employees, and you don’t do it for them. Provide the opportunity for them to do it for themselves.

To develop the most well-rounded children isn’t to solve all their problems for them. It’s just to make sure they don’t hurt themselves. But they need to be given the opportunity to grow and learn and succeed on their own and fail on their own and be supported so that they know themselves when to go get help.

It’s all about creating an environment where growth and learning thrive, not necessarily take all the challenge and the risk away from them.

HOW TO REACH: PACE Inc., www.pacewater.com or (714) 481-7300