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Watch your growth Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

Some CEOs prefer to get a

monthly, weekly or even

a daily report on their company’s finances.

But not Avi Crane. As

founder, president and CEO of

Prime Produce International

LLC, Crane wants to know

where every penny is, and he

wants to know it hourly.

“It takes a diligence on the

part of the owner and his

team to make sure nothing

gets lost in the cracks,”

Crane says. “When you’re

growing that fast, you can

easily lose control of your

cost and profitability.”

This constant communication has been one of the keys

to success for the avocado

distributor, which hit 2007

revenue of $16.6 million, up

730 percent over 2005.

Smart Business spoke

with Crane about how to foster open communication to

keep your business running

smoothly.

Q. How do you promote an

open culture?

I try as much as possible

not to be at my desk when

I’m in a meeting. I try not to

use my desk as a shield. I

just try to be very approachable and talk to people.

I try not to take phone calls

when I’m in a meeting. I’ve

learned that from my own

experience. When you walk

into your boss’s office, it’s

always scary, whether people

admit that or not. When the

person takes a phone call, it

just makes it worse. So I try to

give the people the respect

they deserve.

When you are managing a

company, you want your employees to tell you about

problems. That’s invaluable.

You can’t even measure. It’s

when you’re not informed

about problems and you learn

about them way too late that

they’ve done the damage.

Q. How do you encourage

employees to work together?

Have all the departments not

actually be departments. We all

work together. I like all my

people to work together, understand they are a team and discuss things, and never try to

work one against the

other. I worked at a company where that was the

corporate culture to have

every department working against the next

department.

The more you bring

your people together,

whether it’s just short

meetings or discussions,

the more comfortable

people feel with each

other.

Q. How do you respond

when employees bring

problems to you?

When you solicit input,

you better be able to

take it. You don’t want

to be known as the person,

‘He always asks us for advice

and does what he wants anyway.’

The more they hear about

someone that brought a suggestion or a problem to me

and the more they saw it was

resolved and acted upon, the

more input you’ll get from

your employees.

They see the messenger is

not going to get shot and, in

fact, the messenger is going to

have an influence.

Q. How do you find people

that fit into your culture?

In the initial interview, I

explain the objectives of the

company and where we are

in the competitive arena and

what the plans are the next

12 months and how they are

going to contribute to that.

Once the employee feels part

ownership, that’s when you

have the best relationship. We

convey that before they are

hired, when they are hired,

and I try to convey that to my

employees all the time.

When it’s all said and done,

you won’t know until the

person is working. It doesn’t

end the day they are hired.

The first crucial weeks are

important for that person and the company. They have

to be directed, and they have

to understand what their

position is.

It’s not a survival test. You

need to spend as much time as

you did on recruiting in the

first several weeks to make

sure they understand the operations and make sure they

understand what their role is.

They’ll be a happy employee

and you’ll get production out

of them, and you’ll know right

away if it’s not a good mix.

The hardest decision is hiring

an employee. The second

hardest is letting them go.

When I’ve had to let employees go in the past, it’s been to

both of our benefits.

Q. What is a key thing every

CEO should remember about

employees?

They do have other options.

You don’t want to hire employees that don’t have other

options. Hire the best people

possible. You’ve got to keep

them happy with what they

are doing. Compensate your

employees when the company

is successful.

If you give your employees

middle-of-the-year gift certificates to a theater or something like that, it’s a relatively

inexpensive gesture. Because

it’s not the norm in our society, it has an unbelievable

impact.

When they are with their

friends, they say, ‘Yeah, I got

this ticket from my company.’

You can imagine that it sends

the right message that you

care and you’re thinking of

them and you know they have

a life beyond the eight hours

they spend at the office.

HOW TO REACH: Prime Produce International LLC, (714) 771-0718 or www.prime-produce.com