Fountain of youth Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2008

William C. Tauber has something in common with 16th century Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon: Both have searched for the fountain of youth.

Ponce de Leon, according to legend, came to America searching for the revitalizing waters of an actual fountain. Tauber is in pursuit of a different type of fountain, one that draws on the energy of young businesspeople.

The founder and CEO of Progressive Lighting & Energy Solutions Inc., which posted 2007 revenue of $12 million, has made it a point to build his business around young employees. Tauber believes that a young work force is an aggressive, enthusiastic work force with vision, provided that you train them in the ways of your company.

Smart Business spoke with Tauber about how to build your own fountain of youth to grow your business.

Q. What are the keys to developing a successful mentoring program?

You have to be committed to it. It’s not just an idea where someone just says, ‘I’m going to be a mentor.’ Whether you make it an informal practice or a formal program, you have to be committed to it. While I make it a committed program, I do it in kind of an informal manner. I’ve broken it out into five categories.

One of them is what I call delivered learning. It’s actually what I try to do to promote intentional learning, which is really a method I use for coaching, instruction, advising.

I actually talk to the people, and I try to create a learning lesson forum because every project we get into is really meant to be a learning process.

The second part is failure and success. One of the things I learned a long time ago is that the learning process comes with failure. You don’t learn anything by doing it right the first time.

If you did it right the first time, you got lucky. I really put a lot of my teaching in storytelling. I show them where I did it wrong in the past.

The third part is I try to make it personal. I try to show them that they can adapt this learning on their own. Mentors who talk about themselves and their experiences really establish a rapport with their employees.

My fourth point is development over time.

It’s a maturation process. When mentoring works, it’s really tapping into a continuous learning cycle. It’s not an event; it’s a cycle or a stream of different events. Once your people understand their place, they can use the same stories to bring up the next person in line.

My last point is that mentoring is really a joint venture. It’s really sharing in responsibilities. I learn, as well, so they share their stories back with me.

Q. What would you tell others about mentoring?

Look for somebody who has the ability to stand on their own, somebody who is willing to take a little bit of a chance and stand behind their decisions. Somebody who has vision, who understands how to look forward. And somebody who understands that once you have a vision, it’s like your child.

You have to believe in it, nurture it, stay with it all the time and never give up. Once you’ve identified what you want in the future, you never give up. You reach for that vision 100 percent of the time.

Q. How do you help young employees to develop their skills?

One of the things you need to do when you’re working with young employees is to position your people with other successful companies, to learn from other successful companies as they grow with your company. So we align our people with other professional people, and we’re teaching people how to be successful within our company. Once we’ve identified someone’s strengths, we put them in a position where we can capitalize on their strengths, and then we get out of their way and let them do what they do best.

We give them a basic knowledge of our industry. We work closely with the local electric companies; they put on very good training programs. We send them to their classes so they get a very good basic knowledge of the industry.

After that, we work with them to partner with other companies that are in the same industry as we are, and then we create strategic alliances within their personnel. We believe that every department here is a profit center, so we do that with our people.

We teach them that, no matter where they are, their position is really a profit center. Their income is really based on the amount of profit that can be generated from their area.

So we teach people the industry, and we put them in a situation that best serves their talents, then we have to get out of their way and watch them as they grow.

HOW TO REACH: Progressive Lighting & Energy Solutions Inc., (714) 542-5490 or www.proglighting.com