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We are family Featured

5:20am EDT November 2, 2005
If Victor Finnegan weren’t president and CEO of Philadelphia-based American Expediting Co., he would love to be a waiter.

“You’re serving people and making them happy. That’s what I enjoy about my business. We’re doing something that makes people happy,” says Finnegan about his 22-year-old provider of rush and same-day time-critical package delivery services. “It’s very gratifying to be given this task and complete it. Even though the customer isn’t calling, you know you’ve made them happy.”

Finnegan’s biggest challenge is finding Type A personalities to join his staff at 19 locations serving the continental United States.

“It’s a hustle-and-bustle business. If you don’t like that environment, you wouldn’t be happy in this industry,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Finnegan about how he grew his business by creating a pleasant work environment to attract and retain loyal employees.

How did you grow your company from a messenger service in 1983 to today’s organization?
We never put growth ahead of customer service. We only took on the business that we could serve professionally and efficiently and make customers happy, and that’s how we grew the company.

The company has grown significantly but it’s not like we opened our doors in 1983, sold a bunch of stock, jumped to $100 million and figured out the rest as we went along. We took our time and satisfied customers one after another until the company grew to what it is today.

What techniques did you use throughout this process?
I always felt that customer service was directly related to employee satisfaction, so I wanted to create an environment where employees were valued, treated with respect and enjoyed working for me. A lot of it is just taking the time to get to know them and bring them into our family. I like to think of my company as a family.

When you think about someone going to work, a large portion of one’s life is spent working. We’ve always taken care of our own, and that’s the attitude I’ve tried to communicate to all of my employees. That’s rewarded me well in terms of loyalty and a pleasant working environment.

No one wants to go to work and be unhappy. I like to work with people who are happy, so I tried to create an environment where people are happy.

How do you do that?
I think it’s much more (about) interpersonal relationships. I’m in the transportation business, which is not a glamorous business. It’s not loaded with a lot of perks and benefits you hear about in some other industries. This is transportation; it’s a nickel-and-dime business.

Back in the late ’80s, we had been in business about six years at the time. I looked all of these employees who were dedicated to the growth of the company and were not leaving, and the company was profitable.

I created a profit-sharing plan because ... I wanted these people to spend their lives, be able to retire and look back and say, ‘I worked hard for this company, and the company took care of me.’

There aren’t a lot of benefits in the transportation industry, but this was something I wanted to do for my employees, and it worked out well for a lot of them.

As the company grew, there were too many people, so we had to convert it to a 401(k) plan. More and more companies are offering 401(k)s because of the future of Social Security, but we’ve been offering it all along, and we offer health benefits.

How are you planning to expand your company into the future?
After all these years, we’ve figured out the business and we have it running efficiently, so I just want to continue to expand into other cities, not to be the biggest in any city that we go into but just to serve our customers well.

We’re thinking about opening (an office) in Buffalo in the very near future. Oftentimes, this comes about as a result of customers in our existing cities who say to us, ‘I’d like you to solve my problems in (another) city,’ and then we take a look at that city and we see if there are some employees who will fit the bill and then we move forward.

We’re considering opening up in Florida. We started the recruitment process and really couldn’t find the right person, so we’ve held off on that until we find the right person. We don’t want to open up and do a poor job; it’s not fun. Good job, fun; poor job, not fun.

How do you know when it’s not right and it’s time to back off?
I don’t know that I do know when to back off. I’ve not been able to back off. I will do Florida; I just want to do it right. I’d like to have 40 or 50 offices by the time I’m done.

It’s fun creating careers for people. I find myself, at 49 years old, starting to look back on life and what we have accomplished. It’s fun for me to think that this person was successful at this and that person was successful at that, and in a small way, I contributed to that.

You’re only on this planet for a short time, and I’m just trying to have some fun while I’m here.

HOW TO REACH: American Expediting Co., (215) 751-1199 or www.amexpediting.com