All aboard Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008

Arthur Bedrosian compares running Lannett Co. Inc. to guiding a wagon. The president and CEO of the 66-year-old generic drug manufacturer knows where he wants to take the wagon, but it will take a lot longer to get there if his employees don’t want to take it in the same direction.

When you’re choosing a particular path for a company, there can be a lot of naysayers. But whether his employees are responsible for pushing or pulling, Bedrosian’s goal is to make sure no one is just sitting on the wagon once the vision is agreed upon.

Bedrosian’s work to develop a vision everyone can support has sparked resurgence in Lannett’s performance, as the company posted net sales of $82.6 million in 2007, an increase from $64.1 million in 2006 and $44.9 million in 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Bedrosian about how to close the gap between halfhearted support and enthusiastic support and why it’s worth it to spend your precious time explaining your vision.

Be persistent. Most people think that just because you’re the CEO that you can order people around and tell them what to do. Well, that’s true, but then their hearts aren’t in it. Generally, if you’re dragging people to a party, they’re not going to have a good time. They’re not going to be enthusiastic about it.

So the real tough part is convincing them of what your vision really is and articulating it well enough that they grasp what it is you’re trying to do and are on board.

If you do a good job there, you tend to get the enthusiasm of all the staff. You also get all the staff willing to put their own ideas forward. They’re not afraid because they understand where they’re going, and they realize that you’re not going to give them a hard time if they don’t get it right.

Be patient. It’s very important to get people to speak candidly about their concerns. If they don’t agree, I’d rather surface that up in front than find out that they’re being reluctantly dragged along to the party.

Have the patience to explain your policies to them. Where they’re not understanding it, try to get them to articulate it.

Try to turn that around instead of criticizing them. You don’t want people to be afraid to send things to you or to take positions. The real goal is to use those opportunities to realize that maybe you haven’t articulated your plan well enough to everybody because they’re not getting it. Then, recognize those who aren’t getting it quickly enough so that they’re not doing any harm by not being on board.

Drag your employees’ objections into the light. I try to get people to talk candidly. Some people are reluctant to open their mouths and say what’s on their mind.

They think they understand, and suddenly, I see them being more critical than helpful. Once in awhile, I challenge them and say, ‘It’s easy to say no to everything. It’s easy not to do anything; it’s easy to find fault. Tell me what you’d do. What’s your plan?’

You’re either going to get a good idea or you’re going to get hesitancy because there is no other plan. They’ve spent all their time finding fault with the one that’s on the table instead of supporting it.

Surface what they’re upset about. What they don’t understand ultimately might be the thing that makes them upset.

Or they might be upset because they just don’t believe it’s achievable. In that case, maybe I haven’t done my job articulating how we’re going to get to that goal.

Usually, it’s a case of not understanding the plan or not understanding how they’re going to overcome the challenges. So, they see the plan, but they get bogged down in all the challenges, and they don’t know how that’s going to be overcome.

I try to say, ‘Bring that up to me. Tell me what you think we cannot do,’ because I’m not a believer in the word can’t.’

Show your team that what you’re asking is achievable. There’s always a solution to everything. Try to bring those solutions out.

Sometimes bringing out the problems gets you to the solution. Sometimes they come to the solution themselves by merely talking about what they’re concerned about.

It’s always comforting to know that your leader understands the problems he’s facing. He’s not naive, and he’s not a dreamer; he really does have a vision, and the way to have that vision realized is to understand the pitfalls and the difficulties to get there.

Once they understand you do see those things, they seem to feel more comfortable being candid with you.

Bring people on board now or regret it later. A leader doesn’t have a whole lot of time to explain to everybody what he’s doing or how he’s going to do it. I’m not teaching a class here; I’m running a business.

But I realize that if I don’t do that, it’s ultimately my pain later on because I haven’t brought enough people on board, or I haven’t made them converts to the plan.

So I tell people, ‘Ask me four times if you don’t get it.’ I won’t criticize you for asking me four times; I will criticize you for not asking.

By repeating the question, I’m going to realize I didn’t get my point across and maybe I’ll understand your point better. You have to spend the time with some of your key staffers to help them understand where the company is trying to go in order to gain their real help.

HOW TO REACH: Lannett Co. Inc., (215) 333-9000 or www.lannett.com