Solid leadership Featured

8:00pm EDT September 21, 2006
 Scott Shapiro says it takes three things to be successful in business: confidence, focus and persistence.

“There’s a level there you need to maintain on all three accounts,” Shapiro says.

The CEO of SteelSalvor, an online vehicle to auction off prime excess, secondary and aged steel, joined the company in 2003, three years after Scott Dawson cooked up the idea for the Web site. Total revenue for 2005 was $22 million, rising from $11 million in 2004.

Smart Business spoke with Shapiro about creating an open work environment and how to find the right employees.

How do you communicate vision and message to employees?
We’re pretty open here. I make our goals very clear. We make it very, very clear what the vision is. It’s part of the hiring process.

If (the employee’s) determination level is not parallel to yours, if you’re running at 100 mph and they’re running at 30, it’s just not going to happen. So we make our financial goals available. We do an annual budget and we do a monthly budget, and we report the success or failure of our budgets.

We’re very candid where our strengths and weaknesses are. We let people know where we stand. I probably tell them more than they need to know.

Can that honesty be a downfall?
I guess it could be. If you’re in a company that is experiencing a slowdown in business and somebody misinterprets what you’re saying, they can be concerned about the job-security thing. But I would say if you communicate clearly, generally it’s a very positive thing.

You don’t want to alarm people. At the end of the day, everyone is figuring out how they can support themselves. ... If you communicate clearly, it’s a huge advantage to the company. And the people take ownership of it.

How do you keep employees motivated?
You need to make your expectations clear. Most people like to be held accountable, but they want to know what the expectations are.

They want structure. They want to be motivated. They want to be in a comfortable work environment. They want to be compensated.

In a general term, there’s financial motivation. You pay people a fair salary and you reward them when they outperform. And then there’s emotional support and emotional guidance. All of that needs to be in a structured environment where people know what it is that you expect.

Which is more important to success, financial rewards or emotional support?
If you’re an abusive employer, then you’re not going to keep people. If people are being compensated well, they endure much more emotional stress.

If you love them to death but pay them like crap, they might say, ‘Scott, you’re the greatest guy in the world, but I can’t pay my heating bill.’ I see it at every level.

If people are compensated well, their tolerance for emotional treatment would be more wide-ranging. You need to pay people fairly, and then you have a little bit more latitude. And you want to provide a real good working environment.

How would you advise a CEO to grow his or her company?
There’s clearly more than one way to do it. There have been lots of people that are very successful that have done things in a variety of ways.

But, if you look for common threads, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses. You need to be unbelievably focused, and you have to have the ability to hire and maintain great people

What qualities do you look for in an employee?
Before I would hire anybody, I’d have to get a sense of their integrity. I can’t hire people I don’t trust. Assuming you overcome that obstacle, then you start looking at what I consider to be professional skills.

You need to be smart and you need to be hard-working, but there are a lot of smart, hard-working people out there. You need a level of determination and a willingness to create value. What is it that you do that is meaningful to your customers?

Whether it’s your staff, whether it’s your customers on the outside or whether it’s your boss, you have to be able to be valuable.

How has balancing your personal and professional lives made you a better worker?
As you get older, your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, it becomes more challenging. When I was (younger), I would work all day. In my world today, I have many other things that are as or more important in my life.

When I’m here, I crank it out really hard. You learn how to do it. You figure out what your priorities are. You recognize your own mortality. It comes with experience.

What advice would you give a new CEO who wants to succeed?

It sounds trite, but stay true to your dreams and hire great people.

HOW TO REACH: SteelSalvor, www.steelsalvor.com