Lending solutions Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

A few months ago, Group9 Inc.’s human resource director told company president Chris Ulsh something he didn’t know — more than 60 percent of the company’s 165 employees have been with the company for more than five years. And the key to retaining them, aside from a competitive compensation package, is fairness and communication, Ulsh says. “We try to treat all our people with respect,” he says.

The company, which provides insurance and information services to the lending industry, posted 2005 revenue of nearly $33 million. Smart Business spoke with Ulsh about how to find employees, handle failure and stay ahead of your industry.

Q: How do you stay ahead of your industry?

We constantly read and analyze what is going on in our marketplace, who the key players are and who the competitors are, as well as where is the consumer going. You have to look and say, ‘What is the hottest new trend?’ We constantly analyze the data and figure out how to react to that data.

We took a collaborative approach and talked to our customers. We listen. We call them in, not to sell anything but to listen to what is going on — ‘Tell us about your current process and what you see in the process that works well. Better yet, what can we do to change it?’

You can’t sit back and say you have it all figured out. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution in the marketplace.

Q: How do you find employees?

We’ve got a layer of management, and those folks know what our mission is and what we are looking for, so they can find them. It’s not so much what is on that college resume or where they went to college. What motivates these people? What makes them get up every day, and what is their work ethic like?

I see so many young college graduates coming out in today’s world, and they look at the workplace as an entitlement. They view it as, ‘I just did my time and went to a big-time school, now give me the corner office, give me the company car and give me the title.’ That’s not how it works. Give me somebody who has the right work ethic, who is not afraid to take risks, not afraid of failure. Not afraid to get hit in the face with a bat some days and get right back up and start fighting.

Q: Are employees looking for a good compensation, or a for positive work environment?

We kid ourselves if we don’t think compensation is the driver because it fulfills lifestyles, fulfills dreams and allows them to buy cars and to start the family. That’s only one aspect of it.

They want to be part of something, and to walk into an office environment every day and say they are part of something. As we add more clients and see more employees come into the shop, they can see the new customers are beginning to order and grow as a result of their efforts. They can touch and see growth in our environment.

Q: How do you handle failure?

We make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions, large and small, every week. Some of them don’t always work out the way you really want them to.

Our feeling is if it looks like it is not going to work out the way you wanted it to, then change it. Figure out where it went wrong, straighten it out and move on. Don’t dwell on it and don’t try to overanalyze it. Don’t have analysis paralysis. Don’t go through business or life with the emergency brake on afraid to make a decision.

We don’t make reckless decisions, but, at the same time, we make intelligent decisions and act on them quickly. For us to be competitive, we have to see what the trends are before they occur and develop products and solutions for our clients before they become a reality. That way, we can meet them at that point in the marketplace.

Q: What are some pitfalls to avoid in business?

Make sure you surround yourself with the best professionals. Don’t cut corners when hiring your outside legal team. Hire the best you can afford because, if not, it’s going to come back to haunt you in the end.

Surround yourself with the same type of professionals when it comes to your public accounting firm. Your accountant should be more than a number cruncher. Our accounting firm is truly a business partner. They understand the different aspects of our business model. They aren’t just focused on the financial reporting. They are looking at, ‘What do you need to do next? Where else do you need to diversify?’ As the company grows, you are going to need them.

HOW TO REACH: Group9 Inc., (888) 916-4700 or www.group9.net