Environment for growth Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
Dawn Fuchs has grown Weavertown Environmental Group from $25 million in sales in 2004 to an estimated $30 million in 2006, and it hasn’t been easy.

The daughter of founder Don Fuchs, she took over as president in 2002, just as many of the environmental services company had lost many of its biggest customers in the steel industry and found itself holding millions of dollars in uncollectible receivables.

Fuchs put together a plan to add business lines that would maximize the company’s capital resources and whipped a poorly performing branch office in Kentucky into shape. This year, she says, that operation will rival the performance of the Pittsburgh headquarters this year, now the company’s largest.

Fuchs spoke with Smart Business about finding good workers, shedding underperformers and growing a business whose geographic core market is stagnant.

How did Weavertown Environmental’s growth surge come about?
It came out of the Kentucky office, an underperformer that I think is going to be on (the Pittsburgh office’s) heels by the end of the year, and also with us being able to move into Petroclean’s headquarters. They were a very large company that was in business longer than we were, and I’ve been able to secure their clients as well.

How do you make decisions to change personnel?
I follow my gut instinct. As quickly as I make a decision to make a termination, I usually have someone in the wings or have eyed somebody up over a period of time that might be a good fit for us.

I also grow leaders. I find that a guy that’s been with us for 10 years, there’s a lot to learn from that person. When I’m looking for someone, I’m not looking for someone for two or three years, I’m looking for someone who’s going to retire from here, and they know that.

What was your vision for Weavertown Environmental when you took over?
I felt that it could always be larger than what it was. I do think you have to grow within your means, that’s the key. But at some point you have to take on additional risk.

Although (founder Donald Fuchs) is a huge risk taker, if he shakes your hand, he wants to deliver on it. His philosophy would be if he had all the vac trucks out, he’d want to have another one sitting.

I’m a little more of a gambler. I’d keep my fingers crossed, hoping that if I’m running low and there’s no vacs in the yard, maybe I’ll be able to just get by.

With his philosophy, I might have five sitting now. When you start out small and you have only so many jobs going, it’s easier to manage. When you have as many projects as we have in our system at any given time, that number is really three or four vacs have to be sitting in the yard. These are $250,000 machines, so they’re big investments.

How do you deal with employees who aren’t performing well?
I’ve been accused of having a heart of stone, and that bothers me because I really don’t. You have to make the hard decisions and you have to make them quickly.

If you sleep at the switch, the switch will turn off and might not come back on. So I’ll address personnel issues very quickly. You’re either pulling you weight or not, and if you’re not, I can’t grow with you.

If they’re in the wrong role, shame on you, put them in a new role. I’ve seen a lot of people get happier, because not everyone’s a leader, they don’t want all that responsibility. If I have somebody that I think I’ve put in the wrong role or maybe I’ve put them in over their head, I fix that, I continue to try, but I have a three-strike rule.

After moving you three times, I move you out the door.

When times are good, you say, it’s important to have a banker on your side, so how did you keep yours with you?
We say when you’re your busiest, you’re your brokest. They have to believe in you, there has to be that partnering arrangement with your lender today.

The worst thing you can do in a lending relationship is not keep them apprised of the good, the bad and the ugly. When it’s going bad to ugly, or it’s going bad to good, you have to keep them informed at all points.

If you don’t, that’s where you’ll run into problems. They’ll feel that somewhere along the way they were misguided or misinformed.

How to reach: Weavertown Environmental Group, www.weavertown.com