Tony Renda Sr. Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

For Tony Renda Sr., making mistakes isn’t the worst sin one can make in business. The deadliest sin, according to Renda, is failing to make a decision, even if the decision you make turns out to be wrong. For that reason, the president of Renda Broadcasting tries to hire the best managers and encourages them to make the best decisions they can for the company, which owns 25 radio stations and posted $45 million in revenue in 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Renda about how he makes decisions, one of the best sources for advice and what his business has in common with a hot dog stand.

Give the next generation of leadership room to make decisions. You must accept the fact that everybody’s not going to do things your way, and your way is not always the right way. I was fortunate in that my father was in the grocery store business. I wanted to go into the radio business, so I didn’t have my father looking over my shoulder, seeing every dumb, stupid mistake that I made.

Anybody who goes into business makes mistakes. One of the downsides to having your father in the business and sometimes working alongside of you, you make some decisions that are in question. And I have to constantly remind myself that these are not necessarily bad decisions, they’re different decisions. What you hope is your children or your managers are bright enough that when they do make a decision, and it’s not the right decision, that they back up and change it.

Make decisions, but fix them if you’re wrong. The worst thing in the world is to not make a decision; I guarantee that’s a killer. Make a decision, and if you use the brains that God gave you, you’ll realize that it was the wrong decision.

Now, be smart enough to back up, be smart enough to change, because now you have more information. You didn’t make the wrong decision back there, you made the decision predicated on the information you had at that time. You go down the road a little bit and you find out that was a wrong decision because you’re getting other information that’s telling you it was a wrong decision.

Look at your business like it’s a hot dog stand. Someplace along the line, you begin to realize that you cannot do everything, you can’t make every decision, and so you surround yourself with very, very good people.

You see those little hot dog stands in New York where there’s a guy selling hot dogs, drinks and candies and other things. I’ve always said that as long as he’s running one of those little hot dog stands, that guy can probably take all the credit for all the success or the blame for the failure. He buys the hot dogs, he buys the buns, he figures out how to keep the hot dogs warm before he sells them. But the day that he’s standing on the corner and looks down at the other corner, and realizes that he’s losing some business down there and that there might be another opportunity, and he puts someone down there to run it — the day he does that, he’s out of the hot dog business and in the people business. The success of the second one is going to be predicated on the guy he gets to run it and how well he handles it.

If you want advice, ask for it, even from your competitors. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve picked up the phone and called somebody in another company and said, ‘Hey, I understand you’re doing this,’ or, ‘I’m having this kind of problem. How do you approach this? How do you handle it?’ And I’m talking about competitors.

I will tell you I have never been turned down by anybody when I asked their advice, asked their direction. They may not be a direct competitor, they may not be in all the same markets that we are, but people are willing to share good ideas. It takes a self-confident person to do that, to pick up the phone and tell someone that you don’t necessarily think you have the right or the best idea on something. It’s amazing how helpful people will be. What we try to do — and I tell all my managers this — is to talk to people who are in other businesses and ask them what they do. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. You will be surprised how generous people will be with their time and their advice.

Be passionate and committed to your business. The two most important things are commitment and passion for what you do. Sure, you have to be smart, but I don’t think you have to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

There are nights when I go to sleep when I can’t wait to wake up in the morning, to get involved and get to work. There are so many down times that one has in business. If you’re faced with that, you better be committed.

Stay close to your people. I think you have to be in front of people, you’ve got to walk up and down the aisles of your business. You’ve got to talk to people. At any one of our radio stations, we have people who have been with us for years. I know them and their families. You talk to them about that, you talk to them about the business. One of my favorite expressions is, ‘Are we still in business? Tell me about that.’ But there has to be a balance. Don’t waste people’s time. I know when I visit a market, I know that I’m going to waste a little bit of people’s time. I’m going to be disruptive just by the fact that I’m there.

Don’t think you are Picasso unless you are.

I think there are very few people who can take 100 percent credit for what they do. Any president, any owner of any company that tells you, ‘I did this, and I did that, and I created that,’ that is nothing but BS, not unless he’s Picasso, or he has that hot dog stand. It’s the people.

HOW TO REACH: Renda Broadcasting Corp., (412) 875-1800 or