Successful involvement Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007

For Jeff Tapolci, running a successful business is about more than just making money.

“My feeling is the company is established in a community,” says the president and CEO of Ad-Base Systems Inc. “Its employees work here, live here and play here. They are involved with the community and youth sporting events. We should do all we can to make the community a better place.”

Ad-Base Systems, a technology company, sponsors a child for Make-a-Wish and is always on the lookout for other programs to support.

“Somebody will see something and say, ‘That’ll be good to do,’” he says. “We give the employees the opportunity to make suggestions, whether it’s to improve our company, improve our health or give back to the community.’

The company of about 40 employees had 2005 revenue of about $15 million.

Smart Business spoke with Tapolci about how to step back from being the boss and how to communicate with employees.

Q: How do you deal with mistakes?

There might be times, as president and CEO of the company, I am a team member on a project. I’m not the boss. I report to one of the engineers.

If you are assigned a project and you are the person in charge, you are accountable. We’re not going to let you fail. We’re going to do everything in our power to help you succeed. But if it doesn’t go right, the first thing is to get it steered back on task.

Don’t worry about why it went off, but let’s get it back on track. A lot of times, if they have supporting details of why they made that decision and it makes sense to me and the rest of the team members, then, yes, the end result was a bad decision. But, based on the information we had, it was a good decision, and let’s learn from it.

Q: How has being a team member helped you become a better leader?

I’m only a boss on paper. It gives somebody who isn’t necessarily in a management or leader position a chance to become a leader. They can take and use their philosophy and their skills. They can put their twist on it.

It gives me a chance to sit back and say, ‘That’s what I look like, or that’s not what I look like when I’m leading. This is what its like to be part of a team and working for somebody.’ It brings me back down to Earth. I coach youth soccer, and one of the things someone told me was, to grow the skills to be a soccer coach, the best thing to do is to go out and look how others coach and pick and choose the things you like. ... Formulate your own coaching style.

The same works in business. You see different leaders doing different things and approaches and tactics. You pick and choose what you like and feel comfortable with, and you put together what’s best for your organization.

Q: What pitfalls should leaders avoid?

Micromanaging. We don’t tolerate that here. When you get ‘A’ players, those players like to do things their own way. You give them a little leeway, and you just knock them the direction you want to go.

Otherwise, you let them run with it. I see a lot of managers that try to micromanage every little aspect. In doing that, you don’t have a successful team. You are basically forcing yourself onto those people. You’re basically telling them you don’t believe in them and they can’t make the right decisions, and they are going to go somewhere else.

Q: How do you communicate your open-door policy to employees?

When they are first hired, and we are going over the core values, their manager might get them ready and they come to me and I quiz them on the core values. You can’t just memorize them, you have to provide me with examples of how, in your day-to-day duties, you use our core values. During that, I get to talk to them and say, ‘Hey, my door is always open, come talk to me.’

Even if the door is physically closed, they knock and come in. I stop what I’m doing, even if I’m in the middle of something. The only time I don’t is when I’m on the phone. I’ve conveyed that to them since they were hired. If they make it to the third interview, that’s something I preach.

I’m not the only one. My managers do that, too. You spend time, energy and resources to hire somebody and train them. To let them go out the door because they have an issue or problem is a waste of resources.

HOW TO REACH: Ad-Base Systems Inc., (800) 465-6518 or