Game plan Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2008

As a former Pittsburgh Steelers player, Chuck Sanders uses many of the lessons he learned on the field to lead Urban Settlement Services LLC.

He motivates his 120 employees by taking them to football games, to hear a coach speak, or using examples of reaching and achieving goals as a team.

“You also need to be a risk-taker,” says Urban’s founder, president and CEO. “And then just letting people know they can count on you.”

Sanders’ focus on these skills has helped him grow his company — which provides title, appraisal, and closing product and services for lenders in the loan transaction process — to annual revenue of $10.5 million.

Smart Business spoke with Sanders about why it’s a good idea to take risks and how to not lose your personality.

Q. What are the keys to risk-taking?

The old gut feeling. It’s always going to come to those decisions — is the business going to turn this way? Even though everything else adds up and all your advisers and numbers and reports point in one area, if there’s something in that gut that says, ‘I’m going to go with this and take that risk,’ you’re not afraid of failure.

If you’re wrong, you’re in trouble. If you’re right, it’s going to differentiate your company from other companies because you will be ahead of the curve.

Q. How do you get people to understand why you’re taking that risk?

Your people have to trust you; they have to see a track record. They see it not just in the big moves but in your every day, how you treat them and work with them, you’re open to their ideas, your communication with your managers and all the way down to your security guard and mail room.

Once you’re going to make a risky move and say, ‘All aboard, follow me, let’s charge the hill,’ if you haven’t established that trust relationship, it’s not going to work.

Q. How do you create trusting relationships?

It’s practicing the basic things that make a good person, and that’s being honest and communicating with people. No one likes to live in fear, so always (let) people know where the company stands.

There’ve been times where we’ve had to pull all-nighters, and I’m going to be right there, working with you. You build trust by working with people, making sound decisions and also being recognized. We’ve had successful contracts, we’ve landed the big deals, and they see they have a confident leader who can go out and make these deals, get things done and keep the company running.

Q. What are the keys to being honest?

It’s hard to teach integrity. People of integrity are going to be people of integrity. If something’s happening that’s going to affect somebody’s life, it’s unfair not to talk to them.

Telling the truth is something that ... you have to accept and be responsible for.

There are two types of people. You’ve got that person who always has something in their back pocket they’re hiding. They may be thinking, ‘This is the card up the sleeve,’ and they’re going to be slick about it, but I’ve never seen those people get ahead in the long run. The ones who are honest and lay their cards out there, they’re moving on to their next project and the bigger, better things. They’re not sitting there worrying about this lie told or trying to be deceptive, and it leads to more success.

Q. What are the keys to successful communication?

With all of the gadgets and things we have now, you’d think you’d communicate more, but we communicate less because we send e-mails or text somebody. The key is that personal, one-on-one time with people.

We have a thing we call ‘No Text Fridays,’ where you can’t e-mail or text; you have to talk to somebody, pick up the phone, go visit and talk with them.

Be a good listener, hear what they have to say and see what their input is. Be honest with people and truthful. Even if it’s bad news ... let people know what’s happening.

It’s easy to get stuck under your desk and paperwork. Make it happen, just like you plan your board meetings and forecasting and meeting with your accountant and others, make sure you plan on meeting with your people.

Don’t get to the point where you lose your personality. I’d like to think that most CEOs at one time were that class clown in college or majorette or student in the lab class or the band. Be yourself and share your personality with your employees and colleagues.

Q. How do you keep making sure your personality isn’t getting lost?

That goes to having people around you who are honest. If you’re the smartest person in the room all the time, you’ve got a problem.

HOW TO REACH: Urban Settlement Services LLC, (412) 325-7046 or www.urbansettlement.com