When Gary DeJidas became president and CEO of GAI Consultants after more than 30 years with the company, he faced culture shock. DeJidas had led the company’s Florida office since 1982, an aggressive operation geared toward growth. The Pittsburgh office, on the other hand led to that point by the company’s founding principals and less ambitious when it came to growing needed a shot in the arm. To knit the company together both culturally and operationally, DeJidas pulled its multilocation headquarters offices under one roof ultimately in a spacious and modern building in the Waterfront development in Homestead launched an aggressive internal communications effort and put an emphasis on succession planning for the engineering company that posted 2006 revenue of $50 million. DeJidas spoke with Smart Business about the power of communications, the symbolic effect of a new corporate office and the role of luck in business.
Create a positive working environment. We were in multiple buildings, logistics were bad, communication was difficult. It was really apparent to me that everyone had accepted the situation except me. ‘This is how we do our jobs. We’re satisfied here. It’s not the best surroundings, it’s not the most professional-looking place, but this is where we come to work.’
Well, I wasn’t satisfied with it and when I announced we were going to move, that created a rumble through the company. What it (did) for us is I think, is it’s heightened everyone’s feeling about how professional they are. The atmosphere’s great for hiring new people. It was a good first step for me to get my message across and my direction across. And we didn’t stop there.
We’ve upgraded our facilities in all of our offices and we’ve upgraded all of our computer systems, all of our vehicles, so the company has a whole new look to go with the vision of where we’re going as a company.
Share information. I’m big on this communication thing. I’m very open with how we’re doing financially.
I’m not tooting our horn and I’m not going line by line, but people want to know that the firm is financially strong.
One of the things I was doing in Florida was having state-of-the-company addresses. Once a quarter, I’d make a presentation for anyone who wanted to attend.
I would talk about what we were doing and where we were going as a company. What I found was people really appreciated the fact that I was making that effort to make them aware of where we were going.
So when I came up here, one of my first moves was to start the whole process again here. Again, it caught on like wildfire.
Stay in front of employees. As we’ve grown, I’ve made an effort once a quarter to visit all of the seven offices. I make an effort to know the staff at the offices, especially those who have been there longer than a year.
I have found that through the personal approach, I’ve been able to link all of the offices together. What I’m trying to do is get all of the offices to work together. I try to do an e-mail every month I call ‘From Where I Sit’ to get a message out to let people know what’s going on from my point of view.
That’s how I’ve gotten the message out to the staff to keep the interest and excitement going about where we’re headed. That’s how I announced the acquisitions last year. It’s a personal effort on my part to link with all the offices and to continue to tell the good or the bad. Fortunately, things are going well, but I’d be the first one to say things aren’t going well and here’s what we’ve got to do to change it.
I’m a straight shooter, I don’t play games and I think people appreciate it.
Listen to the client. The only way you can keep a focus on clients is to understand who they are, understand and listen to what they need. Too many times as technical people, we try to tell people what they need.
We do project management training and one of the things we talk about in those classes is to listen to what your client needs. It sounds like such a simple thing, but I think one of the reasons we have such a strong relationship with our clients is that we understand what they need because we make a point to listen.
Plan for succession. Part of my job is looking toward and understanding succession planning. That’s why we have a leadership development program here. It’s not just for the high-level senior management positions, it’s throughout the company. Maybe it’s a managing officer of one of our locations.
Another thing I’ve emphasized, especially to senior management, is that part of their job is grooming their replacement. It helps with mobility, too. If a staff person, like a leader of one of our technical areas, wants to move up, I would hope that they would have thought about who would be their replacement.
That’s really how companies survive over time. I’m mentoring several people who will be leaders of this company. I’m looking at the generation behind me and the generation behind them and, hopefully, grooming the next two generations of leaders behind me.
Don’t minimize the role of luck. I’m not going to downplay luck. Why was the building sitting here just at that time when I happened to be looking, to be able to negotiate a reasonable price that we could live with? Luck plays a role in things.
I may be a calculated risk-taker, which is how I describe myself, but I never downplay the role of luck. Sometimes you just don’t know all the answers and you go with your sixth sense about things and, if it works, you’re a hero, and if not, you’ve got to figure out how to get yourself out of that trouble.
HOW TO REACH: GAI Consultants Inc., www.gaiconsultants.com