The perfect combination Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Andy Hannah says the key to growing a company is having the right combination of people, money, technology and customers.

“You can’t have too much at one time; you need to have the right balance of those things,” says the co-founder, president and CEO of Plextronics Inc., an innovator of technology for printed electronics.

Hannah’s focus on maintaining that balance has helped Plextronics, which was founded in 2002, increase revenue 7,700 percent over the past three years and develop leaders among its 50 employees.

Smart Business spoke with Hannah about how to create a balance at your company and how to find the right people to help you do that.

Q: How do you achieve a balance among people, money, technology and customers?

It starts with what the market opportunity is, what the customer wants and how important that product or service is to the customer. It’s the voice of customer process, not only talking to your customers but to your customers’ customers.

Once you understand those details, you can develop a road map of being able to provide that product or service. That road map is how you achieve balance because it tells you when to hire, at what point technology has to be developed to deliver it to the customer and the interaction with your customer.

Q: How do you make sure the financial component is balanced with the others?

Make sure you have enough money in the bank to do what you need to do. The road map tells you how much money you need.

Be honest with your road map in terms of what you think revenue is going to be. If you have an honest and good road map, it determines how much money the company needs to grow. Whatever that number is, raise it by some margin more than that because you know that things don’t always go smoothly.

You have to understand the road map process to be able to determine how much money you need. That’s when you talk to your customer.

Q: How do you find the right people to help grow your company?

You want to be in an area where you can draw from local resources and a geographic area that is appealing to others coming from outside.

I’m a believer in behavioral interviewing. When you’re hiring for a particular position, know what the role is and what the behaviors are that you are looking for. Find out what the behavior beneath the actual role is and continue to probe on that behavior. Then you have good hires.

Everybody has one story related to the role. In behavioral interviewing, you ask the question three times. You say, ‘Besides the example, give me another. Besides that example, give me another.’ It’s seldom that people have three stories lined up for a particular question.

The benefit is that people can’t hide. If a person has the behavior that you’re looking for, you will know after you ask the third question. If they can’t come up with a third example, they don’t know or don’t have the depth of experience that you thought they did.

Q: How critical is culture to achieving balance?

You need to be true to your culture, especially in your early days. It gets difficult to maintain the culture the bigger that you get, and it is going to fray a little at the edges, but you need to teach your managers how important culture is.

You don’t teach them that you have to hire people who have the same culture because diversity is good, but teach them how important culture in general is.

Culture can change over time, as long as it changes for the good. You don’t want it to change into bad culture. Culture is what it is because of the people. It’s not like you can preach rotten culture.

It’s about examples and how you act. Maintaining culture is about teaching behavior, and when you see bad behavior, you correct it immediately. It’s not the best method to preach, it’s about showing and communicating examples so that it gets reinforced.

Q: How do you communicate the culture?

It starts with openness and honesty. You have to have an environment where people are comfortable telling what’s on their mind. Create a forum to communicate your message.

It starts with asking for feedback. You can’t just stand up one day and say, ‘I want everyone to be open and honest with everybody.’ It starts with an example or behavior and repetition of that behavior.

People like to feel committed to the organization, and the only way they can do that is if they feel a personal connection. People like to belong and feel like what they do matters. The more personal relationships are, the more people feel that they are valued and part of the team, more than just going to a job.

HOW TO REACH: Plextronics Inc., (412) 423-2030 or www.plextronics.com