Raising the roof Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2008
 Maybe it’s because he has been involved with CentiMark Corp. since he was a kid, but Timothy M. Dunlap doesn’t have a problem with being hands-on with his company. Since he was 8 years old, he has been involved in some way with the business, an industrial and commercial roofing company, by either sweeping floors or doing other chores.

His father started the business in 1968, and Dunlap has seen the company grow from $99,000 in sales in the beginning to a company generating revenue in the hundreds of millions today.

Yet Dunlap isn’t completely consumed with touching every nook and cranny of the business. For example, when it comes to managing his far-flung telemarketing groups, a hands-off approach tends to work best.

“It’s tough to manage a telemarketing group in the West from the North because you are dealing with different issues day in and day out — from a marketing standpoint, economy standpoint, weather standpoint,” Dunlap says. “So, we manage each of those tele-marketing departments within their groups.”

The managers in each location can make local changes as needed or can implement larger regional or corporate initiatives.

“We have the ability to constantly tweak those groups and give them the direction that we need from a corporate standpoint or from a group standpoint, whatever that direction is at that given moment,” he says. “So, it gives us the ability to easily shift gears into other directions and needs.”

It’s this type of selective delegation that has allowed Dunlap, president and chief operating officer, to grow the company from $239 million in 2003 to more than $370 million in 2007.

Here’s how he uses a combination of delegation, trust and clear goals to take CentiMark Corp. to new levels of success.

Delegate to grow

Dunlap says the only way to be able to have control over your markets and the flexibility to make smooth changes is to have good managers below you and to trust them.

“Delegation demonstrates confidence and respect in your management team,” he says.

“It’s extremely important. No one person is an expert in every aspect of their business. Managers bring their unique experience, their knowledge, their skill sets to the job. You have to be able to trust in that they are going to make the right decisions. I can’t sit here at corporate and obviously and effectively manage every single facet of the business across the entire country.

“You have to have good managers underneath you that you can trust and have confidence in that when you delegate something to them to manage that they’re going to get the job done, and you don’t have to check up on them constantly or on a daily basis. That’s huge. That’s key. One person only has so many hours in the day. Based on the sheer size of our company, 65 offices, I’ve got to be able to constantly delegate things to our management team and have the trust and confidence that they’re going to follow through and get the job done.”

Dunlap says delegation starts to become instinctive with the more experience you get in running a business. Yet, if you don’t have that gut feeling, he says you should get to know your strengths and weaknesses.

“When you know your strengths, you know what you are capable of doing because we aren’t all, as humans, capable of doing everything; nobody has that one given knowledge,” Dunlap says. “Then, know your weaknesses. ... And those are the things you should delegate to people who have strengths in that area that maybe you don’t.”

Dunlap says delegation and trusting managers is also important in growing revenue.

“They are a huge part of it, absolutely,” he says. “They are the ones out there in the trenches every day managing their groups, their regions, their profit centers. You have to have confidence that you have good people in place and that they’re doing what you want them to do or need them to do on a day-in, day-out basis.”

He says if you trust those around you, you will get much more accomplished.

“Again, it’s difficult for one person to have the time, especially in a large corporation, to be able to touch base with 30, 40 managers every day to ensure that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Dunlap says. “You have to have people under you that you can trust, that are doing that for you on a daily basis, so you have time to be able to look at the big picture.”

Build trust

If you have an environment where employees are afraid to approach their superiors, it will hurt your business.

“Once there’s fear to communicate, to me, that is a terrible thing,” Dunlap says. “If your employees are afraid to communicate with you, look at all the opportunities you’re missing.

“If they are afraid to communicate with you, boy, you lose touch with a lot of that stuff, which is a shame because there are things that employees offer that are certainly valuable. They are the ones out there day-in and day-out. What better conduit do you have than your employees for ideas and for solving problems?”

The only way you are going to tap into these resources is to create a culture of open communication.

“They have to feel comfortable in calling you or leaving you a voice mail, e-mail, whatever their means are, and you’ve got to be able to listen and acknowledge their opinions, comments, concerns, and then offer advice to them,” Dunlap says.

Creating an open culture involves not so much in what you say but how much you listen.

Dunlap recommends not using the phone or e-mail if you want to show an employee or manager you are actually listening to him or her.

“I bring the employees up to my office constantly,” he says. “A lot of them, if they have a question or a concern, they just come up. When you have somebody face to face with you, they obviously know that you are sitting there listening to them, versus a phone where you could just be kind of doing something else with them in the background, and then even further e-mail, where there is really no personal interaction at all.”

Along with listening to employees, Dunlap says you also need to be accessible.

“That’s really the key,” he says. “I think a lot of managers out there try to distance themselves from the employees for whatever given reason. Maybe it’s time or they don’t want to deal with the issues, and they make it difficult for their employees to communicate with them, or their employees are afraid to communicate with them. You’ve got to make it easy for your employees to communicate with you, and they need to feel comfortable in wanting to communicate.” Set clear expectations

When Dunlap needs to get a particular message across to his employees, he delivers it to his management team and trusts them to relay it down the line.

“I trust them that they will take that message, vision, agenda, whatever you want to call it, and push it through the ranks,” he says. “If they are having a hard time doing that, I expect them to communicate that with me, and I’ll work with them to properly get that message out there.”

When someone isn’t communicating the message, Dunlap steps in to remedy the situation.

For example, there was an instance where employees weren’t utilizing a specified travel agency to book hotel reservations for out-of-town jobs, even though that was Dunlap’s message. It was the job of the managers to communicat e that message, but since someone wasn’t doing it, Dunlap took it upon himself to make sure everyone understood the policy and procedure.

After finding out how little the employees were using the travel agency, he put out a written communication to all employees relaying his message because if you don’t fix the problem as soon as possible, it can lead to other issues.

He also dealt with the managers at the earliest opportunity. “If I have an issue from a management standpoint, an employee standpoint, I am quick on the draw with that,” he says. “I’ll pick up the phone, bring them up to my office, whatever I need to do immediately because the longer a situation goes on and it’s not addressed, the more it festers. The more it festers, the deeper the roots get, and the more it affects your team out there.”

In Dunlap’s case, employees may have drifted away from following other policies.

“You want, in essence, everybody being on the same page,” he says. “Again, it’s from the top, it’s communicating that message to keep everyone on the same page and to keep everybody clear on what our direction is. When you have everybody kind of pulling the sled, or whatever you want to call it, in the same direction, it makes things easier to be successful.

“When you’re not communicating a clear vision or a clear message or you don’t have direct lines of communication with your managers or employees, everybody kind of starts to do their own thing. So I really feel that with me being a good communicator, with the open-door policy, with the employees being comfortable in calling or communicating with me, it makes it easier for me to keep everyone informed and keep things moving in the right direction.”

HOW TO REACH: CentiMark Corp., (800) 558-4100 or www.centimark.com