Leader of the pack Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

As one of 12 children in his family, Dennis Schoemehl learned early on the importance of compromising, listening and multitasking.

Those sibling survival skills became second nature to him growing up, and they continue to serve him today as a leader and a role model for his 120 employees.

The president and CEO of Logistics Management Solutions LLC formed his company in 1996 from a transportation logistics division at Monsanto. More than a decade later, the third-party logistics provider posted 2007 revenue of $94 million.

Smart Business spoke with Schoemehl about how he leads LMS’ work force using a delicate balance of understanding, communication, fearlessness and motivation.

Be thoughtful. You can’t just look at people as a number. People are people, and everybody pretty much has the same wants and needs.

If you’re going to get the most out of people, you’ve got to look at the world through their eyes. If one of their kids has a concert at 11:30, you want to give them the flexibility to get off to go see that. Things like that are very important if you’re going to get trust and enthusiasm out of them.

If you understand what their needs are, then they’re going to be understanding about what your needs are, especially if you communicate your needs.

Open up your books. Even though we’re a privately owned company, we still share numbers with employees. Then, we look, in return, to an open-door policy. If people need help with anything, they know they can always come in. If somebody gets into a bind and needs a couple hundred bucks, we set up a program that helps them get through the short times.

If somebody comes in and has a question and I take the time to answer it sincerely and help them work it out, that spreads word-of-mouth. When the next guy comes in with a question, everybody says, ‘You ought to go talk to Denny about that. He’ll have the answer for you.’ It’s the personal side and the business side.

Our two assets are our technology and our people. Technology usually doesn’t come knocking, saying, ‘I have an idea where we can think outside of the box,’ where people do. As long as we foster an environment that encourages creative thinking, that’s what we’re looking for.

Take risks. You have to be willing to not let failure affect you because you’re going to fail. And, when you make decisions, you have to make them as rapidly as your business changes. If your business has a lot of velocity, your decision-making has to have a lot of velocity to it also. If not, you’ll never grow.

Then you have to accept what those decisions are. If they don’t work out, you can’t dwell on those. Learn from your mistakes, and analyze those mistakes.

The old saying is, ‘Hindsight is 20/20,’ but not everybody has that crystal ball to see what’s there. When you make a decision, base it off factors you think will fall into place, and when they don’t fall into place, you have to look back and ask, ‘What was the driving force to make this fail?’

What you can’t do is look back on it and say, ‘I’ll never try something like that again,’ because sometimes you try it, and it turns out to be a great success.

Motivate your employees. There are two different motivators that drive employee productivity. It’s kind of like a bicycle.

The front wheel steers it; that’s motivation as a group. That’s having lunch brought in for everybody a couple times a month, having Johnny Cash Day where everybody gets to wear black, sponsoring softball teams. You’ve got to keep doing that ‘Hey, this is a neat place to work’ kind of thing.

Try to do some things that are much different than you could find anywhere else.

The back wheel is on the personal level. It is employees being able to pay their bills and having the flextime that they need. You have to provide bonuses down to a transactional individual level, give different goals to different people and let them drive their own behavior.

Hire the best. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. I check people out, and I talk to references and see what people have to say about them. You want to make sure that they’re well-respected and have the pedigree that you expect.

And don’t be afraid to compensate them fairly. If they’re going to make you money and make the company successful, then they should be compensated for it.

Establish professional alliances. Build strong relationships with a good accountant, attorney, insurance man and banker. Have dinner with them, and get to know them on a business and personal relationship because they’ll have a lot of good advice for you.

While they are suppliers, they are a vital support to your company. They are around business every day; they see what people are doing and what’s working and what’s not. There’s nothing wrong with running ideas by them on what you’re doing and getting their advice.

HOW TO REACH: Logistics Management Solutions LLC, (800) 355-2153 or www.lmslogistics.com