Creating camaraderie Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

David Porter is CEO of FURminator Inc., but that’s not his only title.

According to his business cards, he’s also the company’s top dog.

Porter and his wife, Angie, developed FURminator’s unique pet grooming products, but another part of his job is to maintain an environment where employees can think outside of the box — an atmosphere that he says is key to the success of FURminator.

“If Henry Ford would have listened to his customers, we’d all be riding horses,” he says.

The 24-employee company’s innovative tools and creative workplace have propelled it to a three-year growth rate of nearly 500 percent to post 2007 revenue of $25 million.

Smart Business spoke with Porter about how to create a culture where employees feel appreciated and why you have to act fast to weed out the bad apples in the bunch.

Q. What are the keys to being a good leader?

When you get a business to a certain size, you need to work on the business instead of in the business. People are absolutely critical. They need to know where you’re going.

Set your north up, as far as where you’re going. Then drive everything from the top down, whether it’s customer service or really going in and establishing that corporate culture.

Realize there is so much more to a job than a desk and a phone and a paycheck. There are certain things that really get a person to buy in to what makes a company great.

For instance, we’ve got a great environment. Every day is bring your pet to work day. We throw Lunch-a-Palooza every month, when we turn our conference table into a 14-foot shuffleboard table for fabulous prizes.

If you do things like that, you can really build the camaraderie. Instead of managing through fear, enable people to make decisions and get things done. Measure results and efforts; set their goals. There are a whole lot of things that go into leadership, but lead by example and let people support (you) to grow.

Q. How do you get your employees to buy in to your vision and your culture?

First of all, you have to empower them to let them know that they can make decisions on their own. It gets back to working on the business versus working in the business.

You’ve got to have some mutual trust and look at them like a person. You want them to set goals, not just business goals but personal goals. You want them to have that life balance so that they’re working to live and not living to work.

So be concerned about them, but still instill that everyone should have that sense of urgency of getting things done.

I get on my soapbox all the time at work and say, ‘FURminator is your nondysfunctional family. If you want dysfunction, come to my house for Thanksgiving. But if you’re the type of person who likes talking behind people’s backs or making cliques, it’s not going to fly here.’

This is where we’re going to be spending a lot of our lives. So we regularly have team-building activities, not only from our Zen lounge, which is our cool break room, but other things we do once a month. These are just things that build the FURminator family.

Q. How do you handle someone in the organization who is gossiping or forming cliques?

You’ve got to nip it in the bud. Just like raising children, you’ve got to move fast. If you look at it as finding the right people in the first place, you have less of a chance that you need to go through that process.

It’s that ‘hire slow, fire fast’ mentality. Really reinforce that. Let people know that this is how it is around here. You try to set an example and let everybody know what the rules are. Let them know they can flourish and have fun doing it.

Q. How do you establish a culture that makes employees want to stay?

A lot of it is how you treat people. There are a lot of managers out there who manage out of fear or intimidation. I think one of camaraderie and friendship is better accepted.

Everything from when you walk in the front door to their office furniture to lighting — we’re in an industrial park, but I would say we probably have the nicest office in the industrial park. You come in and we have ceramic tile flooring and a nice-looking lobby. We don’t have a lot of walk-in customers. There are not a lot of people who walk in through our front door, other than insurance salesmen. But to have a nice conference room and nice employee lounge and having a built-in putting tee — it’s all things that give that feel when you come in.

Also, we try to keep everyone in the loop, so we try not to have a lot of closed-door meetings. Every Monday, we get the whole company together in our Monday morning meeting and we throw everything out there. Good news, bad news, ugly news, we throw it out there.

HOW TO REACH: FURminator Inc., (636) 680-9387 or www.furminator.com