Dave Spence likes to live in what he calls a state of paranoia to help him avoid the stages of complacency and arrogance he’s seen competitors run into.
As president and CEO of Alpha Packaging, a bottle manufacturing company, that has meant maintaining momentum and sticking to the foundations of what is best for the company.
“The one thing I always say about our company is the only thing stopping us is us,” Spence says. “There’s nobody putting artificial roadblocks in front of us.”
And there’s been little stopping Alpha Packaging. The company grew revenue from $18 million in 2001 to $107 million in 2007, it’s Spence’s goal to reach $150 million without acquisitions in the next two years. The keys to growth, says Spence, have been choosing the right customers and employees and staying flexible in a changing marketplace.
Smart Business spoke with Spence about how to attract the right people to your company and how to identify your marketplace.
Know who you want to do business with and gain their trust. We’ve grown more organically, and that is developing relationships with customers and then expanding those relationships once we start.
I’m a believer that your best source of new business is going to be your new customers. Everybody is always looking for a sale they don’t have. But if you concentrate on your existing customers, it will grow quicker.
It’s a matter of trust. I think people like to do business with people that they generally like. They’re going to try to do business with people they’ve done business with in the past.
I think, good news or bad news, always be there. Be honest and be forthright; I swear that works. People want to know that you’re going to be around and you’re consistent.
Stick with your core competencies. I don’t think every piece of business is made for you. You want to make sure you can bring a level of competitive advantage to it. In other words, is it in your core strengths?
We don’t want to chase rainbows. You can chase rainbows and do some things outside of your strength, and you typically aren’t going to do well at that. We want to make sure it fits geographically, it fits mate-rialwise, it fits capabilitieswise. If it fits three of four characteristics and it’s a company you want to do business with.
A lot of people are trying to reinvent themselves too much. You’ve got to stick with what works.
There’s no way you’re going to be everything to everybody. If you’re going to step out of your comfort zone, make sure
it’s with a customer that understands that this is a new venture for you.
Review goals often and stay flexible. The parameters in our industry are constantly moving, and so we need to make sure we’re answering those.
Those people who do a five-year plan, it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. I think having a five-year plan in today’s world is useless. It moves too fast, too many variables change, markets change.
We have rolling goals, so some stuff is by the day. But every six months, we’re updating the macro goals.
I think that you have to stay close to what’s going on in your industry and your company. You constantly have to reinvent yourself. Just because it worked last year doesn’t mean it’s going to work this year.
If you look back and don’t keep changing the way you do things for the better every day, I think you’re going to get lost and you’re going to get passed over.
Your customers will coach you quite a bit, and I think you need to stay close to them.
A lot of people don’t give a forum for improvement in the company, and I think there’s a lot of people who care and want to be heard. A lot of people don’t seek advice from the people who do jobs every day, and they’re the ones that do it the best.
Hire good personality fits. My philosophy is you surround yourself with good people and get the heck out of their way.
It’s pretty obvious as you grow that there’s some people that will rise to the challenge and some people that will not. When they don’t rise to the challenge, you decide if you’re going to keep them or move them aside and bring in people that you think can bring in new energy and new ideas.
I’m looking for people that aren’t going to get stagnant. People that want to continue to get out of bed every day with fire in their belly and want to continue to push the company.
I tailor each interview toward the position. You want to have personalities that fit with the personality of the company. One person can ruin the chemistry, especially if you have a lot of interaction with them.
First of all, do you generally like that person, do you mesh with them. We want to make sure they haven’t come from a company where complacency is accepted.
We’ve gone to personality testing. Every time I try to say those tests are wrong, it comes back to bite me. You like somebody and you say, ‘Well, it’s a good fit; we should hire them.’ Then you get the testing back, and it says it’s not a good fit. Those tests don’t lie. I do think personality testing is important because a bad hire can cost you money, as well.
HOW TO REACH: Alpha Packaging, (314) 427-4300 or www.alphap.com