Just one of the guys

Sam Smith used to have
his own office, but when
his company relocated to a new space that was twice as big, he downsized to a cube.

“I sit in a cube just like all the
other employees,” says Smith,
co-founder, principal and CEO
of RESOURCE Commercial
Real Estate LLC. “I don’t have
an open-door policy because I
don’t have a door. I get a lot of
hellos and goodbyes, and if
people have a question, they
walk right in. We welcome that
kind of open communication.”

Smith does not see his role at
the 28-employee full-service
commercial real estate firm as
one in which he gives orders
and awaits compliance.
Instead, he values a culture in
which he is simply part of the
team and where he works with
employees to meet the goals of
the company. This leadership
philosophy has enabled
RESOURCE to grow rapidly,
increasing revenue 1,260 percent from 2005 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with
Smith about how to build a
team-oriented culture and why
making a mistake is different
from failing.

Q. How do you build a
healthy culture?

People believe what they see,
not what you tell them. People
believe what you do, not what
you write.

I’m not off in a fancy office
while they are slaving away in
a salt mine. We’re all in this

I feel like I work for the
employees. I spend time supporting the employees and
clients daily. It’s not like I’m the
CEO sitting on top of a hill waiting for employees to do my
bidding; it’s quite the opposite. I
enjoy helping clients and helping our employees succeed.

It’s the servant-leadership
mentality. As CEO, I work for
our clients and our employees.
I exist to help my clients and
employees succeed. If they succeed, then I succeed.

Q. How do you find the
people to fit your culture?

It’s really interviewing the
heck out of them that helps us
differentiate one candidate
from the other.

When you don’t hear a lot of
‘we’s,’ you can pick up very
quickly whether the person values others and works
well with others and if
their success has been
team-oriented or strictly

We usually have them
interview with five to
10 people within our
company. We ask a lot
of questions and try to
get to know them on a
personal level as far as
who they really are and
what makes them tick.

We may miss on an
employee. If they turn
out to be a bad apple,
we get rid of them. You
can’t let one bad apple
spoil the bunch. We will
quickly remove the cancer, no matter how productive they might be.

Q. How does your culture
deal with failure?

I differentiate mistakes from
failure. We want our team to be
aggressive and creative for our
clients. We don’t tell our
employees to run out and make
a bunch of mistakes, but we do encourage them to push the
envelope and to learn and grow.

By nature, that means they
are going to make mistakes. It
means you’ve stepped in
something and you need to
clean it up.

The key to our culture is we
expect them to resolve the
problem immediately and
make lemonade. It’s OK to
make mistakes, but it’s not OK
to fail. Failure would be not
doing your best for clients.

We’ve made mistakes and
had our heads kicked in over
the years. But we’ve learned a
lot of things on how to maximize opportunities. Mistakes,
though not preferred, are OK if
our team members are empowered to make decisions, to
learn and to grow.

Q. How do you empower

Put them in a good position,
provide the tools and resources,
and then get out of their way
and support them as needed.
Any new employee we hire will
have a mentor, a senior adviser
committed to helping them
learn and succeed.

New employees are not truly
on their own because they
have a senior person with them
every step of the way.

It’s the environment they are
in that allows them to be empowered and raise the bar and
go to another level. We try to
lead by example. Hopefully,
our walk will be consistent
with that vision.

Q. How can the leader of a
company support that empowering culture?

Don’t get ahead of yourself,
never take yourself too seriously, work hard, have fun and
make smart decisions. Leaders
who put themselves first will
not succeed. Putting clients on
a pedestal gives you a better
chance to succeed.

We all work together. No
jockey ever carried a horse
over the finish line. It’s about
our people.

A good leader must be a
good listener. It doesn’t take a
genius to listen to clients and
employees and to understand
what they need and what we
need to do to support them.
My ‘great ideas’ were simply a
result of being a good listener
to the best source for ideas —
our clients and our team.

HOW TO REACH: RESOURCE Commercial Real Estate LLC, (317) 663-6000 or www.resourcecre.com