As the Time Millionaire ™ entrepreneur and coach, I'm constantly seeking ways to help business owners and corporate leaders free themselves of certain day-to-day duties so they can grow their companies. Hence, delegation and having great teamwork are crucial, but I was deeply curious about what, if anything, the CEO of a business generating over, say, $40 million in annual revenue, would never delegate. Interestingly, all three CEOs I interviewed pointed to one major item: establishing company culture.
For Jay Steinfeld, founder and CEO of Blinds.com, company culture is vitally important and he diligently works to set the example for his 135 employees. Mr. Steinfeld is a single dad of three who started his company out of his garage, then moved to storefronts, and eventually went virtual. Last year, annual revenue was up 40 percent from 2010 to a total of $90 million. Today, Blinds.com is known as the largest online window covering store in the world.
He says, "I will always continue to reinforce the company's two core values, which are to improve continuously and to experiment without fear of failure. Those two things are what drive the company."
Applicants for employment at Blinds.com must go through six interviews, the last one with Mr. Steinfeld himself. In particular Steinfeld looks for people who are taking specific steps towards improving themselves on a regular basis. He says, "I look for people who thrive on change. I also want people who have taken some calculated chances in their lives. It could be something like 'I went to Tibet with a backpack with my buddies for a week." That's cool.
Blinds.com has won several awards, including being named "The Best Place to Work in Houston" by The Houston Business Journal in 2011.
My next interview was with Mike Hislop, CEO of Corner Bakery Café. When I asked him to define his company's culture he said, "We are that neighborhood café for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and for catering, whether it's social or business. So, we're really in there building those relationships with the community and with our managers, and that's the key. We care about the community and we'll do whatever we can to help out. If there are soccer matches, school fundraisers, church functions, we're there. So, our employees understand from the day that they're hired what our mission is: to 'feed the day!'"
He added, "Our employee turnover has been one of the lowest in the industry for years." Why? Hislop says it's in part because his company values employee recognition. Hence, Corner Bakery Café has a weekly newsletter where employees' birthdays, anniversaries and special achievements are acknowledged. They also have a program called "stepping stones," which helps employees get promoted in the company.
Two days after interviewing Mr. Hislop, I took my family to a Corner Bakery Café in Fairfax, VA for lunch. To gauge employee morale, I spoke with a young woman cleaning the mirrors in the ladies' room. Anonymously, I asked her, "So how do you like your job?" With a big smile she said, "I love it here. This is a great place to work. "
Corner Bakery Café has 142 locations, with 110 company-owned and 32 franchises. Mr. Hislop is excited to increase the number of franchise locations in the next couple of years.
Finally, I spoke with Clate Mask, CEO of Infusionsoft. Started by three brothers, Infusionsoft grew their software company into the millions by moving away from custom packages and creating products that were sellable to large numbers of small businesses with fewer than 25 employees. The software that's made Infusionsoft successful integrates "soup to nuts" online marketing with e-commerce, making life simpler for small businesses.
Mr. Mask says it's extremely important for the CEO to define and articulate the purpose, the values and the mission that he stands for. Furthermore he states that hiring, firing and training the right people is all about the entrepreneur being clear on what the company's culture is all about.
Mask commented,"I often hear entrepreneurs say, 'I wish I could clone myself.' But really it's not about cloning yourself; it's about finding people who will share your core values." Some of Infusionsoft's core values include facing challenges with optimism, checking their own egos at the door, and believing in people and their dreams.
And, so from Mr. Steinfeld, Mr. Hislop and Mr. Mask, we learn that a CEO clearly articulates his values to his staff, to his customers and to the community he serves. Thereby, he establishes his desired company culture; one task that he refuses to delegate.