Q: Attracting the right people with the right skills must be very different for a company approaching $13 billion than for a smaller company. How do you go about looking for new team members?
A: It’s not easy. You have to make sure your management subscribes to the DNA. So how do we get management? Three ways: First, we grow from within—but we can’t keep up because we’ve grown faster than we’ve been able to grow from within. We have a philosophy of promoting from within. Several of our senior managers do not even have a university degree.
Second, we go outside to recruit, but that is not so easy. It’s not unheard of to have a dozen interviews to meet all of senior management. It may take as long as a year—something we get criticized for—but we want to be careful that we’re not hiring on technical merit alone. The test I like to give is, ‘Can that guy run a good summer camp? Will he get everybody to play well in the sandbox?’
Third, about 25% of our sales are in joint ventures where we own less than 100%, but more than 50%. We get talent that we couldn’t afford to hire, because they’re partnering with us in the way they would partner with private equity. [In turn], we provide an orderly
way for them to liquidate their positions. This allows us to gain enormous talent. Because it’s not possible for any one company to have all the expertise that one needs.
Q: What advice would you offer entrepreneurs who are trying to build up their closely held companies and establish a bigger market for themselves?
A: It’s all about people and results—but mostly about people. Perhaps in real estate it’s about finding the right location, but our business is a people business. Our lead director is Phil Laskawy from EY. I would submit to you that he brings more to our board than you can imagine, because we are closer to EY than to a product company. We’re a people business.
The question is, how do you get all these people to work together? And that’s what you focus on. Go get the best talent—make it the best that you can afford. Make an environment where people like to work and have everybody working together for the betterment of the customer. It sounds easy. It’s not easy. The execution is difficult.
NOTE: Stanley Bergman was honored as Chief Executive’s 2017 CEO of the Year on Tuesday, July 18, at an invitation-only dinner event at the New York Stock Exchange. In attendance was more than 100 of his CEO peers and business colleagues.