Recently I had the privilege of reviewing applications for the newly created Fred Case Remodeling Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Among the many candidates were a great variety of remodeling companies: Some are very big, others are comparatively small; some have been around for several generations, others are relative newcomers to the industry; some offer specialized services, others provide general remodeling services.
Although this award seeks to identify unique entrepreneurial spirit, I found three common threads woven into the fabric of virtually all of the candidate companies. Since then, I continue to find these same three common denominators in many business leaders outside the remodeling industry.
TEAM FIRST Most of the award candidates — and all four of the finalists — make the people who are part of their team a top priority. A lot of business owners will say, “My team is No. 1,” but how are they showing it? How much time are they devoting to developing the team and its members? True leaders act on this priority every day. They spend a considerable amount of energy building their team and developing programs that help identify, recruit, and retain employees. But that's not all; good leaders are focused not only on team wins but also on helping each individual reach his or her potential. Good leaders recognize that their own growth is tied to the growth of the team; that they can progress only by being pushed forward by the team, not by dragging the team along behind them.
One example among many of the leading companies I reviewed was a creative and at the same time very considerate approach to decisions about ownership or profit sharing. Again, the main difference is that these leaders act on these initiatives and, as a result, the team follows them with admiration.
SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY An essential characteristic of all these successful company leaders is a vision that extends beyond the day-to-day concerns of their business to more far-reaching issues. In many of the most successful companies, stewardship of the environment is a businesses obligation. They strive to use methods and materials that will stand the test of time and have the least impact on the natural world.
Some would call this a “green” focus, but because there are so many meanings for that term I prefer to think of it as a very high level of social consciousness. The leaders of these companies feel strongly about not separating their personal and professional behavior on these issues. They walk the talk, and they are willing to take on the risk that doing the right thing sometimes entails. They also bring it down to an individual level, enacting programs to encourage team members to conserve, and committing resources to education and certifications. They see themselves as evangelists in the struggle to make the world a better place. Over time, these beliefs and actions have transformed company culture.
COMMUNITY Finally, the leaders of these companies recognize that the good fortune of their success brings with it an obligation to their community. I use the word “obligation” deliberately because their efforts in their communities are most often undertaken without consideration to “return on investment.” If they have an opportunity to make a difference in others' lives, they will take advantage of it without asking for special acknowledgement — in fact, in some cases they ask to remain anonymous.
I believe that these three attributes are true of leaders in any industry. These leaders are not looking forward to retiring from their business and lying on the beach drinking cocktails. They realize that they are on a never-ending journey to find ways to make a difference to their team, to their community, and to the environment and the world of the future. We can all learn from their example. — Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Remodeling Services, in Bethesda, Md. In 2006 he was named a Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.