Commitment to Success: Look For It

Aug 22, 2005

I got up this morning to an e-mail from one of my old clients and friends, Kit Miyamoto, CEO of Miyamoto International (Sacramento, CA), a fantastic structural engineering firm. He sent it at 4-something a.m. my time, or 2-something a.m. his time. Kit is not alone. I have clients, friends, and readers who communicate with me on business matters at times like this. Some might think these people are crazy! But the point is, Kit, like many other CEOs of profitable, high-growth A/E/P and environmental firms, is completely dedicated to his firm’s success. They aren’t crazy. But they are not in jobs that they turn on at 8:00 in the morning and turn off at 5:00 in the afternoon. Their firms are something that they think about constantly and WILL make successful because they have a commitment to success. There’s no other option— they are going to make things happen. You could be thinking, “Sure, it’s a little wacky, but Kit founded his own company. He’s some kind of workaholic.” But Kit isn’t a workaholic, and he didn’t found the company that bears his name today. He went to work there as an engineer when they had six or eight employees. He ended up the CEO and majority shareholder because of the way he thinks (and works). And there are others just like Kit— not to say that every highly committed CEO is sending e-mails to me at 2:00 a.m., that’s for sure. But there are other CEOs who are thinking in every waking hour about how to build their companies. Brian Larson, CEO of TranSystems Corporation (Kansas City, MO), is another. I remember when Brian became the president of his then 90-person firm after working his way up the ranks from a small-office manager. He laid out a plan to grow the company to $75 million in revenue. Now, in 2005, TranSystems employs 700+ and is doing well over $100 million in revenue. There are plenty of CEOs who started out as mere employees. But they didn’t think like (typical) employees. The old adage is “hire for personality, train for skills,” and it’s never been more appropriate. We all need can-do, committed, and highly energized people. These people may not necessarily look like movie stars, have advanced degrees from prestigious schools, or have the number of years of experience they are supposed to have per their human-resources-department-created job description to be qualified for a particular job in your firm. But what they could have is a commitment to success, an inner drive to prove something, to make something happen, and to be successful, that you absolutely cannot train someone else to have. And this could be more valuable to you than a boatload of advanced degrees. Thankfully, some firms— like Kit’s and Brian’s— had principals who were smart enough to get out of the way of these two dynamos and did not hold them back, didn’t make them wait till they were 49 to buy stock, or run them off because they were too darned insecure about their own abilities. While I think most A/E firms are really good places to work, I would also say most A/E firms do some not-so-great things to our people, such as: We make them wait too long to become owners. There’s no law that a young person can’t buy a little stock in a firm. It may help keep them there. We are overly concerned about formal education. Some of the best people I know only have bachelor’s degrees. Some have no degree but instead came up the hard way. An Ivy League education is no guarantee of work ethic, integrity, or commitment. We don’t provide enough training in communications skills. These skills are extremely important to personal success in this or any other industry. We tolerate marginal performance. Even worse, we tolerate marginal attitudes for too long! We don’t have enough examples— role models— for our young people. In fact, there are too many bad examples. These things are all within our control. If you aren’t happy with the people you have right below you, try moving “commitment to success” to the top of your hiring and promotion criteria list, and then step aside and see what happens! Originally published 08/22/2005

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