Managing growth is one of the most challenging aspects of running a company, experts say. The four leadership awards winners for this year’s Top Workplaces have certainly navigated this path. The CEOs lead fast-growing companies. They have self-awareness of their own leadership skills. They realized pretty quickly that the success of their ventures depended on finding and developing emerging leaders who can complement their own skills. Doing so becomes easier when they are able to communicate a clear vision for their companies. - Patrick Kennedy
SPS Commerce was founded in 1987 but is still very much a growth company. During the past five years, the provider of cloud-based supply chain management solutions has seen its annual revenue grow an average of 28 percent a year.
Archie Black joined SPS in 1998 as a senior vice president and chief financial officer. In 2001, when he took over as president and CEO, revenue was $4 million and the company was seeing little to no growth. Since then, the company has grown from a small private company whose promise attracted venture capital financing to a public company that raised $49 million in a successful 2010 initial public offering. The number of employees has grown from 110 to more than 1,000.
SPS was among the 20 fastest-growing public companies in Minnesota last year. The Minneapolis-based company finished 2014 with $127.9 million in sales, up 22.6 percent from the year before, and profits of $2.7 million, up 157 percent.
Black says the key is in the hiring process. Candidates must go through a rigorous process, with multiple interviews. About a dozen people have hiring authority.
“You have to develop leaders for tomorrow,” Black said. “So you are not hiring people for the job that they are going to do, you really are hiring them for the job they need to do in two or three years.”
As a result, Black knows he has to hire and train well and then communicate to all employees the vision of the company. Employees must know how to do their job — and also why they are doing their job.
A company like SPS Commerce, which is a leader in a relatively new industry, has to create its own road map for success.
“Look, I think our management team is pretty smart and all that,” Black said. “But we can’t possibly know enough, so the 1,000 people really have to contribute at a substantially higher level.”
Dave Mortensen and Chuck Runyon
Chuck Runyon is a repeat winner of this award, earning similar recognition in 2011 and 2013.
This year, WorkplaceDynamics and the Star Tribune decided to award it to both Runyon, the company’s CEO, and co-founder Dave Mortensen.
The Hastings-based franchiser of 24-hour fitness clubs, founded in 2002, has opened more than 300 new gyms every year for the past seven years and now has more than 3,000 locations in 23 countries.
In order to maintain that rapid growth, Runyon and Mortensen have hired top talent and entrusted them with making decisions.
“As we get bigger, I make fewer decisions,” Runyon said. “If you’ve got a great team, that’s the way to scale your business.”
Core values at Anytime include communication, alignment and trust. Runyon and Mortensen, like Black of SPS, said if they communicate a clear vision of the company, they can better empower their emerging leaders and trust others with making the right decisions.
“To become a leader, you continually look at ways of improving yourself,” Mortensen said. “When you rise to a leadership role, then you look at ways of improving the people around you.”
Anytime makes its development plan available to all employees.
“We’ve created what’s called a 50/50 development plan, where we put money aside for our systemwide leadership team to be able to develop within the organization,” Mortenson said. “That has to be placed 50/50 — 50 percent on their business acumen and … the other 50 percent is on their personal development.”
Wisdom Executives Inc. was founded in 2012 and helps clients, primarily in the telecommunications industry, with marketing, product launches and acquisitions.
Zachary Wisdom worked for a private consulting firm in the telecommunications industry and followed from Boston a client opening an office in the Twin Cities.
Wisdom started his company with six employees and one client. Today, the company still has that first client plus 51 more and is on track to have its first $1 million revenue year.
Wisdom said he makes sure he’s available to all his employees and is still immersed in day-to-day operations.
“It’s important to be viewed as a person, as a leader, not just a title,” Wisdom said.
He has realized that to achieve growth, he has to depend on others, and said some of his most visible leadership decisions have been on whom to hire and promote.
Like other emerging small companies, Wisdom Executives’ challenge is not just to grow; “one of the challenges is making sure you are growing strong, not just fast,” Wisdom said.
“One of the major keys that has been working for us is the people,” he said. “Surrounding yourself with great people — energetic, positive, motivated with a hungry drive for success — and then empowering them.”
It’s just as important, he said, to help workers grow and advance their careers as it is for those same workers to help Wisdom Executives grow.