Sage Advice

Experienced CEOs share core principles for successful sign company management
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Launching, managing and growing a sign business entails a huge time commitment and attention to innumerable details. But it’s the force of the CEO’s strategic vision which truly represents the key resource sustaining a company year after year and guiding its development. First and foremost, any successful business venture requires continuous examination and evaluation of the organization’s ongoing performance. As a former owner and manager of a regional sign company and, more recently, in connection with my previous work for the International Sign Association (ISA), I’ve had the good fortune to be in a position to pick the brains of some leading sign industry figures on various management topics.

Kevin Stotmeister is president and CEO of Federal Heath (Oceanside, CA), one of the largest national sign manufacturers in the US. He began his sign industry career in 1980 when he went to work for the former, Chicago-based Federal Sign Company. A registered professional engineer with an educational background both in engineering and business administration (MBA), Stotmeister advanced through the firm’s ranks until 2003, when Federal Sign merged with Heath Sign Company and Kevin was appointed to his current position.

Steve Kieffer is the retired former CEO of Kieffer & Company Inc. (Sheboygan, WI). Steve began working in the industry at the tender age of 15. After his graduation from college, Steve spent some time as a salesman and later worked as a sign installation and service mechanic. He then moved on to positions with multinational firms in credit management, finance and internal consulting. During that period, Steve earned his MBA, returning to the sign business in 1978 where he worked until his retirement in 2008.

Mike Lauretano, Sr. is chairman of Lauretano Sign Group (Terryville, CT), a national sign manufacturer. In 2016, the company observed its 70th year of operation, and Mike has worked in the business for 45 of those years.

KEYS TO SUCCESS
The high-altitude perspective on business management emphasizes the role of the chief executive’s core vision as a paramount factor in a company’s ultimate success. Thus, general managers who find themselves wearing too many hats, or bogged down in daily operational details, are wise to consider devoting more of their precious time to planning for the long haul. In this vein, Stotmeister said, “You must create and work toward a vision of the enterprise for the future. This entails working constantly on your personal and company-wide communication skills to ensure that the entire organization possesses a disciplined process enabling people to learn from the mistakes which inevitably will occur. This is managing for the future and enabling superior management of growth opportunities while simultaneously avoiding the need to be personally managing the many conflicting demands faced.”

Likewise, Steve Kieffer emphasizes that managers must evaluate their own capabilities, as well as those throughout their organization. “Identify your personal strengths and weaknesses. Use your strengths and hire people to cover your weak areas as you are financially able to do so. Also, identify your organizational strengths and weaknesses, including people and assets. Use your strengths and avoid the weaknesses.”

This process includes recruiting people well suited for key positions and creating an internal environment in which employees can flourish. “Any company is essentially an assemblage of people teams,” said Stotmeister. “As an owner or leader, one must spend a lot of time on the major priorities of finding, developing and retaining the best people possible. Part of this people development must include delegating responsibilities across all functional needs of the company to allow people to grow in their skill sets, experience and capabilities.” Speaking to this challenge, Mike Lauretano said, “Delegating is the most important element, and very often it’s difficult for an entrepreneur to give up control.” In this regard, Lauretano cites personnel, training and equipment as the three most important factors impacting the success of a sign manufacturer, regardless of size.

Because employees take their cues from leadership, the CEO also must be a role model. “Lead by example and ensure that your example is based on integrity in all that you do,” said Stotmeister. “Accept nothing less from everyone on the company team.” It’s also important for executives to practice some of the same habits that they value in their firm’s work-force. “Treat yourself like an employee,” said Kieffer. “Constantly educate yourself and add tools that help to improve your performance.”

Effectively managing a sign company thus involves setting the proper tone and making a continual study of the key aspects impacting your organization’s performance.