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Episode in a Tweet: An Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® Award finalist builds a telecom company that lands on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in America for 7 consecutive years–and counting.
Quick Background: Rick created Nitel in 1997 after gaining experience in line and management positions with Sprint, MCI WorldCom and Universal Access. As Chief Executive Officer, Rick shapes and drives execution of corporate strategy, holds executive-level accountability for new business development and directs the finance, operations and client services functions.
Rick earned a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications from the University of Florida and served six years in the U.S. Naval Reserve. A strong believer in continuing education, he is a 2009 graduate of Harvard Business School’s Executive Education program in Owner/President Management. Rick is also a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a global network of young chief executives, as well as the Harvard Business School Club of Chicago.
He set a goal early in life to start a successful company, and now he’s the CEO of a 7-time Inc. 5000 member. Yet he’ll proudly show you pictures of his wife and four kids before he’ll hand you a business card. Because it’s still all about winning one for the team.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.
Key Insights on Reaching the Inc. 5000 List
1. Reset your goals BEFORE you achieve them.
Most people are happy just to meet their goals. Rick and his business partner Ron Grason have always been very aggressive about what’s next. “If we were able to walk a mile, we wanted to run three. When we ran two, we reset the goal to run 10. We’ve always stretched ourselves from a goal-setting perspective and continue to spread our wings for growth opportunities, whether it be sales, product, network, or something else,” said Rick. Are you resetting your goals as you near the finish line?
2. Only hire people that are “all-in, 100% effort.”
Rick said “Hard work has always been my number one determining factor on whether or not to hire somebody. We’re looking for people that are all-in, 100% effort. That’s the make it or break it attitude we look for and I think it goes a long way.” People who don’t give that full-on effort don’t last long at the company. You won’t reach the Inc. 5000 list without a hard-charging, fired up team.
3. Diversify your revenue sources long before you are forced to.
In the early days of his company, Rick’s firm became known as “the guys to go to if you wanted AT&T services in rural community.” Unfortunately, “We were building a revenue base in a one-legged stool. After we stopped high-fiving ourselves at our growth rate and realized that we were single-threaded and going down the wrong way towards disaster, we started to think, oh my God, if AT&T pulls our contract, it could be Armageddon for us,” said Rick. Over time, Rick’s team diversified their revenue sources and they were fully prepared when the call did come from AT&T that the deal was changing.
4. Have the right team in place and well prepped in case you have to unexpectedly leave the business.
Three years ago, Rick was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. Fortunately, he had the tumor removed and became cancer free. Six months ago, doctors found another tumor and Rick went in for surgery and chemo radiation therapy. During both of these stints trying to recover from cancer, Rick had to pull back from work and let his team pick up the slack–and they did quite nicely. With less time devoted to work, Rick had to make those hours count. “It gave me the opportunity to see things from a macro view more so than I had before. I focused on what’s really important to the company and on tracking what are the most impactful things we need to do, what does it take to get them done, and what are the short and long-term goals we need to monitor.” Don’t wait for a health scare to force you to prep your team for your unexpected departure. Plan now.
5. Set a big goal then focus on the one leading activity you need to consistently execute that will almost guarantee you hit the goal.
You won’t reach the Inc. 5000 list without setting big goals. Rick said his coach Mark Moses taught him an excellent format to set a big goal then “reduce its execution to one key leading activity.” By breaking down your big goals in this manner, “It’s almost ridiculous how simple the blocking and tackling can be to accomplish these goals. As long as you keep your eye on that, it’s almost humorous on how simple it is to move the ball down the field,” said Rick. Have you identified the one key leading activity for each of your big goals?
1. Don’t get caught with the bulk of your revenue coming from a small number of sources. If you have clients that account for more than 15 percent of your business, start diversifying fast. Otherwise, one lost contract could cause a devastating hit to your business.
2. Put a contingency plan in place. You could be knocked out of work by a sudden illness or accident. Put a plan in place now to make sure you have someone ready to step up on a moment’s notice.
3. Identify the key leading activity for each of your big goals. No need to get fancy here. Just stay supremely focused on executing on the key leading activity and hitting the goal will take care of itself.
4. Have a clear methodology that powers your business growth. Just as Rick leveraged his coach, Mark Moses at CEO Coaching International, you should have a strategy to help you continually raise the bar on staff, zero in on the key business strategies that lead to top and bottom line growth, and hold you accountable for following through.
Transcript: Download the full transcript here.