Ray Titus was 23 when he started his company, and he was committed to outwork and outhustle anyone that stood in his way.
Life balance was the last thing on his mind as he looked to do whatever it took to get his business off the ground.
“When you’re young and inexperienced, you don’t have a choice,” Titus says. “You need to outwork everybody else. Once you start to get some experience and start developing your style and who you are, you can balance things a little bit better.”
Titus co-founded SIGNARAMA in 1986. The company is now part of United Franchise Group, the franchising company Titus also founded and now leads as CEO. With revenue at UFG growing from $336 million in 2005 to $465 million in 2007, Titus has gradually learned how to find that balance in his duties.
He learned that he can’t have a hand in every action that is taken and every decision that is made in the growing company of 180 corporate employees. You simply have to let go of some things and allow your people to do the jobs that you hired them to do.
“If I’m making every decision, then I’m always going to be making every decision,” Titus says. “I think most individuals have seeds within themselves that can be pulled out if you’re willing to put the time and effort into them or wait long enough for it to happen. Most people are just too impatient. They either want them to be a star, or they are fired. Life doesn’t work that way. We all need to grow.”
You need to have faith that you made a good hire and be willing to invest the time to develop the talent that led you to bring this person on board your organization in the first place.
“Good people like challenges, and they want to be challenged,” Titus says. “They enjoy the challenge as long as it’s done the right way. If they accomplish great things, even beyond what they thought they could accomplish, then they really respect you a lot more for helping them achieve those challenges.”
Titus’s challenge is to develop the same values and principles throughout his expansive organization. It’s not always easy to do, but having a positive attitude about the task is a good place to start.
“Be the company’s No. 1 cheerleader,” Titus says. “You have to be able to pump your team up from your sales staff to your vendors right on down the line. With us, it’s franchisees. They are all independent individuals, but you have to get them pumped up, too.”
Here’s how Titus blends a can-do spirit with a sense of accountability to keep United Franchise Group and his employees moving forward.
Teach them how to fish
With a company that has employees spread around the world, it can be difficult to have face-to-face meetings with anyone who is not at your corporate office on a regular basis. Technology does help and Titus tries to arrange as many meetings as possible where he can sit down with his people and go over what’s happening.
To keep his employees focused on doing what’s best for the company, Titus encourages them to maintain regular contact with their customers.
“It’s the closeness to your customer, the relationship with your customer, knowing their name and knowing what’s going on in their lives,” Titus says. “If somebody opens up another business and they beat your price, you’re not going to lose a customer you have a relationship with. Having that relationship is very important.”
Build relationships with customers through regular communication. Talk to them at a convention or get together after a meeting and see what’s on their mind.
“Speak to the person as you are servicing them,” Titus says. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. ‘What did you like most? What can I do better?’ Get suggestions. We’ve actually included customers and vendors in our strategic planning sessions. They become part of the vision of the future of our company.”
One of the best times to get feedback from customers is at the time of their first experience with your company.
“You’ll get great feedback from brand-new customers that will tell you why they purchased from you or why they are coming with you,” Titus says. “There are a lot of salespeople out there that are afraid to ask that question. They sell something, and they are just happy they sold the product or service, and they can’t wait to get back to the office and show everybody the contract they signed.
“They should really be finding out what other needs the customer might have. How did they find out about you? Maybe you can get more and advertise in those places. You can really start to pinpoint what’s working best in your sales process.”
Show that you care
You need to do what you can to get to know your people beyond the work that they produce for your company. It can make things a lot easier when the outside world infringes on your employees’ ability to do their job.
“We had an employee whose wife had a baby two months premature,” Titus says. “He left the hospital to go pick up his other child, went around the block and got in a car accident and totaled his car. You have a wife and a baby in intensive care and you’ve got a car that is totally wrecked. You’ve got a guy that’s not thinking too straight.
“If I don’t know what’s going on, I might say, ‘What the heck is going on with you?’ and find fault with something.”
Instead, Titus was able to draw on his own experience dealing with a premature birth and offer support to his employee.
“You just have to be open and have a relationship with your people and talk with them,” Titus says.
Developing closer relationships with your people will help you be more aware of the circumstances when problems arise. But in the scope of the business, it will also open new doors to feedback and suggestions that could help the company.
“There are so many companies out there that tell people what they want to accomplish, but they don’t go to the other side and find out what the employees want,” Titus says.
Gathering this input may involve meeting for breakfast or lunch or it could be a simple walk around the building.
“Most times, it’s just stopping by their office, knocking on the door and saying, ‘How are you doing? What’s going on?’” Titus says. “‘I heard about this, what’s going on with this? Is there something I can help you with?’ If you do more helping them instead of pointing fingers, I think that helps a lot.”
The idea is to make a real effort to listen to what your people have to say and understand the challenges that they face in doing their jobs.
“There are times when I feel like I’m biting my tongue so hard it’s going to come off,” Titus says. “I have to recognize they have the same challenges, and in some cases, it’s much harder for them. They may see things differently than I do. There’s never one way to get something done; there are multiple ways. ... Encourage them to do what they feel is right. Pull out of them what they want to do rather than tell them what I would do.”
When he’s out of his office talking to employees, he always asks a lot of questions. One reason is to get his employees out of the habit of telling him what they think he wants to hear and keeping their concerns to themselves.
“If they don’t question it out loud, they are going to keep it in their head, which is worse,” Titus says. “I’d rather have it come out of their mouth than be in a situation where they are thinking it, but they give you lip service.”
It comes back to the idea of empowering people and putting them in a position to affect change in your organization.
“I might say, ‘Everything is great right now, but how are we positioning ourselves for 2010?’” Titus says. “‘What are we going to do in 2009 if certain things don’t work the same way? Do you think we might want to invest in a little better Web site or hire another person to organize this for the future so we can continue doing well?’ Try to get it to come out of their mouth.”
Several years ago, Titus was looking for a person with an international background to fill a key position in the company.
“We’re going through this whole placement process and spending money on advertising and looking for this person,” Titus says. “Meanwhile, I have somebody in my company that lived in Mexico for five years, speaks Spanish and would love the position. But I don’t even know it.”
It was a lesson that has stuck with Titus, forcing him to realize that you should never lose touch with your people.
“You always have hidden gems in there,” Titus says. “My dad would always say, ‘If you want to find out about a school, you don’t ask the principal. Ask the janitor.’ If you want to find out about an organization, don’t ask the senior executives. Go ask the people that are handling the facilities, the IT people. Go ask the people that are handling the sale of equipment.”
By getting everyone involved in the operation of the company, UFG has grown to 1,450 franchise locations in 50 countries. Titus hopes to increase the number of locations to 2,000 by 2010.
For Titus, the key to success is actually very simple. “Treat people the way you want to be treated,” Titus says. “That goes a long way in running a successful company.”
When asked when he will be satisfied with his accomplishments in the business world, Titus says it’s not going to happen.
“I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” Titus says. “But why would I want to just sit back and be satisfied? Save that for retirement.”
Titus embraces employees who show a little initiative or even a desire to sit in his chair one day.
“Some people are threatened if someone says, ‘I want your job someday,’” Titus says. “I’m not threatened at all; I’m happy. ‘You want my job? Let’s see what kind of work you’re willing to do to get it.’ I’d rather have somebody that wants to achieve more and accomplish more and isn’t going to be just satisfied.”
HOW TO REACH: United Franchise Group, (888) 816-6749 or www.unitedfranchisegroup.com
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