Randy Swart | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Randy Swart

Background:  

Randy Swart is the chief operating officer of A. Duie Pyle, which provides transportation and logistics services supported by 22 transportation service centers and nine warehouses located throughout the Northeast. Based in West Chester, Penn., the company has been family owned and operated since 1924

The Mistake:

My mistake was not mentoring people enough. At one point, we had not properly prepared people in our company for front-line leadership roles. Although they were smart and were capable for the roles, we didn’t do enough to groom them for that next step, and we ended up putting people in positions they weren’t ready for.

Because of this, we had to go out and hire more people from the open market, which isn’t always ideal. It costs more time and money to hire people from outside your company because you have to teach and train them, and you aren’t guaranteed their success.

Hiring people from within is better because they know your processes and culture right off the bat. But it only works out when you prepare them for that next step. And we weren’t doing that. We were more caught up in today’s work and weren’t really thinking about tomorrow. When roles did suddenly open up, we had to work long hours trying to find the right candidates.

The most important investment you can make, as a leader, is in your people.

The Lesson:

The most important investment you can make, as a leader, is in your people. The future is much brighter when you know you have the people in place to fill your roles when it comes time.

That’s why, about eight years ago, I started selecting five individuals I believed I could mentor, and I really started putting the time and energy into setting them up for success. I had them take on projects they weren’t used to doing, so they could learn and be ready for that next step. As part of this mentoring process, I helped them select their five people for which they could do the same.

Our company’s whole culture is different now. When a new person starts, for example, it’s the role of the entire team to ensure that this individual is successful by teaching him or her what’s needed to do the job safely and efficiently. We’ve seen these individuals get promoted, move through the organization and then help others do the same. Success promotes success.

We’ve had an internal goal of fulfilling 70 percent of our promotions from within and are slightly over that right now.

We’ve also fostered a culture where we now have college students interning with us, and graduates in leadership-training courses. We are grooming them to move up through our company.

A. Duie Pyle is on Twitter at @ADuiePyle

Photo courtesy of A. Duie Pyle