Richard C. Brown | Crain's

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

Richard C. Brown

Background:  

Based in Norcross, Ga., OmniMax International Inc. (formerly known as Euramax International) makes building and transportation products, including architectural copper, metal cladding and drainage systems. The 20-year-old company's 12 brands include Alumawood, CopperCraft, Fabral, and Berger Building Products.

The Mistake:

As a general manager at GE, I had that fundamental belief that you [should] always get the best of the best and upgrade your team across the board. I remember that about a year into the role running this business, I looked around the table and asked a question about the history of the company. For example, what had we done in the past? As I looked around, I realized that I was looking out at twelve faces that had all worked there less than a year.

I had brought in some extremely great talent, but what I had lost was some of the knowledge of the past, some of the experience of the past, and it was a really nice wake-up call.

I was looking out at twelve faces that had all worked there less than a year.

The Lesson:

When you come into a new situation, it’s extremely important to have a blend of people who have been at the company—have been part of those past experiences and who understand what’s going on at the company—along with some new people who come in and bring their own experiences. [That way], you get the combined history and the forward look to achieve success.

One of the things that attracted me to this role, in particular, was [that OmniMax] had really good people who were open-minded to a new leader coming in and helping them be successful. That made it a really nice environment to come in and bring new ideas and new concepts and maybe change the culture—but it was a very open-minded culture that listened to me and was willing to question and understand it.

In general, it depends on the function and state of the business, but if a third of your people are new, and the rest have [that institutional] history and experience, that can work well. Ultimately, I just want people who are focused on the same goal, who can all bring their unique skills and thought processes, who have that belief in the team and in winning as a team. Whatever that split happens to be, it’s about the business doing better, it’s about doing the right thing for our customers, for our employees and for our shareholders.

Photo courtesy of Richard C. Brown

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