“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes.” Too often, when an issue arises between supplier and customer, the supplier begins defending their position because their myopic world-view. Dad always encouraged us to stop thinking from the software developer’s perspective and think from the software user’s perspective. It doesn’t always change or resolve the issue, but it’s an excellent practice that we keep doing. When you view a problem from a different angle, it can help you realize maybe you need to change your perspective.

“Stay humble.” Admit you don’t know it all. Nobody does. Dad was from Terre Haute, his father was a WWI veteran and local businessman, running a motel and cider stand in the front yard off US 41. From those humble beginnings, he learned to work hard, serve the customer, and respect all those you encounter.

Our present time seems to have forgotten the importance of humility. I remember when I would get bullheaded or cocky he would say, “Phil, you need a big slice of humble pie.” Of course, there are many other examples of how he shaped the company, but those are the ones that leap out to me.

I think it’s important for first-generation owners to allow their successors freedom to implement new ideas. Some start-up entrepreneurs have a difficult time allowing this; that’s why it’s sometimes best if the founder backs away, semi-retires, or sells off the business. Dick, however, allowed me to implement some new projects.

He was consistently supportive of the new directions, but he also provided stability and scrutiny when needed. He remained chairman of the company for 11 years after I took over as president. He was a welcome addition to any meeting, providing his unique, experienced perspective. I’ve built on what I learned from my Dad, but I’ve also brought my own perspective to the company.

“Technology moves fast. We’d better be prepared for this race.” B&L is a software technology company. We offer products and services that enable metalcasters to know what’s going on at their business, but it’s all based on technology. We have business consultants, software trainers, customer support staff, but their jobs are based on that software technology. Know the technology and you’ll succeed — and B&L will succeed in the marketplace.

“Don’t get to use to things, because change is just around the corner.” B&L started on IBM midrange computers and stayed there for 25 years. In the past 15 years, we’ve moved to client/server architecture, cloud computing, and now a new, browser-based User Interface (UI) that is completely reshaping how we deliver products and services. I like what Mario Andretti said: “If you think you’ve got things under control, then you’re not going fast enough.”

“Everyone is a salesperson.” Everyone at a company represents the image and energy of that organization. Doesn’t matter if you’re the accountant, programmer, or janitor, you are projecting what the company stands for and how it interacts with customers, suppliers and the community at large. Sell the brand in a positive light.

“Happy at home equals effective at work.” We strive to maintain a positive work/life balance at B&L. The technology industry is full of companies that press employees to work long hours at the expense of personal/family time. Often, that leads to burnout and high turnover, which carries a huge cost to the company. Balance is the key: Sometimes extra effort is required on the job. Other times, an employee may need some personal time.

“This isn’t a social club.” We use this phrase every so often to counter complacency. We’re running a successful technology company and that takes a certain amount of hard work and dedication.

“Praise in public, critique in private.” Recently, I witnessed a business manager aggressively criticizing an employee for something, in front of me and several other customers waiting in line. Performance evaluations, especially informal ones, should be handled one-on-one, manager-to-employee, with plenty of discussion about how to improve the next time around. Conversely, good performances — team and individual accomplishments — should be celebrated with as many people as possible.

“None of us is as smart as all of us.” Teamwork is critical to the success of any organization with more than one person. At B&L, designing, developing, marketing, selling, implementing and supporting the finest metalcasting ERP software in the world requires a tremendous amount of cross-departmental teamwork. In the end, we’re all in it together.If one person or department succeeds and the other doesn’t, then we’ve all lost. Fortunately, we’ve built a fantastic team that understands and believes that helping each other out is just a better way to work. 

Philip J. Laney is the chief executive officer of B&L Information Systems. Contact him at planey@blinfo.com