Five Thoughts about... Making the Right Hires With Bill Capraro, CEO of CIMCO Communications

Published November 30, 2004

CIMCO Communications is Chicago-area integrated communications provider serving mid- and large-sized businesses. During the past 19 years, the company has survived the meltdown in telecom in the late 1990s and grown to compete against companies such as SBC, AT&T and MCI.

As CIMCO's CEO will tell you, a good part of that growth can be attributed to its staff. Contributing writer Ben Bradley recently sat down with Bill Capraro, CIMCO's chief executive officer, to talk about making the right hires and getting the right advice.

Darwin: Over the past 19 years, what were some of your biggest mistakes?

Bill Capraro:

I'm proud to say that my current staff is the best I've ever seen. But getting to this point has been tough. Everything revolves around people. Like many businesses, we have made the mistake of hiring a person who looks good on paper, has the necessary pedigree, but doesn't have the cultural fit. We've found that the wrong person can be incredibility disruptive to the company. It takes a while to recuperate from a wrong hire.

Darwin: How do you recuperate?

Bill Capraro:

We try to avoid the recuperation process completely by sticking to a proven process for hiring the right people. When we hire now, we look at how individuals deal with conflict, how they work within a team, how they act when things aren't going their way. We look at their personality (are they passive, aggressive, assertive, flexible?). Our interview process is designed to determine if a person will fit within our culture. This way, if we do make the wrong hire, we recognize it fairly quickly and can act quickly to correct the situation

If I am hiring someone for a senior position, 95 percent of the time I require a very personal relationship with that person. Likewise, we have an employee referral program where we offer employees $2,000 for each employee that they bring on board. Having a personal relationship helps ensure the right cultural fit. In fact, 60 percent of our employees were hired as a result of the employee referral program.

Darwin: You were 25 when you started your business. Where did you go for advice?

Bill Capraro:

I had sold real estate for a few years after college. Then, in 1984, AT&T divested and a huge monopoly disintegrated virtually overnight. With chaos there is opportunity and it looked like a great time to jump into the fight. I started CIMCO Communications in a small office with two people. Now CIMCO employs more than 200 people and we're on track for record growth.

I was young and knew I needed good advisors. My dad was successful in real estate. I respected his business experience. He became my sounding board. I knew I could trust him to help me make decisions that were right for the company. In 2001, my dad passed away and I was devastated. I looked to my staff to fill the advisory role but quickly discovered I needed people on the outside looking at my business. From that need, I put together an advisory board. These are influential and experienced business leaders I can depend on or most major decisions anytime I need a second opinion. I depend on their objectivity.

Darwin: Where else do you get advice?

Bill Capraro:

Good advice comes from customers. We also have a customer advisory board, a group of a customer companies that aren't afraid to tell us how we are doing, alert us to gaps in our product offering and, most important, tell us what the competition is telling them. The customer advisory board is invaluable in our understanding of what we do and how it is perceived. They make sure we are focused on their needs better than anyone else. A good example is in our billing. One of our potential customers was getting 140 bills a month/20 bills a day - from our competitor - and couldn't figure out what they were paying for. As a service, we spent a few days organizing their bills and asked them "How do you want to see these bills?" They gave us their requirements (billing by cost center, by department, by individual, etc.) and we customized how they could interact with their bills. We won the business. Now we provide this service for all our customers. It is one of the top reasons people do business with us

Even indirectly, we are always asking prospects and customers what they need. We have a robust customer satisfaction survey program consisting of six different survey topics, which enables us to continually evaluate and improve various functional areas within our organization.

Darwin: What advice would you give to other business owners?

Bill Capraro:

Get the right people on the bus, get the wrong people off the bus and put the right people in the right seats.