“Be Honest and transparent — As humans, we do not enjoy hurting people’s feelings. However, when you are honest and transparent, people really respond well to that. When we interview people for teaching rolls, we ask them to teach a 30-minute class to our staff. When they are done, I say to them “great job! Now please leave the room so that we can talk about you behind your back.” This is how we like being upfront with people as we just say it like it is. After we gather feedback from our team, I share with the interviewee if we will be working with them or not. And if the answer is no, I tell them why. Some people get upset and storm out of the office. While others really appreciate the up front and honest feedback.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Udler CEO of OfficePro Inc. Aaron started his career in trying to play professional football, then went to a chiropractor school and then tried started an online business. After a series of failures in all of the above, he then entered into the tradeshow and event planning industry and thrived. Upon completing his MBA , Udler acquired OfficePro, Inc, a 30 year old technology training company focused on end-user training and adoption. Today, OfficePro is one of the fastest growing training companies in the Washington DC area, having tripled in size since 2015.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I have always been an athlete and loved sports and teamwork. Growing up, I played basketball, soccer, baseball, and football. Being an athlete, this afforded me the opportunity to play Division 1 football at Indiana University. Playing football for a major university allowed me to learn about cultures, teamwork, and most importantly, communication. After college, I tried out for several Arena Football teams, but did not make it. Then I went to chiropractor school. But realized after 2 years, chiropractic medicine was not for me.
So then I’m thinking, what do I do next? My brother owned a tradeshow. I worked for him for 2 years, learned the industry and started my career. After working for him, followed by working for 2 other event planning companies, I accepted a position at InfoComm, a professional audio/video trade association. I was the #1 sales manager for 7 years and started getting bored. From there, I decided to apply to an executive MBA program and earned my MBA from Fuqua (Duke)
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Two of my favorites:
1. We are a training company and we have several government clients. We tell our instructors to keep all classroom exercise files on a CD rom and not a USB stick. Most clients do not like having USB sticks plugged into their computers. Well….we had one of our FT instructors bring USB sticks to a client site which had our exercise files on it. They must have fallen out of his bag. I get a call from the HR department at the client site requesting that this instructor not be invited back. They found the USB sticks and tried to identify who they belonged too. During this effort, they plugged the USB’s into the computer and found not only our exercise files, but also pornography. They were able to identify the USB sticks as my employees as he was posing in the pornographic photos. The client asked us not to send him back to their site.
2. We had a sales guy years ago who on his 1st day of work, put his lunch in the fridge. When it was lunch time, he went to get his lunch, but it was missing. He starts looking around and finds another employee eating his lunch. My sales guy says “dude, what are you doing?” The response was “eating my lunch”. “You’re eating MY lunch.” “No I’m not”. “Yes you are. I put my lunch in the door of the refrigerator when I arrived at 815.” My other employees response was “well I put my lunch in the door of the refrigerator when I arrived at 830…oh no…I’m so sorry”. My 2nd employee grabbed the wrong lunch, which had Cheetos in it. To this day, my 2nd employees nickname is Cheeto.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
I have a saying here at OfficePro. “Communication and Organization wins Championships”. I have 10 FT employees and approx. 250 1099’s around the US. For the past 2 years, I have had my full time staff here in DC, and a small team of 6 in Los Angeles. In DC, every Wednesday, we have an all staff meeting so that everybody can communicate with each other on what they are working on. This provides openness and increases communication within our company.
Our west coast team meets every Friday via video conferencing. We have the same type of meeting in which everybody reports on what they are working on.
In both locations, when I am there, I always take the teams out for dinner, drinks, lunches, etc. This has helped increase communication, team bonding, as well as loyalty to my company. Earlier this year, we lost our contract for the 6 people we had in Los Angeles. The company that won the contract, are not nice people nor honest. This new company circumvented my company to try and hire my people. Each one of them told me about this, which allowed me to reach out to the new company and say “hey, if you want to talk to my guys, talk to me first”. Business ethics seems is always important to me, and doing things the right way is always vital. The teams I put together also share my sentiments, which is why we have been successful as a company and managing our people is easy.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
Managing global teams is tough work. But again, it all comes down to communication. We recently had a 2 month project in 3 different cities in France — Paris, Angers, and Cognac. I had 1 person at each location daily for 2 months. Challenges for this product included:
· Language barriers — I needed bilingual (English and French, but the local dialect of French)
· Time zone barriers — My guys needed to be at work at 9am local time, which is 3am Eastern time
· Country laws — I have had a tough time paying my people. In France, a business needs a Siret number, which is like a Federal Tax ID number. It is supposed to be a 2–3 week process. For me it took 4 months. I am not supposed to pay my people until I had my Siret number since this allows me to also pay social security and healthcare taxes on behalf of my workers. However I knew the taxes were going to be between 25–40%. So I paid my people 60% of what was owed to them and reserved the remaining 40% just in case I had to pay 40%. They were happy with that, but also frustrated with their own government system.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
A mission statement and company values are important. They are VERY important to us, so I made a sign in our office that discusses what’s important to our company. This sign is displayed in multiple places in our office, including in our front lobby area. They are as follows:
· We are honest in our dealings
· We deliver what we promise in our business and personal relationships
· We always demonstrate commitment and diligence in our efforts
· We are always friendly, courteous, and have respect for others
· We display teamwork. Team members use terms like “we”, not “I”. “It’s not my job” is not in our vocabulary.
· We are fair and evenhanded in our dealings with others
· We have a sense of urgency on matters related to the customer. We “own” problems and are always responsive. We are customer driven.
· We are “easy to do business with”.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Retaining talent today can be tough, especially with the younger generations. I have found with a few millennials, not all, they have the attitude of “what can you do for me?”. This is not a team-oriented attitude and we try not to hire people that are like that. However, to retrain the guys we have, we provide all sorts of benefits, such as:
· OfficePro pays 90% healthcare costs for each employee
· We have a terrific snack closet
· We have happy hours and lunches
· Each quarter, we all run in a 5k race together
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
#1 — Be Honest and transparent — As humans, we do not enjoy hurting people’s feelings. However, when you are honest and transparent, people really respond well to that. When we interview people for teaching rolls, we ask them to teach a 30-minute class to our staff. When they are done, I say to them “great job! Now please leave the room so that we can talk about you behind your back.” This is how we like being upfront with people as we just say it like it is. After we gather feedback from our team, I share with the interviewee if we will be working with them or not. And if the answer is no, I tell them why. Some people get upset and storm out of the office. While others really appreciate the up front and honest feedback.
#2 — Treat others the same way you like to be treated. Always say good morning and good evening to your staff. This makes a lasting impression. Also, always compliment your staff when they do a good job. Do this both in person and over email. When over email, make sure others are CC’ed on the email so that the employee will feel extra special.
#3 — Don’t ask your staff to do things you would not do yourself. When I ask my staff to do something, I sometimes say “it’s ok to say no if you can’t do this”.
#4 — Empower your staff — Let them try things for themselves. Managers are there for guidance, not to micromanage. Adults learn best by failing. Let your employees try things on their own in their own way. If they fail, then a lesson is learned.
#5 — Always give your employees educational opportunities — Jack Welch had a famous saying — “Train your employees and they will grow. Don’t train your employees and they will leave.” I would rather have my employees grow vs leave. Our corporate culture is to always be learning something new. It doesn’t matter if it’s business related or not. If someone wants to take a class on Chinese, go for it! Want to get a PMP, go for it! Want to learn how to become a plumber, go for it!. I want my staff to always be learning and keeping their minds fresh.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I would start is vocational training at the high school level. In Montgomery County, Maryland, we sit on the board for the Montgomery County IT Foundation. This is a 10month program in which students earn an IT certification. At OfficePro, we provide the examinations for the county’s students.
Other vocational programs the County has include automotive, plumbing, culinary, hair salon, construction trades, and more! With colleges and universities making higher education unaffordable to middle America, having students coming out of high school with trades experience and certifications is a HUGE plus. This could help reduce homelessness, crime, and promote responsibility in America.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote was from my 10th grade basketball coach. “If you have fun, winning takes care of itself”. I have learned this is true both on the basketball court and in the business world. If you are not having fun, then what are you doing here? If you are having fun, let’s do this!!!!
Originally published at medium.com