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Ask a CEO: Advice for Managing Growth

Adam Pekarsky of Pekarsky & Co. and Cory Litzenberger from CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors offer advice on sustainable growth

Jan 4, 2016

by Alberta Venture Staff

The 2016 FG50 List Life in the Cash Lane Questioning the CEOs
Stepping up Reading List The Right Mix
Five with Adam Pekarsky

Pekarsky is the founding partner of Calgary’s Pekarsky & Co. executive search firm

002_story011. The top entrepreneurial tip I ever received was from George Brookman, CEO of West Canadian Graphics and a good friend and mentor. He said, “Fail quick, fail often and fail cheap.” At first, it didn’t make much sense to me but I have come to see the wisdom in it. Over the past six years we have taken calculated risks, whether it be with new hires, new lines of business, or new branding. They haven’t all worked out and we have gotten good at determining when something is not working and when that happens we kill it quickly.

2. The Albertan business person I most admire is my grandpa Henry. He started Henry Singer Menswear in Edmonton in 1938 with $300 in his pocket. I was 10 when he passed away, but several lessons in kindness, entrepreneurial vision, and community spirit were imparted to me over Sunday pancakes at Fuller’s on Jasper Avenue before he died, and those have been retold by friends, family and complete strangers countless times since. It’s a point of pride and also a great burden to put your name on the door, for it’s not just your name but that of your parents, your siblings, your kids and, one day, their’s too. My grandpa Henry’s name has been on the side of Alberta buildings for over 75 years. That’s not only something I admire, but something I aspire to.

3. Beyond Alberta, my favourite business person is Steve Jobs. Not only because he changed our world and did so in a disruptive and unconventional manner, but because of this one quote: “If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it too long. Just figure out what’s next.”

4. The best way to manage quick growth is to have great people. It would be ironic if, as a search firm, we didn’t excel at hiring our own talent. We have exceptionally high standards around professionalism, integrity and community. Six years along, I can confidently say that the turnover we’ve experienced is “healthy turnover,” because it’s all about having the right people on the bus.  Like Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” We now have a team that I am confident can execute on any mandate of any complexity in any market.

5. To ensure growth today, we are not afraid to tinker and experiment with different offerings, lines of business or new markets. In fact, 2016 will see us opening in Toronto, which wasn’t even on our radar two or three years ago, but proves that there is demand for the way we approach search and take care of our clients and candidates. We have a strong presence and reputation in Vancouver, even though we haven’t yet committed to a brick and mortar office there. But at our core we are an Alberta-based company with prairie values of hard work, respect and resiliency. In a sense, we are a ­microcosm of the challenge facing all Albertans, which is the need to diversify beyond our traditional reliance on oil and gas. Don’t get me wrong; energy is critical to our province’s future and to our firm’s future, but there are countless businesses and industries for which we can add value.

Five with Cory Litzenberger

Litzenberger is the founder and president of Red Deer’s CGL Strategic Business & Tax Advisors

002_story021. The Albertan business person I most admire is Kim Moody of Moodys Gartner Tax Law. Before I went on my own, I had a job interview with him. I ended up cancelling the interview at the last minute because I felt the need to do something on my own. I wanted to build something bigger than myself (which at 6’6” and 350 pounds is not an easy task).

After setting out on my own, I met Kim in passing at some tax conferences. I decided to take a chance and see if I could take him out for lunch to pick his brain. After he agreed, I drove to Calgary from Red Deer for lunch. He chose a downtown Calgary sushi restaurant near his office, and as I was a new entrepreneur struggling to build a business from my basement, with my wife at home on maternity leave with our first child, I was a little worried about how much this fancy lunch was going to cost me.

We talked for at least an hour, or what felt like it. Not a quick sales lunch like we’ve all had, but a true, relaxed, take-our-time lunch in which he was extremely open. If anything, that lunch was the boost of encouragement I needed when everything around me seemed to be going the opposite of my plan. Not only did he share personal stories of business and family life and offer encouraging feedback, he paid for lunch! Taking a chance and asking someone I admired for some advice over lunch was the best business decision I ever made.

2. My favourite business book is Only one?  I have many favourites depending on the stage of the business’s development. Firstly, Work the Pond by Darcy Rezac is an amazing networking and self-marketing book, especially for new entrepreneurs. The next one I value is The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, by Ken Blanchard, Hal Burrows, and William Oncken. It’s a great book about the art of delegation and how to encourage staff to be problem solvers without taking on everyone’s problem. The last, and my new favourite, is The Best Place to Work, by Ron Friedman. It’s a study of the art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace.

3. My favourite inspirational quote is, “Do what you are good at and outsource the rest.” I’m not sure of the source, if it is an actual quote, or if it is just a mantra that I have developed over the years from my experience. But it reminds me to know my limitations and focus on my core abilities and hire people or vendors to fill the voids around me. Don’t try to do something you don’t know, and don’t pretend you know something you don’t.

4. The greatest challenge in managing quick growth has been trying to keep a personal touch with every client. As a professional service, most of our business success is based on relationships. When new customers come to us, it is usually because they were not happy with the relationship with their previous accountant. Even though I may not have as many minutes in a day to devote to every person as I used to, we try to do many things to make sure our clients and our referral sources know they matter to us. This past year we had our 7th annual customer appreciation BBQ. Every client, big or small, is invited along with their family. We also make every effort to send out birthday cards to our customers, although I will admit it has become harder to not miss someone as we have grown.

5. To ensure ongoing growth we are doing what we’ve always done: Never be afraid to ask for referrals, and we always do. When someone tells us that we’ve done a good job, my tongue-in-cheek response is usually, “Don’t tell me … tell your friends,” and many do.

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