Paul Grunau sees leadership role as one of a mentor, coach to employees
By John L. Campbell, for SBT
Paul Grunau may be the president of the company his great-grandfather founded in 1920. And his last name may be emblazoned across company trucks. But the Grunau Co. management is a team effort – and must be if the company is to attain greatness, says Grunau, an advocate of leadership principles espoused in Jim Collins’ Good to Great business book.
"My principal task is being a mentor and coaching people," Grunau says. "We have a flat management structure. There’s me and 15 other guys. We will only be as good as the job we do in developing that team."
Grunau is uncomfortable being seen in the forefront of his heating, ventilating and air-conditioning company. He’d rather function behind the scenes, coaching his players to do what has to be done.
"We’re only going to be as good as we are in developing our value concepts," Grunau says, emphasizing that he wants his managers to be as able as he is in presenting the Grunau Co. to potential customers. "I’d rather be in the background, pushing them forward, than standing in the forefront," which is precisely the role of a Level 5 manager as outlined in Good to Great.
"The Level 5 leadership is a contrast to the TV, movie, magazine CEO, who is highly visible, the leader on whom all success depends," said Grunau. "The entrepreneur and the Level 5 leader have substantial differences."
Grunau understands those differences, and he’s grooming for that Level 5 leadership position, constantly reminding himself, "You’ve got to put the best interests of the company ahead of your personal agenda."
Grunau Co.’s total employment is about 400. Of those, 90 are salaried employees. Paul Grunau has been president of the company since 1990.
At its Oak Creek facilities, Grunau Co. operates three separate divisions, a fabricating shop, a mechanical department and a service facility. The company has invested heavily in its service and maintenance departments – a decision that keeps its name in front of its customers.
Grunau says that servicing equipment regularly keeps customers off the market when new projects come up. Based on current relationships, they contact Grunau Co.
"On any given day, we’ll have 50 people on the road servicing our customers," Paul explains. "In Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Florida, our plants are only single-purpose facilities, servicing and installing our fire prevention equipment."
Grunau has a reputation for its fire prevention sprinkler systems.
"We use the single trade concept in remote locations. Construction work is a very local business, based on close customer relationships," Grunau notes.
How does Grunau Co. train managers? Some have been sent to graduate school, paid for by the company. Grunau believes in training and education, much of it in-house. In the company lobby behind the reception desk, Grunau has framed a statement of values and the company’s mission. Top management seeks to create an environment within the company where employees feel appreciated and valuable.
"That (confidence) rubs off when they’re out there in front of a customer," Grunau says.
At the core of its value system are intangibles such as honesty and integrity. Conscious of listening skills, employees strive to understand their customers’ business objectives and what the customers are trying to accomplish.
"Individuals who are given responsibilities and treated with respect will give their best," Grunau said "We look for people who have the right attitude and who share our values along with technical capabilities. We’re in a business where the customer can’t test drive what we have to offer, meaning that the company-customer relationship is one of trust."
Grunau elaborates on "selling to the left," a concept that pursues establishing a rapport with project architects at the initiation of a new project, rather than waiting until competitive footprints have encroached on the scene and the project reaches the time-line stage – when it’s up for bid. Without effectively selling to the left to engage a client’s confidence, the lowest bid will often take the job.
"Back in the 1970s and 1980, our sales volume was about $250 million," said Grunau, noting a different business philosophy followed at the time. Grunau Co. followed the Phillip Morris’ expansion program for Miller Brewery throughout the country, where it was involved in the construction of six breweries.
"It caused a lot of turmoil in the ’80s," Grunau admitted. "We just didn’t have enough people on the bus and the right people in the right seats."
Today, the more-focused company has about $80 million in annual sales.
The current thinking at the Grunau Co. precludes the pursuit of major projects like a Miller Park or a Midwest Express Center. Grunau holds strong opinions on the practice of "elephant hunting," targeting mammoth-sized projects.
"What happens is that you tie up your best people on those major projects in order to insulate yourself against the risks involved. The jobs are one-shot deals. As a result, you lose opportunities and long-term relationships to advance the interests of current customers."
Name: Paul Grunau
Company: Grunau Co.
City: Oak Creek
Education: Brown University, 1987; MBA from Northwestern University, 1990
Company Revenue: $80 million
Role Model: great sports coaches
Leadership philosophy: The best leaders are those who help make those around them better.
May 30, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee