Centro CEO: Employee happiness best metric of company successWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Northwest Ohio native and successful entrepreneur Shawn Riegsecker believes that “happiness of its employees is the best metric of a successful company.”
Riegsecker delivered that message at a program titled, “Happiness as the New ROI: The New Corporate Manifesto,” held Nov. 18 at The Toledo Club and sponsored by the University of Toledo’s Center for Family and Privately-Held Business.
As CEO of Centro, a software company based in Chicago, Riegsecker believes its success is due in large part to its dedication to the growth and well-being of each individual employee.
Riegsecker was interviewed by Mike Hart, president and CEO of Toledo advertising agency Hart Associates, in a setting created to resemble a fireside chat.
“It was an incredible honor to be invited here for this discussion,” said Riegsecker, a native of Ridgeville Corners in Henry County. He graduated from Archbold High School and Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
When asked what his first job was, he laughed and said his first job with a paycheck was as a dishwasher in a restaurant. After college, he worked for the Akron Beacon-Journal and Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Riegsecker said he realized early on that the Internet was going to revolutionize access to information, especially in the advertising business. He set out to develop software to help companies to “efficiently and intelligently get your ad in front of the right people.”
Riegsecker led sales and strategic initiatives for start-up Internet companies, including Everstream, Cleveland.com and Ohio.com. He worked at Real Media helping ad agencies place campaigns on thousands of websites.
He founded his own company, Centro, in Chicago in 2001, intent on developing software to eliminate operating inefficiencies and to help marketers make smarter decisions. He built Centro into one of the largest providers of media operations software and managed services in the industry.
Riegsecker said Centro was founded on the idea that the “happiness of its employees is the best metric of a successful company.” This modernized approach to corporate culture and employee happiness led Centro to be No. 1 on the list of “Best Places to Work” four years in a row (2011-14) by Crain’s Chicago Business.
“Most people want to enjoy life and do great things. I set myself on a path at a very young age to do something great…spending my lifetime fixing things that we can fix,” Riegsecker said.
He said that one of his first decisions as CEO was “to instill joy and happiness into the corporate culture for Centro. The actual success of business is 100 percent dependent on the people you get to work for you. The improvement of our people and what we do as a company is critical to get there.”
“Our success depends on attracting and retaining the best people to Centro in Chicago. You don’t have to be perfect but you have to be better than the guy sitting next to you,” he said. “Your first commitment is improving yourself and getting better or you’re no value to the company.”
Growing up in a farming community taught him “the work is over when the job is done,” Riegsecker said
“The goal is to find people with the right character and right skills,” he said. “People with the wrong character are poison for your business and will drag your team down.”
“We want people to be comfortable, relaxed and creative, but professional. Be sure to tell your employees that you appreciate them,” Riegsecker recommended to about 130 local business people in attendance. “Once people feel that connection to you, it changes their whole outlook. People are the lifeblood for any business — people are No. 1, customers No. 2 and investors No. 3.”
“It’s very difficult to get a job with our company. We take our time hiring people to get to know them. I don’t care about what you’ve done. I care about who you are,” Riegsecker said.
He stated he believed in taking religion out of the workplace. However when questioned about it, he reiterated that he does believe in the principles of religion being valuable in business.
Ford Cauffiel, a retired local business owner and investor, asked Riegsecker, “Are you happy?”
“I love that question,” Riegsecker said. After giving it a moment of thought, he said, “I’m ridiculously happy.”
Cauffiel said he has been investing in and operating companies for 60 years with most of those companies of 25 employees or less and finding a niche in the market.
“We work with our people and develop them so they will become loyal employees,” Cauffiel said.
“I believe in education reform and re-invention,” Riegsecker told Cauffiel, who has supported local education by financing mentoring and tutoring programs in the local school districts.
Riegsecker said that he was 29 years old and had never been a CEO when he started Centro.
“Trying to make it through 2008 and 2009 was tough. It was hell. We were technically bankrupt at one point in early 2009,” he said.
He even admitted that his board of directors questioned whether he was capable of being CEO.
“We brought our company together and earned $78 million in revenue in 2009, $114 million in 2010, and have continued to grow since,” Riegsecker said.
“Show me the character of the CEO and executive team and that will reflect the value of the company. You have to have a long-term vision for your business and believe in your team to achieve it,” he said.
“For me, I try not to get emotionally attached. I focus on what I can control and do the best I can,” he said. “However, don’t ever mistake kindness for weakness.”
“We invited Riegsecker because he is a Northwest Ohio native who has made remarkable achievements as a young entrepreneur,” said Debbie Skutch, director of the Center for Family and Privately-Held Business.
The event also celebrated the center’s 22nd anniversary where it honored its outgoing advisory board members.