Leadership Lessons: Chris Kujawa

Features - Leadership Lessons

Catching up with Chris Kujawa, Executive Vice President of Kujawa Enterprises, from the Leadership Class of 2008.

September 17, 2010

Chris Kujawa. Photo: Rafal KrolikWhat have you been up to since you won your Leadership Award in 2008?
What we’ve been doing since the fall of ’08 is weathering this recession. We’re trying to make ourselves more viable and ingrained with the client. We’re getting back to the basics. It’s a little bit different way to have to operate – really getting in touch with all our clients and making sure the relationships are solid and stable.

Relationships have always been important, but in times like these they’re even more important.  Clients aren’t unwilling to spend the money, but they really got to know that they have to have someone looking out for them.  They’re counting on us to do more and be more.

What key issues are you paying close attention to right now?
I think health care is the number one. In my mind, there’s no bigger issue than health care reform and where it’s going and how we’re going to get there. The smaller guys are really going to have an advantage. It’s not going to affect them as much until you get to companies our size – they’re going to get hit the hardest. One estimate showed that we might be in for a $200,000 hit that could be as high as $250,000. I don’t know where this president thinks he’s going with this but it’s crazy.

I don’t see immigration reform hitting the books anytime soon. Border security could have an impact on what happens with the Hispanic labor force. We have not had any problems hiring people. We’ve kept everybody we wanted to keep. By taking care of your employees, you should be able to keep your own house tidy and things will go well for you.

Aside from that, energy costs are something to keep an eye on. Right now we’re in a recession, but if energy prices were through the roof we’d be hurting bad.

What advice would you give yourself when you started your company based on what you know now?
Spend more time trying to teach others so you can sort of let go. Teach others so you can concentrate on doing some of the bigger picture items faster in your career.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received – and who was it from?
There’s a couple different things rolled into a philosophy. One is, be an expert. Truly be an expert in what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to have a Ph.D., but know what you’re talking about. Don’t try to bullshit your way through things.

The second thing is always look after someone’s best interest. If you look at the client’s best long-term interest, you’re going to be more valuable. We’re looking at things from a long-term standpoint. Treat your clients like you’d treat your family and friends. Taking a long-term approach has been the best in my book.

What’s your take on business technology? What tools or piece of technology can you not live without?
I think technology keeps moving along and it’s more about the pace of communication. I just looked at an iPad and I think that’s gonna be next on my list. Obviously smartphones and GPS tracking technology are important.  Digital imaging is something I don’t think everybody’s fully used. The latest is being able to measure a site from satellite. It certainly gives you a leg-up, time wise.

Where do you think the industry will be in 2020?
It’s hard to say. It’s evolved quite a bit from the old days. I think consolidation of services is on the rise. I see more vertical revenue streams with clients – in other words, doing more. You have to make yourself more valuable to the client. There are ways to imbue yourself further into the fabric of another company and make yourself more vital and valuable.

You may find yourself having large companies and very small companies. We’re not a ValleyCrest or a Brickman; we’re big in our market, but we’re still a small fish. Depending on healthcare or government regulations, we could find ourselves in a position that’s hard and harder.

What advice do you have for people in leadership positions?
The number one thing is to actually be a leader. Understand what being a leader means. A manager is by definition just that – they have an adherence to the status quo. Be a leader. Think outside the box; understand the bigger picture. Sometimes you need to stand back to see that picture.

Winston Churchill always said leaders need to be three things. A student of history – you need to understand where you been, what got you there, what happened and how all those things come together. You need to be a scientist. You need to study, above all things, demographics – the science of people and their habits. Be a soldier – take that information and go forth and do something with it for the greater good.

That’s being the leader. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun, but it’s necessary and people will respect you. Even a lot of times if you make a wrong decision people will respect the process of taking a risk.