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The Aha Moment: Good People

“Hire good people and give them the space to thrive.” It seems obvious, but if you’re the boss, it’s not that easy to do. Peter Janis explores why.

When Mike Hill applied for a job as Radial’s purchaser, I realized that this guy was special, so I asked him to take on the role as general manager instead. He thought about it and replied, “I will do it under one condition: I get to hire the people.” I laughed, said no problem and then asked why. He said, “Good people manage themselves. If I do my job right, you don’t need me!”

Mike was my right-hand man for 20 years and enabled me the freedom to do my job as he took care of the people. Today, the company runs well with virtually all of the staff that were there when both Mike and I retired.

Some of the most difficult hires were when we had to find people who would work closely with me. I was essentially overseeing product development, artist relations, R&D, marketing and sales. I, like anyone in my position, wanted the person who was following in my footsteps to do exactly that. As they say, if you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it! I would often start by telling new hires, “You know nothing!” In other words, learn, ask a bunch of questions and then make informed decisions before you make a move. Smart people ask questions!

I recall hiring Roc Bubel, Radial’s sales manager. Roc worked alongside me in the 1980s at TMI (Fender Canada); when TMI folded and Fender went direct, Roc took on the role of Canadian sales manager. After his long stint at Fender, I asked him if he would like to work for Radial. I know he initially felt that I was micromanaging. When I look back, my biggest concern was that Roc had only worked in Canada, while Radial was worldwide; he had no global sales experience and had never dealt with international distributors. This may have been cause for his impression. Conversely, I told Roc early on that he could hire or fire anyone he wanted. He surprised me when, after his first year, he hadn’t changed a single individual. I gave him total control of his department because I trusted his instincts. Instead of changing out staff, he nurtured them and built what is today a superb sales team.

The Aha Moment: You Are Either Growing or You Are Dying, by Peter Janis, Aug. 23, 2019

Marketing is akin to a chef flavoring a dish. You can cook chicken a thousand different ways, but in the end, you are responsible for making sure it tastes good when it hits the table. When I go to a Mexican restaurant and the chef is from someplace that’s not Mexico, I get nervous. I’ve got firsthand experience and it has not been positive.

With marketing, you have to pick a direction or a theme and go with it. In my mind, advertising is about continuity. You can hire a talented person who has successfully marketed vacuum cleaners, but they may not be able to communicate to your market until they grasp the jargon. For fun, try this at your next dinner party. Tell the folks “I miked a 335 connected to a Twin using a 58 and a 441” to see if anyone understands. You get the picture. You cannot speak “pro audio” by BSing your way through it.

I had the same concern with Jim Rhodes, who took on artist relations. Although he has a wonderful personality, I had to feel comfortable with his product knowledge. When dealing with the techs on the Rolling Stones, Sting or Lady Gaga tours, you have to be on your game. I am sure Jim initially felt that I was micromanaging him, too, but once he proved himself, it was clear sailing. He has since done incredibly well.

People are your most important asset. More to the point, good people are. Train them, and then give them the room to do their job. If people are afraid of making mistakes, they will never excel. I always invited input and suggestions and would try various ideas to see if they would result in positive outcomes. The hard part, of course, is knocking the wind out of a new staff member by telling them that we already tried that idea and it tanked. Once they have been denied, they become reluctant to make more suggestions.

The Aha Moment: Creating Demand, by Peter Janis, July 30, 2019

At one point, I decided to hire a consultant to help us take Radial to the next level. This guy had worked for a $100 million firm, and at one-tenth the size, I felt we could learn from him. I initially got a lot of pushback from management as they felt he was infringing on their turf. During his term, he brought some great suggestions to the table and helped me form some ideas that eventually increased the value of the company. One suggestion was to have weekly manager meetings. When I pushed Mike Hill, our GM, to do this, he agreed, under one condition: that Peter Janis was not invited to attend. For a control freak, this is near suicide. Mike felt that if I was in attendance, I would hijack the meeting with my agendas and limit the managers’ interaction. I agreed—I had to trust. Initially, because I was left out, I felt a certain degree of inner resentment, but in the end, this was the best move I could have made. The managers worked together to find solutions and they grew more confident with their positions. This proved to me, to the staff and to the new owners that Radial had a strong team that could run a company without me. This also gave me the freedom to travel around the globe and focus on the creative side of the business.

The story here is simple: Hire good people and then give them the space to thrive!

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