How One Company Used Project-Mania to Propel Its Success
Emkay wants to reach $1 billion in annual revenue within a decade. That's a big number for a company with fewer than 200 full-time employees. The fleet-management company provides truck leasing, maintenance, and other services to clients including Peet's Coffee & Tea, HarperCollins Publishers, and Diageo. Emkay, founded in 1946, has enjoyed a recent growth spurt: Revenue has tripled in the past 10 years, to nearly $600 million. CEO Greg Tepas explains how that happened.
Last year, you launched Project Emkay, which was an umbrella term for 80 projects that the company tackled simultaneously. Why the Big Bang approach to getting things done?
In 2011, we had a lot of technology projects we wanted to get done to take the company to the next level. We grouped 21 customer-facing ones together and called that Project Blackjack, and we grouped 11 internal projects together and called that "11 in '11." That really helped us get a lot done in a short time, so last year we decided to do a themed approach to projects again. That's how we came up with Project Emkay.
Thirty-two IT projects sounds like a lot, but 80 projects sounds insane. What was the reaction when you announced the plan?
Initially, there was some trepidation, some hesitancy. People said, "This sounds like a lot!" But we held an all-day off-site with our executive team and our managers, and by the end of the day, everyone was excited about it.
How did you pull that off?
Once managers saw that it wasn't just a case of work being delegated to them, but that they were integral to the effort, that they would help determine what we'd do and how we'd do it, they bought in. In the past, we would simply assign initiatives to senior executives. This approach gets people involved at all levels. In fact, managers said, "This is the kind of empowerment we've been asking for." Getting them involved at the start made all the difference.
How many of the 80 projects were completed?
Fifty-seven. Another 15 morphed into larger projects that we'll complete this year, and eight others were either abandoned or postponed.
Project Emkay isn't nearly as catchy as Project Blackjack. What is the theme behind it?
Many of the projects were focused on talent management and skills development. We developed a new customer-service training program that every single employee has taken, and a new professional-development program that 65 percent of our workers have signed on for. Project Emkay also gave some people a chance to show that they could do far more than their roles allowed, so they were promoted. We also had several projects devoted to our international operations, and we created a great app for our sales team.
So what's the project theme for 2014?
Well, I will say that though Project Emkay started with a full head of steam, it lost some momentum as the year went on. The number of projects we took on was a bit lofty, so we're taking a little breather right now. But we will come up with something new later this year.
Would you recommend this approach to other companies?
I think it can work for anyone, because it's really no different than any other form of goal setting. If you can think up a goal and get people to buy into it, the sky is the limit. You accomplish a lot more with a big group of people swimming in the same direction than with people going off in different directions.
Scott Leibs is executive editor of Inc. magazine, where he oversees the Lead and Build sections while also handling a range of other writing and editing duties for the magazine, website, and custom publishing projects. He is a former editor in chief of CFO magazine and a former senior editor for InformationWeek, and has written for many other publications, including The Economist and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a graduate of Emerson College, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts.