CEO's Notebook

Clothes make the man, as the saying goes, but do they also make the company? Dennis L. Speigel thinks so. The 55-year-old founder and CEO of International Theme Park Services Inc. (ITPS), a $5-million consultant to the leisure industry, has been shirt-and-tie-ing it to work since he was a 13-year-old ticket taker at Cincinnati's Coney Island, ushering thrill seekers to the amusement park's Lost River Tunnel of Love. When he founded ITPS, in 1983, he insisted that the men don ties and jackets and the women show up in dresses or suits. And although dressing down has gone mainstream in the almost two decades since then, the CEO has never tossed out his rules. "People are trusting us with plans that revolve around personal safety, so we have to portray ourselves as the businessmen and -women that we are," he says.

Speigel (who on a typical day arrives at his company's Cincinnati headquarters wearing a gray pinstripe suit, a blue shirt with French cuffs, and black alligator shoes) reluctantly agreed recently to let his 25 employees go a tad less formal on Fridays, though you wouldn't catch him personally following suit (or lack thereof). He remains a staunch believer in the maxim that employees behave more professionally when they're buttoned up. "When I'm with my banker and my attorney and my stockbroker, I want to see them in neckties. I don't want to see them in cargo pants. These are the guys whom I trust to sit at the left and right side of my business," he says.

Inc. asked people who could conceivably do business with ITPS whether the company's dress code would affect their attitude toward the business. Here's what they said:

Possible customer
Marshall Judges, executive vice-president of Zoo New England, in Boston : "I firmly believe that you have only one chance to make a first impression. When a firm is making a presentation for a proposal, how professionally it presents itself is very critical. How good the presenters look is an underlying factor in establishing trust."

Possible investor
Philippe O. Chambon, general partner of Sprout Group, with offices in Menlo Park, Calif., and New York City: "Although senior management needs to be dressed in a way that conveys credibility and leadership, I think there's a degree of casual dress that is more or less appropriate, depending on the organization, on the situation, and on age. A CEO who is dressed in a casual but too flashy way would be doing himself or herself a disservice. At the same time, if a CEO comes to work wearing a tie while the rest of the company is more casual, I'd wonder who was driving the culture."

Business psychologist
James Waldroop, in Brookline, Mass.: "I've worked with companies of all sizes; some are formal and some are not. And I'd have to say, I honestly haven't noticed a difference in work ethic based on dress. What's most important is to hire great people and to compensate them well."

CEO's Notebook

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