Even the hardiest of CEOs would wilt at the prospect of expanding a company 10-fold in one summer. But not Neal Waldman. He does it every year.
Waldman, 46, is CEO of Musiker Discovery Programs, a $15-million company in Roslyn, N.Y., that runs summer study programs for teenagers. Each June, Musiker's payroll puffs from 40 to 400 employees, who work in dormitories on seven college campuses. Waldman waits for the students to leave and then outfits the dorm rooms from scratch in a few furious days. After 15 years at the 37-year-old company, Waldman has got the summer swell down to a science. Instead of a week, it now takes his teams only two to five days to set up an office. Start-ups, companies that are relocating, and seasonal businesses can all learn from Waldman's experience. "It's all about planning," says the understated CEO.
Lesson 1: Research. Waldman stores fax machines, monitors, projectors, and textbooks during the year. Several years ago his staffers arrived on a Saturday to set up an office, only to find the storage facility closed for the weekend. "When you're running a six- or nine-week program, minutes are like hours," Waldman says. He lost two whole days. Now he researches storage facilities to make sure they're open 24-7. In areas where no storage companies are open on weekends, he has staff members arrive on the preceding Friday.
Lesson 2: Network. Waldman grew frustrated with five successive copy-machine vendors in Los Angeles because none of them wanted to rent in short intervals. He widened his circle until he found a company that rented out copiers for temporary offices on film shoots. That vendor was happy to help him.
Lesson 3: Stay in touch. Ideally, Musiker's offices should keep the same phone numbers from year to year. But as Waldman discovered, phone companies often toss inactive customer data after six months. To guarantee that the phone and Internet hookups will be just the way he wants them in June, Waldman keeps in touch with the service providers throughout the year.
Lesson 4: Send in advance teams. "Years ago we realized that although we had the orders in place and we expected the phones to be there, if we weren't there managing the installation, it wouldn't necessarily happen," says the CEO. Now Waldman flies a team to each campus to oversee everything from unloading the warehouse to supervising the communications installations.
The Quotable Entrepreneur
"I'm hoping we can create a balanced life in which we'll be aggressive with our imaginations but conservative with our emotions. There has to be a way to create a better life but not be overtaken by greed."
--Vernon Tirey, CEO of Dialogos Inc., a $17-million Boston-based company that specializes in customer relationship management
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