A Good Take

When Chris Mills combines business and pleasure he generally goes whole hog -- unless he's decided to focus only on the ribs or a shoulder.

We're talking barbecue -- competitive barbecue. Mills, 36, is co-owner of TSSI Global, an 18-employee software consulting company in Owensboro, Ky. But half a dozen weekends a year he brandishes tongs and a basting brush instead of a laptop and a PDA. Mills is head honcho of the Flying Pigs, whose 23-foot-long trailer is emblazoned with a logo of, well, you can guess. Mills and his 13-member crew arrive on-site, unfurl a big awning, set up their tables and chairs and decorative picket fence, unpack the spice box, and start seasoning 700 pounds of meat. Mills relaxes by staying up all night tending the coals, commanding his team, and taking deep drafts of his favorite aroma on the planet, the smokiness of slowly roasting pork.

Clever, indeed, this 180-degree escape from his company, for without compromising the pleasures of his avocation, Mills manages some first-rate client time, though no one does anything you'd call work. In May he typically invites friends as well as a couple dozen clients to Memphis to barbecue's three-day equivalent of the Super Bowl. There Mills is not only a host but a competitor, showcasing his fork-tender pork for judges and guests, and his team-building skills and joie de vivre for attentive clients. "I think one of the keys to sales is opening up a customer to something you like to do," he says.

The view from the other side of the grill is similar. "Any time you get away from across the desk and meet people on a different one-to-one -- in his case, flippin' ribs -- it's a better bond," says Mike Small, president of Corporate Design, in Evansville, Ind., who, after an untold number of ribs, decided to do business with Mills's company. "You see his work ethic and organizational skills. He does a great job with the Flying Pigs."

Let others forge client bonds striding down verdant fairways in pastel colors. Give Chris Mills a rack of ribs and a sauce-stained apron any day.

The Inc Life

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