My name: Jeff Walter
My company: Latitude CG
My title: CEO
My location: Saline, Michigan
Best business advice I ever received: I have received a lot of good advice. Here are some highlights:
- Cash is the lifeblood of a company. Most businesses fail because they are squeezed for cash. Mismanaging cash flow is the number-one killer of businesses.
- Take care of your employees. “They” say that as CEO, your job is to take care of the customer, but I firmly believe that begins and ends with your treatment of your own staff. If you take care of your staff, they’ll take care of your customers.
- Don’t be afraid to fire a customer. I’m completely serious, and this goes back to the importance of taking care of your employees. Some customers, regardless of their profitability, can suck the life out of your organization because they are abusive to your staff. If a customer’s behavior is out of line, speak up. Clients that behave rudely and demoralize your staff are not clients worth keeping.
- Don’t confuse selling with staffing. Opportunities often present themselves that your organization can’t deliver on. Many managers will dismiss them; however these seemingly “one-off” opportunities are really signals of emerging market needs. If you get the right people and create the right culture, you’ll be able to deliver on any opportunity. It might take people out of their comfort zones, but it often leads to future growth.
Most daring personal career move: Leaving a growing, successful consulting firm where I built a large practice, and moving my family halfway across the country to Michigan to be a part of the dot-com revolution. Within six months of my arrival, that bubble burst. Within two years, we had laid off 95 percent of the office. On the face of it, it was not a good career move. However, as the dust settled I was afforded the opportunity to spin off the office, and Latitude was born. Fifteen years later, we’ve quadrupled in size and are going strong.
What I’m most proud of: I will divide that into two categories.
Personal: My biggest personal accomplishment has been raising two wonderful daughters. Both are in their 20s now, and they are amazing human beings.
Professional: I’m very proud to have built a company that treats its staff with dignity and respect. It allows them to earn a living while being able to do life-affirming work in an environment they enjoy being a part of. That is so important to me. People can be productive, earn a good living, and have their souls enriched at the same time. When they leave the workplace, that positive energy follows them wherever they go. It has a direct and beneficial impact on their interpersonal interactions, and it helps to improve every other aspect of their lives. Work doesn’t feel like work when you enjoy what you do. I’m proud to have created an environment where employees can earn their daily bread in a manner that’s positive and life affirming.
Current workplace challenge: Every successful business’s formula is based upon three things: great product, great processes, and great people. We have all three. Over the last couple of years we’ve successfully transitioned from an IT (information technology) consulting firm to a software company. (The CG in our name, Latitude CG, stood for Consulting Group.) Now we need to inform the world in order to ramp up our sales. We have the product, the process, and the people; the current challenge is figuring out how to share that product, and our whole ecosystem, with the rest of the planet.
Something people don’t know about me: When I was 19 and in college—and without telling anyone—a couple of friends and I decided to go skydiving. I had never even been in a plane before. My first jump was a tethered solo jump; not a tandem jump like it is today. Then you were on your own. About 30 feet from the plane, your chute automatically opened.
We went through a few hours of instruction beforehand where they told us what to do in case it didn’t open and how to position our bodies during the jump. We were taught to arch our backs with our stomachs out in order to stay face-down until the chute filled with air. We practiced by jumping off of picnic tables, but that doesn’t give you the full effect of what a jump is really like.
After the chute deploys, it takes about 30 seconds to fill with air. Instead of counting to 30 after I jumped, all I could hear inside my head was “Arch, arch, arch, arch, arch, ARCH!” until I felt the reassuring tug of the chute.
I was sailing through the sky thinking, “This is cool; this is awesome; I’m going to live.” As I got closer to the landing zone, I realized that the guy on the ground with the bullhorn guiding me down safely was actually a young kid. On the ride back, I learned that the 12-year-old who directed us to the landing zone was also the person who packed our chutes. (I’m sure it was under his parents’ supervision; at least, I hope so.)
This experience became a running joke for the next two years because I didn’t fly on a commercial plane until I was 21. When people would ask if I’d ever flown, I’d reply, “Well, I’ve taken off, but I never landed.”
While I haven’t gone skydiving since, fortune often favors the bold and you never know what you’re capable of until you try.