One Beloved Boss On What Makes A Great Leader

For one thing, having your title be Chief Big Ass sure doesn't hurt.

The stereotypical boss is mean, arrogant, cheap, and often even hateable. There is even a recently coined word that sums up this person--bosshole. As in, well, you know.

Meet the boss who defies the stereotype and sets the bar rock-star high, Big Ass Fans founder Carey Smith. First of all, how can you not like a boss who named his company Big Ass Fans and whose title is Chief Big Ass?

Kentucky based, the average wage for employees at Big Ass Fans, which makes exactly what you might think, exceeds the national average by nearly 30% and the average in the state by 50%. Smith sees paying more as not only the right thing to do but as a sound business strategy because employees are engaged and make the business more successful. Big Ass Fans (I just love saying that) expects revenues of $125 million this year, up from $34 million in 2009.

Smith on the worst boss he ever had: "I worked in the insurance and reinsurance fields in my 20s and once had a vice president tell others and me that the company could afford to pay us twice what we earned. But he said he knew we would work for less, so it didn’t bother him. It didn’t take long for me to decide I needed to start my own company, one that would show respect to employees."

While labor costs might be higher, Big Ass Fans has a much lower turnover (just 7% in 2012) and training expenses. When employees do get the itch to try something new, they often do it without ever leaving the company. Smith encourages employees to rotate into different jobs, because it gives them a broader perspective of the company, plus keeps them happy and motivated.

Best lesson Smith learned from a boss: "I sold shoes to work my way through college and worked for a manager who hardly earned more than me. Even though he had so little, he and his wife would always host lavish Thanksgiving dinners for all of the past and present employees. He reminded me of the generous Mr. Fezziwig from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, because he always looked out for all of us. I knew then that he was the sort of boss I would want to be."

Smith feels strongly about offering employees excellent pay and a challenging and rewarding work environment as well as top-tier perks, including an on-site health clinic, subsidized lunches, and a game room.

Other Big Ass perks include a giving committee through which employees determine the company’s charitable priorities; dinners at the best restaurants in the area for small groups of employees each week, and Smith’s version of a company stock-option plan that aims to make everyone rich.

One thing Smith has not been able to do as a boss but hopes to do in the future: "I would like to turn a large portion of Big Ass Fans employees into millionaires by the time they retire. Several years ago, we started the private company equivalent of a stock-option program that rewards a broader base of employees beyond what you see at publicly traded companies. The value of a person’s shares are directly tied to the value of the company, so as the company grows, so, too, does the person’s wealth. I expect the program will mint its first millionaires early next year."

Apparently Carey Smith has a big-ass heart as well.

Do you know of a Leadership Rock Star Dayna should profile? Contact Dayna with the information. Please keep it brief and she’ll be in touch.

[Image: Flickr user Pete Karl II]

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