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How to survive hypergrowth.

When Campbell Services closed its books at the end of 1992, revenues were up--by an eye-popping 230%. In 1991, Campbell had booked $1,646,691 in sales for OnTime, its personal scheduling program; in 1992, a newly-introduced LAN version helped boost revenues to $5,431,387. "We kind of lucked out," admits founder Don Campbell, who says his sales strategy consisted primarily of "hiring a lot of talented direct sales people to call on major corporations."

But as OnTime sales grew, Campbell found that hypergrowth could be a mixed blessing. "We were always straining at the limits. We grew from 30 people to 80--that's hiring a person a week. At the same time, we were trying to stay on top of an incredible number of technologies, and trying to decide about big new opportunities. Sometimes I felt like I was walking through a swamp on a log, with quicksand on one side and crocodiles on the other."

Campbell says the company survived the strains of growth primarily because he "stuck tenaciously to a few core beliefs":

* Don't try to do everything: "We're still a little company, so we have to bet the farm on fewer opportunities than we'd like," says Campbell. "One of the lessons I've learned is to say No to most things--so I can say Yes to the right things."

* Flush bureaucracy out of the business: "At one point, a lot of our energy was going into bureaucratic thinking," Campbell says. "We had managers who were making things more complicated than they had to be, and setting up procedures based on job descriptions rather than what customers needed from us. I finally had to step in and say that if our procedures don't accommodate customers, we have to change the procedures."

* Hire self-motivated people: Because the company was hiring so many new employees, Campbell says he made a point of recruiting "people who could manage themselves." Once hired, employees are encouraged to take on as much responsibility as possible--"and we also give them a chance to screw up without getting fired."

* Don't spend money until you collect it: Although sales tripled in 1992, says Campbell, "our expenses also increased, almost penny for penny." In addition, "we did a couple of big deals with retailers and found products back at our door three months later." To avoid overextending the company, Campbell generally wouldn't proceed with expensive projects unless he already had cash in hand. "Those can be very tough decisions, but it's too easy to fool yourself about how well you're doing on paper."

* Preserve your credibility: During 1992, Campbell invested $1.4 million in product marketing, primarily for trade shows and advertising, to make sure OnTime looked like a market leader. But Campbell insists that the company's reputation is equally important. "How do you compete with the likes of Microsoft?" he asks. "You compete by building good relationships. When you tell a customer you're going to ship a product on Friday, you do it, no matter what it takes."

* Solicit outside advice: "I'm lucky," says Campbell, "because I have two board members who know nothing about the PC software business, but who always give me good advice about the company. There were times when I got carried away by listening to internal discussions, until my board members made me focus on outside reality. The minute you think you know all the answers, you're in trouble."

Donald Campbell, president, Campbell Services Inc., 21700 Northwestern Highway, Southfield, Mich. 48075; 313/559-5955.
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Title Annotation:Campbell Services Inc. case study
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Apr 30, 1993
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