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The Secrets of Their Success

Five local Baldrige Award winners- from a car dealer to a college president- share the wisdom of their winning ways.
By  |
photography by Elizabeth Lavin

The Secrets of Their Success

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The Baldrige Award might as well move its headquarters to Dallas. Since its inception in 1988, the president has handed out 68 awards for quality and performance. Twelve of those 68 trophies have gone to Texas companies and 10 to organizations that call Dallas home. By far, we have the highest concentration of Baldrige winners of any city in the country.

Named for the late Secretary of Commerce, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award celebrates excellence and quality in the manufacturing, service, education, and health care
industries. The application process can be a grueling one: a 50-page self-assessment report and an extensive site visit. Judges look at leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; human resource focus; process management; and business results. [For more information on the Baldrige Awards and how to apply, visit]

In the knowledge-sharing spirit of the Baldrige Awards, DallasCEO asked five local recipients about the lessons they’ve learned in customer satisfaction, employee management, and business success.

[inline_image id=”1″ align=”” crop=””]Kenneth Schnitzer
Founder and CEO, Park Place Lexus
Year: 2005
Category: Small Business
The organization: Park Place Motorcars has expanded from a single Mercedes-Benz retailer in 1987 to an 11-dealership luxury car conglomerate. Thanks to a strong focus on customer service, Park Place’s Lexus branch—with two locations in Plano and Grapevine—consistently ranks among the top Lexus dealerships in the nation in terms of client satisfaction. It is the only car dealership to have won a Baldrige.

“We’ve never looked at our business as just an auto dealership. I’ve always said that we are in the customer-service business. We empower our employees to handle any customer issue at the first point of contact. We work to build relationships with our customers. They expect a lot from us, and we focus on meeting and exceeding their expectations. We not only ask for our clients’ feedback, but we do something with it. And we ask our employees for feedback, too. We have 50-50 meetings: a member from each department meeting with a manager from each organization on how to improve. We’re good listeners.”

[inline_image id=”2″ align=”” crop=””] Dr. Stephen Mittelstet
President, Richland College
Year: 2005
Category: Education
The organization: Since 1972, Richland College—the first community college to receive a Baldrige—has helped its students meet a variety of educational goals. The two-year school served 6,000 continuing education students in 2005 as well as 14,000 for-credit students, almost half of whom continued on to four-year Texas universities. 

“Whole people are the most productive people. The whole human being includes more than just the physical and the mind. In public education, there’s been this misunderstanding that the mind is all we should be about. But if all you’re about is working the mind, then you’re not paying attention to the whole person. And whole people have a soul. That’s where the passion comes from. That’s where the excitement comes from.

“If someone is trying their best and it doesn’t work and they get punished, they get fearful. And fearful people check their soul at home. They show up and they go through the motions. Encourage people to do unusual things, things that haven’t been done before. Set a culture that says, ‘If you try it and it doesn’t work, celebrate it. Learn from it and share that learning with everybody else so that we don’t keep doing that thing that doesn’t work, and then try something else.’

“Bring whole people in. Nurture them. Challenge them. Then get out of their way.”

[inline_image id=”3″ align=”” crop=””]Jo Ann Brumit
CEO and Chairman, KARLEE Company
Year: 2000
Category: Manufacturing
The organization: KARLEE began as a single-mill garage shop in 1974 and is now a contract provider of integrated manufacturing services for the telecommunications, semiconductor, aerospace, and medical equipment industries. In 2001, KARLEE survived a market decline and dramatic downsizing and reemerged in 2004 as the seventh-largest woman-owned business in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, according to the Dallas Business Journal.

“We decided that the word ‘employee’ was bad. That means you work for someone—you’re not part of something. But if you’re a team member, you collectively work on something to make it successful. It’s all about caring for one another. We take care of our team members’ families as well. If their family is happy and well cared for, they’re going to be happier and more focused.

“Many times you hear about CEOs moving themselves off to the side, and they’re only involved with strategy. But I think a CEO has to be engaging with everyone. To be a leader, you have to have followers. And to have followers, you have to make people believe in you and trust you. They have to see you, and you have to lead by example. Trust is built through engagement and by doing what you say.”

[inline_image id=”4″ align=”” crop=””]David Branch
President and CEO, Branch-Smith Printing
Year: 2002
Category: Small Business
The organization: A fourth-generation family-owned company, Branch-Smith Printing designs, prints, binds, and distributes a wide range of multiple-page publications. Despite having fewer than 100 employees, Branch-Smith has continually thrived in the highly competitive printing industry, earning more than $13 million in sales in 2005.

“Most companies have annual evaluations of their employees, but we have a biweekly evaluation of every employee in the company with their supervisor about how they’re doing and what we expect. Certainly it takes a lot of time and work, but the payoff is that you’ve got people who understand what you expect from them. Everyone understands where they fit in.

“We’re clear about having values so that our customers know we’ll be fair. We’re focused on accountability. We constantly work at that. We want to understand where we’re falling down, because we know that if we’re not growing, we won’t be able to create opportunities.”

[inline_image id=”5″ align=”” crop=””]Dale Crownover
CEO, Texas Nameplate Company
Year: 1998 & 2004
Category: Small Business
The organization: With just around 50 employees, Texas Nameplate Company is the smallest company to receive a Baldrige and the only small business to win twice. Founded in 1946, TNC specializes in producing industrial nameplates and identification tags that are durable enough to survive harsh environment conditions.

“People rarely mess up. If something goes wrong, it’s usually not the person but the process that needs to be changed. We let people make mistakes. We’re all human. We take care of each other. We have a sense of humor about things. When someone comes in with a problem, we always ask them, ‘Did somebody die?’ Because as long as no one died, it’s not that bad. We can fix it.

“My father taught me this: when times get tough, keep the people. If you have to show a loss, show a loss. People are an investment. Treat the people you work with with respect. If you’re going to be a bad guy, be a bad guy every day. At least be consistent. Be a leader, not a manager. Be honest.”

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