THE BUSNESS: Big Ass Fans designs, engineers, and manufactures fans for homes, schools, hotels, stadiums, and many other commercial and industrial facilities.
ANNUAL SALES: $125 million
LOCATION: Based in Lexington, KY
OTHER VITALS: A team of 40 engineers drives innovation; the company holds 93 patents, with another 144 pending. It also has the world's only R&D lab devoted to testing large-diameter fans.
A special Build supplement in the December 2013 issue of Inc. magazine.
To make the best possible hires, it’s critical to know what traits you’re looking for in job candidates — and to be sure that whoever you think you want can deliver what your company actually needs.
One company that gets this right is Big Ass Fans, a $125 million manufacturer of residential, commercial, and industrial fans. Founded in 1999, the company now employs 445 people. Founder Carey Smith still oversees operations.
In his (completely serious) role as Chief Big Ass, Smith is large and in charge: He acts as both the company’s CEO and culture czar. He works hard to hire people who are in line with BAF’s value system, which we’ll describe as fun-but-don’t-mess-with-us.
Smith is particularly interested in employing people who possess two specific personality traits: curiosity and positivity. Don’t all companies want those traits? you ask. Maybe. But what separates BAF from the pack is its ability to screen for them, reinforce them via training and culture, and maximize their impact. Perhaps as a result, the company is experiencing breakneck growth — its revenues have more than doubled in the past three years.
Smith recently shared a few insights into his screening and retention strategies.
Screen for curiosity.
Just because his organization reveres engineering and hands-on skills (making, testing, fixing) doesn’t mean that college time spent studying the classics is irrelevant. Quite the opposite. “Some of our best people are English majors,” he says. “A liberal arts degree is a good thing. You’re looking for people [who] are naturally curious, who want to know why. I love engineers; they’re great. But with liberal arts majors, if they’re really engaged and they really studied, they’re curious.”
Screen for positivity.
Job candidates usually wear a smile, but Smith strives to pierce the veil. “I will say, ‘It’s not going to be a conventional interview,’” he explains. “I try to make them uncomfortable. I try to make sure we push the boundaries. I might ask, ‘Why did you leave that place? That’s a good company. What the heck were you thinking?’” The impression Smith most wants to make is that BAF, for all its cheeky nicknames and self-mocking YouTube videos (posted under the username Fanny the Donkey), is a serious place to work and slackers will not be tolerated.
Reinforce values via training.
Most new hires start on the industrial rather than the commercial/residential side, because the primary contacts tend to be maintenance supervisors who know what they want and aren’t shy about demanding it. Learn to make them happy and you are well on your way to becoming a strong contributor.
Reinforce values via culture.
Watch the YouTube video “Because Not Everyone Is a Big Ass Fan” and you’ll see what we mean. It underscores Smith’s belief in pushing boundaries, and also illustrates the “play hard” side of the company’s “work hard, play hard” mantra.
BAF is hardly the first or only company to tout a work-hard, play-hard culture. But it’s not easy to foster this type of atmosphere, especially if key employees work remotely. For some useful advice, read the August blog post “How to Foster a Work-Hard, Play-Hard Culture With Blended Teams” at oDesk.com.