CEO Marcel Fairbairn: Hire Wisely, Move Quickly, and Simplify Everything

by Lee Polevoi

3 min read

Marcel Fairbairn is a 20-year veteran of the entertainment-lighting industry. As a teenager, Fairbairn was a singer and bass player for several Canadian heavy rock bands. At age 19, he sold musical instruments at two music stores in Calgary, and later went on to hold top management positions at several automated lighting companies.

After seeing the potential of light-emitting diode (LED) technology as a replacement for incandescent and halogen bulbs, Fairbairn left rock ‘n roll to co-found his own commercial lighting business, LED Source, specializing in full-scale evaluations and retrofits of lighting in offices, schools, churches, theaters, art galleries, restaurants, and other spaces.

When LED Source opened a franchise program in 2009, it became the first and only franchisor of LED lighting in North America. The company has grown consistently at a yearly rate of 40 percent (as measured by annual gross revenue) since its launch in 2005.

Fairbairn admits he’s made some mistakes, but his experience has led him to move quickly to expand his market and to simplify business processes wherever he can. The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with Fairbairn about the delicate art of leadership and how he positioned his business to handle rapid change.

ISBB: What leadership mistakes have you made over the years?

Fairbairn: When a person isn’t right for your company today, it’s highly unlikely this will change in the future. The employee may be a very good person, just not good for me and the business. When I know this to be true, I’ve got to move on. In the past I said, “But if I just invest more in Bob, he’ll eventually be great.” Now, when faced with this situation, I understand that I need to make smart decisions, even if they’re tough decisions.

Does letting people go get easier the more you do it?

Not always easier, but I go by what’s most important, seeking ways to improve our business. I’d like to think I’ve gotten better not only at recognizing a failed hire, but also at the willingness and speed with which I move on decisions.

You say, “Trust your people, but build-in metrics.” Can you explain?

When we hire people, I always ask my managers to apply some sort of metrics to that hire. Give him or her benchmarks and goals, and then measure the success. Numbers never lie.

How do you “simplify everything” in today’s complex work environment?

Simplifying our business is my #1 goal when I come to work each day. We’ve worked to simplify everything, from our IT, which is now entirely cloud-based (no in-house servers), and electronics (Apple computers and smartphones) to our nine-step ESP solutions selling system. If a process takes 10 minutes or five steps to complete, we want to get it down.

The final goal is improving our customer experience. People are busy. They don’t want to waste time on unnecessary steps when trying to purchase a good or service.

What concrete steps can a small-business owner take to pay better attention to what’s going on?

Obviously, you have to look at the metrics you’ve set up for your business. In my case, these aren’t just financial numbers: We look at other important numbers, including close rates and length of time to close, adopting or expanding social media, and employee and customer retention. These all tell a story!

Most importantly, pay attention to your customers. I’m not suggesting you do as they tell you, but you should listen. In many cases, they may tell you what you don’t want to hear, but if you don’t pay attention, your competitors will. By then it’s too late.

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