Lou Colameco III has always been a hard worker, growing up in family businesses focused on produce and landscaping. Working before school and after football practice, 60 hour workweeks were the norm. Concerned about nutrition, he left the family food business and started a sole proprietorship in 1996. He thought that his children were eating way too many over-processed meat products with little nutritional value. He wanted them to eat well so they could live well.
Before starting the new company, he did something monumental to his future success: for 9 months, he thought about work itself—what he liked, didn’t like, and what could be improved. For the company he was about to launch, he asked. “If I worked here what would I like, what would make me happy?” He wanted to structure the company in ways that counted to keep good employees.
He started with just a few thousand dollars, a pager, and no financing.
His philosophy was the same then as it is now: “Stay the right course and the money will come; don’t start counting before the money’s in hand.”
Building Values Into Success
Looking in the mirror every morning. Colameco asks himself, “What good can I do today?” As an entrepreneur, he sees one of his roles as helping his employees grow and better themselves. So if an employee wants to leave for a better opportunity, Colameco is OK with that.
His honesty with people translates across everyone with whom he deals. He has never lost a vendor partner but also expects the same honesty from the vendors—any one of whom can destroy Colameco’s reputation by operating improperly.
After just 18 years, the company is headed to over $100 million in sales—with only 22 employees. Those employees are engaged, committed and expend maximum discretionary effort.
As part of the hiring process, employees interview prospective candidates first and then recommend those that will fit into the culture. There are no cubicles, and every employee sits by a window.
Core values also have resulted in a green company that is eco-friendly, preserves trees when expanding buildings, uses solar panels, pays 100% of employee health insurance and contributes generously to community needs.
Many successful entrepreneurs have trouble taking advice from others—they are proud of what they have achieved and believe they know best what their company’s future needs are. Colameco is different.
As he considers his challenges in growing to the next levels of $130-150 million, he reviews his perceived weaknesses and strengths. He looks to a psychologist/business coach he has consulted for years and discusses options with others, without preconceived outcomes.
Wellshire remains competitive even as larger companies pursue their customer base. Wellshire customers are loyal because of the company’s values, integrity and solid relationships.
In Leadership Insights, Suzanne F. Kaplan, President of Talent Balance and GPSEG colleague, interviews and writes about outstanding leaders to share their stories and experiences. Although we've all probably read some of the thousands of publications on leadership, it's the personal insights that Suzanne will be capturing for our benefit.
We welcome your comments and suggestions of other CEOs and leaders, including those not well known to GPSEG, whom you would like to see featured in future columns.