Michael Stevens: So how did [Toth & Associates] begin?
Adam Toth: My dad started a company in 1978. It grew to about 50 people, and he sold it in 2001. In October of 2003 his non-compete ended, and I was graduating in May 2004. I was looking at Masters in Engineering or law school, and I remember the phone call. I called him up and said, “How about we start a company instead?” We started doing business on January 1st on my Christmas Break at our kitchen table.
M.S.: Well something is working. You have upwards of 170 people currently on payroll and I saw that you had offices in Oregon. So what’s the secret to your success?
A.T.: Here is the key and it sounds so simple, and so cliché, but it’s true: “Do what you said you were going to do.” You are better than 90% if you just do what you said you were going to do. In this day and age where people are busy, where there is a shortage of workers, people are missing deadlines left and right. And if you just show up and do what you said you were going to do... People are so happy with that.
M.S.: There must be some tension there. Because the sales side wants to close a deal and they make promises but you have to deliver.
A.T.: In consulting engineering you don’t necessarily have a big sales team. Some companies do but I don’t think it’s very efficient. We sell people. We sell a service. And so if a salesperson comes in and you really get along with that salesperson and you sign them as a client and you never talk to that person again, that’s not building a relationship. So our VPs, or me, close the deals. Then we are the ones that deliver on the product. We don’t have a sales team out there overpromising. If I tell someone we are going to do it, we are going to do it.
M.S.: Anything else?
A.T.: We also say yes. A lot. We have to be able to do what our clients need us to do. If we tell them “No we are too busy” and they go hire someone else for a job they may never come back. We really focus on building that relationship with the client. We’re in it for the long run. I’ve been in client meetings where I’ve been working for that client longer than anybody at the table... That’s where we can really provide value. We are a long-term partner.
M.S.: You talked a lot about “people first.” Unpack that.
A.T.: The example I give is if Apple lost half of its employees they still own the iPhone; they own all their patents. They can go hire a bunch of Stanford grads and no one will even know anything changed. We don’t own any patents. All we have is our people. Our product is our people. We have to lead with our people first because if we lost half of our people we lose half our business. We lose half our relationships. Our people are key.
M.S.: How do you keep low turnover?
A.T.: I have four kids. If there is a tough situation that comes up, I ask myself “How would I want an employer to treat one of my four kids?” And that is what we do 99% of the time. The other one percent is when legal says we cannot do that.