Owner of Croft, Inc. (Acworth, GA), a full-service architecture and engineering firm that serves clients nationally in many diverse markets of the public and private sectors.
By Liisa Andreassen
Work diligently. Win together. Give abundantly. Those are the values that Croft turns to most when it comes to running his firm, Croft, Inc., on a daily basis.
“When you have [your] goals figured out, share them with others,” Croft says. “It helps to keep you accountable. You also have to have perseverance; it’s not always going to be easy. Finally, care for others and show it. I’ve learned that people and relationships are what matter most. It’s not just about being technically good at what you do.”
A conversation with Jim Croft.
The Zweig Letter: In the company video on your website, you say, “We’re making a difference.” Give me an example of how the firm has recently made a difference in a client’s life.
Jim Croft: Service goes beyond profitability. We make being good stewards and giving back a part of each year’s annual plan. It’s built into the fabric of who we are and what we do. You have to be intentional with your time, money, and energy. For example, for the last eight years we’ve thrown a “Steak Out” cookout for the Acworth Police Department. We want them to know that they’re more than just a client to us. They’re people we appreciate deeply. The Atlanta Humane Society is also a client and we helped them to design their new corporate facility. Many of us have adopted pets from them, so when the pandemic hit, we felt there might be some folks who would have difficulty taking care of their pets. Our office collected enough food, toys, and other pet supplies to fill two truckloads. You have to let clients know you see them as more than clients; they’re people we truly care about too.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
JC: It’s not that complicated. First, you need to know what you’re doing technically. Next, do what you say you’re going to do. Communicate clearly. It’s imperative. Be trustworthy in the small things. If you say you’re going to call at a certain time, call. If you say you’re going to complete something by a certain date, do it. Admit it if you drop the ball and also tell the client you need more from them if that’s the case. All these things help to build trust and relationships. Be up front about everything.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
JC: We’re all in pursuit of that elusive balance. Again, this is something you need to be intentional about. I am lucky to love what I do, but I don’t want to do it all the time. One day, I decided to write my priorities down. Work came in at number five. I keep this list on my desk and look at it daily. Work is what I do; family is why I do it. Write it down and say it out loud.
TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
JC: There are a few – good attitude, confidence, ability to focus, and clarity of goals top the list. And when you have those goals figured out, share them with others. It helps to keep you accountable. You also have to have perseverance; it’s not always going to be easy. Finally, care for others and show it. I’ve learned that people and relationships are what matter most. It’s not just about being technically good at what you do.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
JC: A servant leader. I’m passionate, driven, focused, and probably talk too much. I’m in constant pursuit of excellence, not perfection. I’m trustworthy and care about people. I make mistakes and don’t listen enough. I believe that we should love one another – even in business.
TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?
JC: We have significant matching on employee 401(k)s. People really appreciate that. We also have a very competitive benefits package and make time for fun. We provide catered, company-wide lunches on Tuesdays and there’s always something new. We have food trucks visit a few times a year to spread joy around along with burgers, ice cream, and snow cones. A staff member recently came up with the idea for “Croftober.” Each day during the month of October, there’s something to get involved in from pumpkin carving contests to costume events.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?
JC: Create an environment where people thrive and help them to grow professionally. We meet with everyone on a quarterly basis to find out how things are going. We listen and ask questions. We have external lunch and learns with purposeful agendas. Twice a month we have Croft University. All position levels are invited to join in based on their interest and topics range from technical skills and soft skills to leadership. We have Croft employees teach the courses and develop in-house subject matter experts. It’s so rewarding to see a 20-something employee realize that they know more than they think they did. It’s all about building confidence in others.
TZL: Taking ownership is part of your mission. It means you do whatever it takes to deliver for your clients. Can you illustrate this dedication with a real-life scenario?
JC: There’s one in particular that comes to mind. We were doing a complicated project for a client and it was evident that the contractor on the job was not going to meet a hard deadline of Phase One of the project. We told the client that for no additional cost we were going to add two senior level staff members to the project to help meet the deadline. As a result, the contractor was able to pick up some speed and we hit the deadline on the head. Even the contractor could not believe we stepped in like that. As a result, the relationship with the client and the contractor strengthened. It’s about putting relationships ahead of dollars and playing the long game.
TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.
JC: We have a leadership team of seven that meets every Monday for 90 minutes. Change management is always addressed. We have a scorecard and we get pluses and minuses for work done, or not done. We talk about things like recruiting, teammates, and clients. We have two types of tasks – to dos (short-term) and rocks (big initiatives, long-term). We grade ourselves and the meeting each time. It’s rewarding and helps to keep us all on track. We identify, discuss, and solve issues each week.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
JC: Maintain the culture as the company grows. Give people reasons to stay. Share your vision constantly. Pay people well. Have fun on purpose. Celebrate victories and lessons learned. Give people the tools they need to get the job done. Show people you care through action, not just words.