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From Southern California Entrepreneurs

Delegating Means Letting Go to Let Firm Grow

January 14, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | Karen E. Klein is a freelance writer

Lawrence Barraza had an engineering degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a dream job: developing the flight simulator for the B-2 stealth bomber. But in 1988, he and a co-worker, Richard Weeks, founded their own company with $1,250 in savings. For the first two years, the pair worked from their homes at night while they held day jobs. Ten years later, Symvionics has employees working in six states and is ranked 396th on Hispanic Business magazine's list of the 500 largest Latino-owned companies. It recently received the U.S. secretary of defense's Nunn-Perry award. Barraza was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

*

When we first started out, I decided to try something that has had a very positive, significant impact on our business to this day. I made appointments with the CEOs of half a dozen aerospace companies that had started small, really expecting that maybe one would actually talk to me.

Surprisingly, every one of them gave me three or four hours of time, telling me the trials and tribulations of their businesses. I just listened and took notes.

Four of those CEOs stayed in contact with our company and two have become very good friends. One is currently teaming up with us on a multimillion-dollar contract we're working on for the Navy.

They all said that as our company grew, we would have to change our management style. From start-up to 40 or 50 employees, my partner and I could run the company ourselves. Then, around 70 employees, they recommended that we get a management line established. They also said that we would have to put in more management levels as the company grew to 150 or 200 people.

At the time, those were just words. But by 1995, we hit the brick wall and I had to realize that with 60 or 70 employees I simply couldn't handle programs, human resources, finances, accounting and administration by myself anymore.

It's extremely difficult to take everything you've worked so hard to build and delegate it. You can bring on a manager and give him a title, but not truly share the issues with him. It's when you actually start letting these managers set their own priorities and do tasks on their timetables that you know you're really delegating.

By the middle of 1995, we hired a controller. The next year, we hired a human resources manager. The most difficult area for me to relinquish absolute control of was programs, which is the heart of our company. We brought in a program manager in 1995, and since I am very conservative I had him work just on his program for about 14 months. He did very well and offered up ideas on other programs. By 1996, we made him vice president for programs. Now, he and I share the program duties.

We are currently looking for a vice president of operations. When we fill that position, I will consider our company to be a complete corporate entity. As business owners and founders, my partner and I won't have to wear all kinds of hats anymore. That's part of the payoff of starting your own company. You wear all the hats out of necessity, so when you get big enough to bring in an expert to handle each particular area, you have learned enough about it yourself to keep a handle on it all.

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AT A GLANCE

* Company: Symvionics Inc.

* Owner: Lawrence Barraza

* Nature of business: Engineering products and services for the aerospace industry

* Location: 3280 East Foothill Blvd., Suite 200, Pasadena.

* Year founded: 1988

* Number of employees: 105

* Annual sales: $10 million

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