A conversation with a leader

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 1:00am

Don Leyrer

President and CEO

Mailnet Services Inc. an Internet marketing firm, helps businesses deliver direct mail and electronic messages via e-mail and fax through its online marketing campaigns service Mailnet Express.

1. How do you prepare to make a tough decision?

I usually solicit input from people who will be impacted by the decision and weigh that versus my judgment and then make the decision. Doing the necessary spadework to build consensus before you make the decision is the hard part; the rest is follow-through. People want to come to work and feel they made a contribution today, even if you don't ultimately take their recommendation.

2. Business is loaded with risk. How do you balance risk with potential reward?

I'm conservative by nature, though you wouldn't think that by my being in a startup business. I try to take things down to where they aren't as risky because you've done the homework. To me, risk is doing something and not really having figured out how to execute it.

Inside Info
Hometown: Swathmore, Pa., near Philadelphia
Date of Birth: Oct. 2, 1952
Education: Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio
First Job: House parent for emotionally disturbed and abused children
Dream Job, after this one: Whatever job I'm in
Last Charitable Act: Participating through my church in Nashville's Room At The Inn program for the homeless and also donating Christmas gifts to needy children through our Good Works committee here at the company.

3. Who do you turn to for advice?

My coworkers, my wife and I pray. We're not operating in a vacuum, so I've always believed that working together as a team can get much better results than working individually. Taking advantage the combination of talents and ideas is a lot more effective than being out on your own.

4. How do you instill your organization's values into everyday operations?

First of all, you have to agree on those values. It's easier when everyone can identify them and use them as guideposts. There's been a lot of abuse of power out there in the business world, so part of being a good example is to use what you have wisely.

5. What's the last thing you do before leaving?

I'd like to tell you it's 'get organized for the next day,' but it's not something I can say I do religiously. Typically, I call my wife to tell her 'I'm on my way home.'

6. How do you know when to ask for help on a problem or task?

Again, I usually seek input on any task that might have impact on the organization. I do recognize that there are times I need an opinion from outside to be able to say, 'Here's how I see it, am I crazy?'

7. How do you balance work and family?

At the time I was with Comdata, there was a period where I definitely had it out of balance - doing too much on the work side. We'd had our first child and I was traveling all the time during those first couple years.

When I left there, I had - for the first time ever in my life - time off to look back and prioritize better. Even though [MailNet] is just as crazy as Comdata ever was because it's a startup, I feel I'm in better balance this go-around so it's OK to bolt out of here at 5 o'clock because my kid is playing in a soccer tournament and I don't want to miss that. There was a time when I would have had a lot of guilt about that and the example I was setting. I've got a better perspective on it now.

8. Describe an ethical dilemma you've faced and how you resolved it?

As a probation officer in Philadelphia - I was a lot younger then and we were all single and usually out having fun together - I was told one fellow officer had taken money from someone's pocketbook. I confronted him the next day and also I asked him about some funds missing from the office's petty cash. He admitted to taking both and I told him 'you need to quit or I'm going to our boss and tell him.' There were tears and he said 'Are you kidding me, you're my buddy. Why are you doing this?' We eventually sat down with our boss, but that was a toughie because it was a friend and he did a stupid thing.

9. Where did you learn your most useful business lesson?

I've had an amazing career of doing so many different things and I've learned a lot of dealing with people, including people who have killed people. My first job working with kids taught me to show that you care because it means a lot. I know that sounds a lot more like a social worker than a CEO. As a probation officer, you find there are so many people - and I tried to save everybody at first - but you had to start zeroing in on where were the opportunities. Then you started getting wise; there are some people you can't help. That translates to business: Where am I wasting my time versus where can I spend it to make an impact.

10. What best measures success in business?

I think it's employee and customer satisfaction and you probably won't have one without the other. If you don't have happy customers, your employees won't be happy because they are dealing with lots of problems and not providing a service that makes customers happy. The reverse is also true. Unhappy employees generally won't provide the best experience to customers.

I think Southwest is good example: its employees seem to feel pretty good about where they work and have an amount of pride in doing their jobs well and customers, in general, are happy with the service they provide.

11. How do you unwind?

Obviously, not by talking to reporters for an interview. Being with my family and playing sports. I like to ski, play tennis and golf.

12. In your opinion, what's your biggest waste of time?

Not doing something right the first time. I hate when you have to redo things because you haven't thought through what you needed to do.

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