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Ask The CEO

Photography by Ted Mase By Molly McCartney July 31, 2010

As the founder of Environeers, John Krotec, 51, outfits travelers for far-flung adventures with clothing, backpacks, tents and accessories and offers some guided tours to exotic locations as well. Krotec started the company in 1991, selling only environment-friendly products for homes and personal care. “We were profitable about two months a year with Christmas, but it was usually enough to carry us through,” he says. A few years later, he added backpacking and travel gear, and business shot up. “We found that we were busy nine to 10 months a year,” he says. Store sales in 2008 and 2009 were “pitiful,” he says. But 2010 is shaping up to be his best year ever, with an expected $1 million in revenues. “We only have 3,100 square feet, and $1 million is pretty good for that size,” he says. Environeers has three full-time employees, counting Krotec and his wife, and five part-time workers.


 

Describe the first time you were somebody’s boss. It was in 1984. I was assistant manager in a Chart House restaurant in the Virgin Islands. It was a great testing ground because I had 75 employees, and 40 percent of them were West Indians. We ended up being the best restaurant in the islands.

How did you motivate your staff? I got to know them on a personal level and learned their strengths and weaknesses. I worked to create trust. If you care about people, you are going to be a good manager. It’s not just to see what you can get out of them.

How has your leadership style evolved? I would never ask a subordinate to do something I couldn’t do myself. I don’t mind getting in the trenches.

What questions do you ask when you hire someone? Find out their background and their interests, because the more you know about somebody, the more you can find where their strengths lie.

Any advice for first-time managers? Be patient. Keep in mind that some of your subordinates’ weaknesses might be yours, too. Show some humility. Be clear about what you expect from them. And create trust so they can tell you what their needs are.

You’re also a community activist. Why? I have been very active the last five years in community development issues. It started when Wal-Mart wanted to build in a field next to our strip mall. We were concerned about the impact on businesses. We fought them and won. It was great to see government in action to support the people. That morphed into a couple of projects: the Fruitville 2010 Community Alliance, which supports the Nathan Benderson Park rowing facility, and the Olive Branch Forum, which is dedicated to developing a non-hostile environment where citizens, business leaders and government officials can meet to create mutual understanding. I want to see more community harmony and less polarization.

You almost ran for Sarasota County Commission in 2008. What happened? The Republican Party approached me. But they told me I would have to forget my business if I ran. That wasn’t fair to my wife, who is very capable, but would have to do everything. So the timing wasn’t right. If something like that comes around again, who knows?

Why was this a good year for Environeers? Three things. It was a cold winter, so we sold a lot of outerwear. We have a 20-year customer base, so we’re entrenched, and we sell quality.

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