We all know that great organizations start with great teams. The challenge is that building great teams is easier said than done. Howard Guttman in his book “Great Business Teams” argues that the key is to build “horizontal” organizations in which “everyone operates according to a clearly defined set of decision-making protocols, where people understand what they are accountable for and then own the results.” Guttman’s extensive research revealed that there were five characteristics of great business teams: they are led by high-performance leaders; members of the teams are us-directed leaders; the teams play by defined protocols; the teams continually raise the performance bar; and the teams have a supportive performance management system.
Greg Nethery, founder and CEO of On-Site Fuel Service Inc. has built a fast growing “gazelle” organization by establishing great teams within his company. Founded in 1996, the company was started as a sister company to Nethery’s first entrepreneurial success, On-Site Fleet Service Inc. which he launched in 1986 as a vehicle maintenance company that concentrated on providing maintenance services to utility, postal and freight companies. On-Site Fuel Service has grown from its original single location in Jackson to servicing more than 700 accounts in 12 states and providing fueling services to an estimated 11,000 vehicles a day. As one of Mississippi’s top 100 largest private companies, the company has also been named in the top half of the Inc. 5000 list of the top private companies in the United States.
Nethery learned early on about teamwork growing up on a small farm in north Louisiana. He shared, “Farm life instilled in me leadership qualities early on. The family unit on a farm in the 1960s and 70s required each member to pull together as a single unit, and chores were delegated on a rotating schedule each week, depending on abilities.” Nethery continued, “If someone failed to complete their task, then the entire unit would suffer. We were taught to recognize strengths and weaknesses of our family unit and give help or guidance to complete the assigned task as a unit.”
He also shared that team sports also later reinforced these behavioral traits he learned in the home. Nethery’s high school football coach was a Marine Corps veteran who fought in Vietnam. His coach drilled into these young athletes the responsibilities of the individual as part of a team. The coach taught them that working together for a common goal required practice, training, and timing. They learned that when they understood the strengths and weaknesses of their teammates, they could work together to complement one another and reach their goals. Nethery’s foundation of the principles of teamwork served him well in his early career in the oilfield business which included time working overseas. His supervisors recognized his leadership qualities and rapidly promoted him.
After leaving the oilfield business in 1986, he launched On-Site Fleet Service with startup capital of only $500. He did not even have enough money to open a commercial account, but a vendor believed in him and allowed him to purchase inventory on credit. He noted, “Times were tough for seven years as I worked the company alone and performed all functions. Friends helped through encouragement that the business was a good idea, and I gained strength from that encouragement. I believed in my product, so customers believed in my product!” Nethery’s determination and hard work paid off as the business gained traction and allowed him to launch On-Site Fuel Service in 1996. This time, with a check for $10,772 borrowed from his first business, Nethery launched his business to provide truck-to truck fueling services which has been a huge success.
Nethery encourages business leaders to define the mission and goals of the organization and to develop a plan for success. He started his companies with a clear plan. He believes it is critical to continually educate yourself and the team on the mission statement, goals, and plan for the organization. He noted, “If you follow the plan then the team will follow you.” Nethery also encourages other entrepreneurs to expect challenges but to celebrate success and learn from your challenges. The team-based concepts that Nethery learned early on and applied in his career are points that we can all take and apply in our organizations as well. I am inspired by Nethery’s entrepreneurial journey, and I am always encouraged by Mississippi companies that expand their footprint around the country.
Up Close With … Greg Nethery
Title: Founder and CEO, On-Site Fuel Services Inc.
Favorite Book: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins
First Job: “At age 12, I took a job working on an irrigation crew in the Louisiana Delta on cotton farms. Each week we worked 60 hours for $78 dollars. When I brought my first check home I was so proud of it. I left it on the kitchen table for my Dad to see. He asked me to return it to the farmer.”
Proudest Moment as a Leader: When our company was named No. 1 by the Mississippi Business Journal in the Mississippi Fast 40.
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.