For nearly 30 years, Jim has maintained a newsletter correspondence with his loyal clients.

Read on for some of Jim's "greatest hits" and musings on business and life. Today, in celebration of National Manufacturing Day, a post from Jim pondering the source of success in small business--particularly, as a CEO of a steel company.

I am often asked what is the most important quality I look for in dealing with a company or individual. To me, the answer is simple: character. As long as a person does what he/she says and operates in a moral and ethical manner, then we can do business together for a long, long time. Unfortunately, character seems to be a vanishing value these days. Not because people themselves have become less ethical or moral, but more likely because corporations have made it less valued, less common. It is refreshing when you find a company that will stand behind its product or service and not just talk the talk. When the value of character is instilled throughout the company, it is unique and something to be applauded.

Reputation is the quality that others attribute to us: It’s the surface layer. It is what we promote and advertise. Manufacturing is particularly sensitive to issues of reputation and character--if you can't trust what's being made, why would you by it?

Character, on the other hand, is what’s deep inside of us: It’s who we are on a daily basis, when things go well or when things go wrong. It’s who we are in the boardroom or in our living room. We have reason to be proud when both reputation and character are mirror images of one another. Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is what it is.”

Here are five principles necessary to enhance one’s character:

  1. Make values actionable. Living your values every day is an important aspect of character in action. Companies go through considerable expense having consultants craft mission statements that, unfortunately, end up as nothing more than statements hanging on the wall or printed on the back of a business card. Prevent this from happening by making values actionable - and, most importantly, accountable.
  2. Be known as a promise-keeper. Do not make a promise unless you can back it up. There is nothing worst than a hollow commitment in which you are hoping for the desired results. Resolve to handle your word as precious currency and watch how your value rises in everyone’s eyes.
  3. Don’t take shortcuts in quality. As Henry Ford put it, “Quality means doing it right when no one else is looking.” It is critical to preach to your team that quality is an important value and taking shortcuts is not an option. When you take shortcuts, it undermines everything you have tried to instill within the organization.
  4. Be consistent in your dealings with others. Treat all of the members of your team with fairness and respect. Do not undermine the group by complaining about the shortcomings of a few. It makes you look like a poor leader because they don’t know what you may be saying about them to others.
  5. Audit your decisions. At the end of each project or time period, get in the habit of reviewing some of the decisions you’ve made. Did you focus on making the right decision or better put, were you proud of the decisions that were made? Did your actions reflect positively on you and the company? Every action we take, no matter how small, has our character stamp on it.

What is a major difference between Paragon Steel and our competition is our philosophy of customer service. We realize that sometimes is may be necessary to lose money on an order to remedy an error or to replace poor quality material. This business philosophy is sometimes hard to comprehend by even our own personnel, but to us, it is fundamental to our reputation. Because at the end of the day, perhaps the only thing we can promise is that the customer’s needs will be met - even if at the expense of our company. Sometimes it is the most expensive lessons that are not forgotten. And good character can never be forgotten.