Entrepreneur 360

The Path to Building a $1 Billion Business Begins With Finding the Right Team

22nd Century Technologies has grown from 20 employees to 4,000 in the last 22 years. Here's how the company maintains a strong culture.
The Path to Building a $1 Billion Business Begins With Finding the Right Team
Image credit: Courtesy of 22nd Century Technologies
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Every year, we publish the Entrepreneur 360 — a list of the 360 most well-rounded companies in America, based on an evaluation of impact, innovation, growth, leadership and business valuation. Our 2019 list debuts on Oct 1. In advance, we're checking in with some 2018 honorees, including the one below.

Finding success in business is often no easy feat, especially when it comes to two decades of business. But that's exactly what IT service firm 22nd Century Technologies has achieved. Launched in 1997, the Somerset, N.J.-based company has grown from 20 employees to about 4,000, servicing both the private sector (including Boeing and Toyota) and the government (counting Homeland Security and the Air Force as clients).

According to the company's CEO, Anil Sharma, one of the biggest keys to its continued success is emphasizing — and dedicating resources to — building a strong team.

“Business success, for us, is having partnerships with customers and our employees that result in growth for everybody,” he told Entrepreneur. “We achieved this by investing in the right talent [and] providing the right solutions at the right price to our customer.”

This strategy also helped 22nd Century Technologies nab a spot in the top five of the 2018 Entrepreneur 360 list, a ranking that looks at five metrics — impact, growth, leadership, valuation and innovation — to determine business success.

Entrepreneur caught up with Sharma and asked him about building a strong company culture, how to be a successful leader and the advice he has for aspiring entrepreneurs.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How do you go about building a strong company culture?

22nd Century has a customer-focused and results-driven flat, open and creative culture with a focus on employee engagement and opportunities for advancement. This instills the feeling of loyalty and self-preservation among our employees — helping in the growth of the business with the individual contribution of each employee. We also make it a point to learn from our mistakes and keep making constant changes in our process to make our operational efforts more accurate, simple and efficient. In that path, keeping our clients’ needs at the forefront of every operation has helped us achieve what we have achieved today.

Related: See the Entire Entrepreneur 360 List Here

How do you define your leadership style, and what can others learn from it?

I follow the principle of leaders creating more leaders. I challenge myself to find at least five people more effective than me. I believe in taking my team with me in decisions but at the same time challenging and pushing them to meet strategic goals on time. At heart, I am a democratic leader. We give our employees the freedom to make decisions along with positive reinforcement to grow. We believe that if the leadership begins from the bottom level of the hierarchy. This lets every employee take care of their own respective parameters, allowing management the freedom to tackle more pressing matters. We are setting the pace to reach $1 billion by 2024.  

Related: 6 Steps to Building a Stronger Culture for Your Company

What lessons can others learn from your company’s journey?

Keep going forward positively and find a way to move forward, even during difficult times, with optimism. There were challenges, there were obstacles and we met people who told us our goals were impossible, but but we were committed to moving forward and working smarter and harder. We hired the right people and got rid of pessimistic people.  

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