Employee empowerment is one of the critical ingredients required in enabling an office technology dealership, or any business for that matter, to realize its fullest potential. Finding and developing the right individuals who know what to do once the harness is in their hands is another matter.
Buddy Puente, president of operations and finance for Fort Worth, TX-based Southwest Office Systems (SOS) knows from first-hand experience the benefits reaped in developing managers who can help elevate the business to the next level. In the last five years, Puente has played a hand in the development of the company’s administrative director, service manager and accounting manager, all of whom rose through the ranks at SOS and have been essential to the success of the company.
“Each of these people has done an incredible job,” said Puente, a 2017 ENX Magazine Difference Maker. “We don’t have to monitor their decision making. Since I don’t have to micromanage their work, it frees me up to think more along the lines of innovation and what we need to do next to succeed.”
Success has been a constant for years at SOS, which has enjoyed double-digit growth while operating without any debt. The company has embraced innovations that have enabled it to continue building upon its high level of success, and Puente considers the operation a well-oiled machine that requires only tweaks, and not wholesale changes, to continue on its growth path.
Puente is part of the one-two punch at the head of SOS, along with brother, Vince, who is president of sales and marketing. They took the helm from their father, Victor Puente Sr., who started the firm after a successful career in the service department of the Olivetti-Underwood typewriter company. Buddy Puente went to work for his father in the early 1970s, while still in high school, garnering knowledge about typewriters and electronic calculators.
One of the lessons Puente took from his father was the need to foster communication between the sales and service departments, something that was lacking at Olivetti-Underwood. Too often, the service techs needed to play the role of consultant with customers, letting them know about the capabilities and limitations of the equipment. With SOS, sales and service are on the same page.
“Service is number one for us,” Puente said. “We work hard to ensure we’re selling the customer a solution that will work. We’ve walked away from business when we know it’s not what the customer wants or needs. The competition will sell it to them anyway, and many times the customer wasn’t happy with it. There’s good communication between our sales and service people, and they trust each other, so we don’t have that kind of problem.”
Communication is a two-way street, and Puente sees the value in being a good listener. “I coach them to understand the philosophy of the Puentes and the SOS culture,” he said. “I give them the criteria that enable them to accomplish their goals. And I know most of our people, know about their families. I want them to know I care about them personally.”
While SOS has grown beyond the scope of a small operation, Puente learned in his early years the value of being familiar with many aspects of the business and how equipment operates. That becomes increasingly difficult as the product and service offerings expand, but it helps to become well-versed with the technologies.
“If you’re going to start your own restaurant,” he muses, “you’d better learn how to run the grill.”
The SOS crew has proved itself worthy of tackling large deals in the past few years, according to Puente, having handled taxing periods without showing any signs of stress to the client. That is a product of having the right people performing roles tailor-made to their skills. It shows during the end-of-year evaluations, when virtually all of the employees score high on performance.
“We’ve taken the time to hire the right people and that’s been huge,” he said. “We’ll only hire the people who meet all of our criteria. It’s made our job as managers so much easier, and we can focus on helping our employees achieve more.”
While SOS enlisted the services of CEO Juice to help garner more efficiencies, the dealer is primarily focused on subtle changes to bring about improvement. Tweaks are being made to SOS’ Toner on Demand program and website enhancements for remote service troubleshooting and an online chat function.
Puente and his wife, Alice, have been married 34 years and have three grown children. They enjoy traveling by RV and recently purchased a summer home in New Mexico to avoid the Texas heat. The Puentes are active in the community and enjoy taking on philanthropic projects for organizations such as Girls Inc. and the YMCA. They also love supporting Texas Christian University athletics, particularly football and baseball.