Harry Fath

Harry Fath won’t put you to sleep with the platitudes that some CEOs insist on using because they make for convenient sound bites. Instead, he makes his point succinctly and directly by salting conversation with unvarnished candor and peppering it with the occasional street expression. Fath, a longtime supporter of numerous civic causes and an investor in the Cincinnati Reds, owns Fath Properties, a real estate management firm with 7,000 apartments. He built his $48 million company on the credo that he demands as much from his tenants in Cincinnati and Texas as he does from his vendors and employees. Smart Business spoke with Fath about working hard, setting a high standard and the real meaning of good management.

Make integrity No. 1.
Integrity is everything. Integrity means the banks, because I’ve demonstrated that they can trust my financial statement, they know I don’t cheat on it, they lend me money because I do what I say I’m going to do with the money.

Our customers trust us that we mean it when we say we’re going to give 24-hour maintenance. Our employees trust us because we don’t lie to them, we don’t deceive them. We’re always in their corner; we’re always trying to help them.

People want to do business with us. I’ve bought $20 million deals on a phone call and a handshake, just because they know we’re going to show.

You have that reputation, you have integrity, they check around, and if Harry says he’s going to do it, that’s what he’s going to do, and if he says he’s not going to kick the tires, he’s not going to kick the tires.

At the end of the day, integrity is at the core. It starts at the top and it filters down, and if the boss doesn’t have it, the other people don’t have it.

Delegate duties, set the standards.
I don’t get involved in the details anymore. I’ve become a good delegator.

My role is to still set the standard for integrity and set the standard for the quality product that we offer. I tell everyone, ‘I’ll worry about the vacancies. You take care of the properties, and I’ll worry about the economy.’ My role is to set an example and keep the standards up.

If we buy something or refinance something or sell something, then I’m involved in that.

Give it to them straight.
People would say that I’m tougher than nails, but people would also say that I’m extremely polite. I treat people with tremendous respect.

I’m not a dictatorial person. I’ll call it a strong personality, I don’t have a problem saying, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ Or saying to someone, ‘You know what, you really disappointed me. I gave you an opportunity, and you’re just a crook.’

Be prepared to work hard.
Leaders have always been hard workers. Life’s too short just to move slowly and not want to go anywhere and not want to accomplish anything.

Fending off boredom might be a strong motivator for me. It takes a maniac to want to survive that early part, getting that first six units or that first thing or starting that first little manufacturing plant.

Sam Walton started off with one little store, and he wanted to make it so good that people would want to shop there. He’d drive all night to pick up some dumb-ass stuff that he could sell and make 10 cents apiece on.

Most people don’t have the intestinal fortitude. You’ve got to be able to take on risk and be scared that you’re not going to be able to make your payroll and your mortgage payment and the roof’s going to cave in.

Find the best employees.
When I give talks to small investors now, the first thing out of their mouths is, ‘How do you find good employees?’

And my answer to that is, ‘If you have a couple of weeks sometime, and I have a couple of weeks sometime, which I don’t, I’ll explain it to you.’ People think you find good employees by a clever ad or money.

You can’t go to Procter & Gamble and find a bad employee; they just don’t exist. Their process of screening is unbelievable. So it starts with that.

You have to have a company that would attract quality people. I hire people with tremendous integrity. I used to be stupid and hired people and tried to change them, but that never worked.

So now, that’s a real hot button with me. Do they do what they say they’re going to do? You’re constantly weeding people out that don’t get it.

Follow your passion.
You have to have passion, and if you asked any successful person, the first thing out of their mouth would be passion. You have to have a passion for your business, a take-no-prisoners, I-will-not-fail attitude.

People will say, ‘Well, he got lucky.’ Nobody gets lucky forever. If we play cards enough, we all get the great hands and the lousy hands. So obviously, there’s more to it, because some people win consistently and some people lose consistently.

Reasonable intelligence helps. I think emotional intelligence, which is what I have, versus academic intelligence, is 95 percent of it.

HOW TO REACH: Fath Properties Inc., www.fathproperties.com