Paul Babb | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Paul Babb

Background:  

Paul Babb has worked in 3D animation, visual effects and the motion graphics industry for more than two decades. Babb is president and CEO of MAXON Computer, USA. The German-based company specializes in 3D modeling, painting, animation and rendering solutions, including its Cinema 4D and BodyPaint 3D software products, which have been used to create visual effects in films, television shows, commercial and games, in addition to medical illustrations, architectural and industrial design applications. Babb was recruited by MAXON in 1998 to establish and lead their U.S.-based branch of the company to focus on producing 3D animation and motion graphics technology solutions for clients in North and South America. 

The Mistake:

The hardest lessons I’ve learned have been in managing people, and in being too nice and giving trouble employees too many chances.

I started doing this as a freelance job and then it became a company. It grew very quickly. In the early days, I brought people in and they were enthusiastic, young and into the technology. But as your company builds, you have to fill more and more spots.

We had an employee who was extremely ambitious. He was so ambitious that I didn’t recognize his goal was to get rid of me and take over the company.

He was friendly to your face and would stab you in the back.

It was in a situation where I got the feeling something was not quite right, but I didn’t recognize it right off the bat.

When you bring in the wrong person, you can ruin the chemistry of the office.

The Lesson:

I hired a company that conducts personality testing. I took the test myself and I was amazed at their analysis.

I’ve found it to be a tremendously valuable tool -- not to weed people out, but to gauge whether they would fit into my community. We are a small company with 22 people in-house and another five out of house. There’s a mom and pop feel to our company, and when you bring in the wrong person, you can ruin the chemistry of the office.

What I’ve learned from the personality test is that our company works great with self-starters and entrepreneurial spirits who want to be a part of the entire process. We are a small company with very tight budgets and our people have to wear a lot of hats.

If we get close to hiring someone, we have them take this test and we compare their results to the results of the people they’ll be working closely with. I always tell people this is a way to find out how well you would work in our environment. It really cuts the learning curve on how to manage somebody. 

This test is probably one of the smartest moves I’ve made. I guess what I’ve learned is I’m not terribly good at gauging people in interviews. I’ve tried to watch things online and learn what to ask, but I don’t see it as well as the test.

Photo courtesy of MAXON Computer, USA.

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