Neville Ravji | Crain's Dallas

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

Neville Ravji

Background:  

Houston-based Volterra Energy Holdings is the parent of Discount Power, Power Express and Volterra Energy, which provide power to nearly 200,000 residential customer equivalents across Texas, including Houston and Dallas. The company has plans to expand outside the state next year, including Pennsylvania and Ohio. It was founded three years ago by Neville Ravjii, a senior manager at Enron at the time of its collapse who later started Tara Energy, one of the first companies in the newly deregulated electricity market in Texas. In 2009, he merged Tara with Fulcrum Power Services, parent of Amigo Energy, which two years later was acquired by a unit of Canada’s Just Energy Group Inc. for around $100 million. He has an MBA in finance and strategic management from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mistake:

Not relying on and delegating enough to my team members.

I was one of the founders of Tara Energy in 2002 coming out of Enron, a shock we were all getting over. We were trying to create a new company in a newly deregulated industry, so there was so much learning going on all the time. It was like drinking from a hose: It was a tremendous amount of information.

As we started to build the business out, we brought on really bright people and we needed to bring them up to speed. But we were doing so much, we didn’t have the luxury of teaching people; none of us took time. I also had a personality trait to get things done right away, so I ended up doing all the thinking and a lot of the work myself. We had a bunch of really bright people relying on me personally, but they didn’t get the knowledge they should have and I ended up working myself to physical and mental exhaustion in two years.

One of the many hats I wore at the company was finance and accounting. To help me out, we hired a very bright young man with a degree in accounting. However, me being me, that rather than spend time teaching him the nuances of our accounting processes, I felt that it would be less difficult if I let him do some of the more mechanical work and I would continue doing the more complicated work until I found the time – and patience – to sit down with him and teach him everything. As a result, he did not have much to do at all and would leave every day at the stroke of five – and here I was at 8 p.m., entering data into the accounting system. The result: He quit out of boredom and I just got more burnt out.

Hire the best people, empower them and then get out of the way.

Lesson:

I was working at less than capacity and so was my team. The company ended up doing well and we sold it for a reasonable sum. But the company could have done so much better if we had taken the time out to teach, to create processes and utilize the tremendous brain power we had. I didn’t empower my team as I should have.

Hire the best people, empower them and then get out of the way. Let them run with it and step in when needed. It applies not just to me, but the entire management team.

Follow Discount Power TX on Twitter at @DiscountPowerTX.

Photo courtesy of Neville Ravji

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