The best advice I ever got: Jill Anderson

Written by Susanne Ruder

Xchange asks Canada’s leading businesswomen to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Jill Anderson is president and CEO of Aecometric Corp., a Richmond Hill, Ont.-based designer and manufacturer of incineration and heating equipment for heavy industry. Since 1983, Anderson has led the firm through the tough post-9/11 marketplace, successfully expanded into tough oversees markets (including China, India and the Middle East) and boosted 2005 annual sales to $5 million.

BEST ADVICE: “Never turn away unexpected calls.”

The cold call: maybe it’s someone pitching an idea, a partnership, a sale, or just plain looking for help. Should you take time out to listen and respond? Always, says Anderson. She takes this lead from her husband, who led the firm until he suffered a stroke in 1978. “A lot of people just say, ‘No, I’m not interested, don’t bother me with stuff’,” says Anderson. “But his door was always open — anybody could come in at any time.”

It may seem like a hassle, but you never know who’s on the other end of a call. A business must evolve or die, and taking unexpected calls just might lead to your next great idea, contact or opportunity.

“We get some really weird phone calls about whether we’d give credence to trying this or that. Maybe it’s way out of the loop, but you listen,” she says. “We’ve received calls from people saying we’re working on this end [of an idea], and what are you doing on your end? Is there a fit? Can we do something together?” For Anderson and her staff, taking such calls has led to new clients in the ethanol business, which now represents half of Aecometric’s revenue, and may lead to new opportunities in coal in the Chinese market. “It’s surprising what’s around the corner,” she says. “You always have to keep your options open.”

CEOs can get so focused on the business that they don’t follow what’s going on around them, says Anderson. “You risk being yesterday’s news.” You can use such calls as a tool to learn about developments going on around you.

Even if someone calls you seeking help or advice, don’t turn them away. While you may not receive immediate benefits, you’re still gaining a new contact. Plus, what goes around comes around, says Anderson: “I believe that if I need input or help from elsewhere, if I’m willing to give it, I’ll get it in return.”

© 2005 Susanne Ruder

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com