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5 questions…

Joe Mechlinski, CEO and co-founder of Canton-based management consulting firm entreQuest, has worked with more than 400 businesses since starting the company 12 years ago.

Last month, he released his first book, "Grow Regardless: Of Your Business' Size, Your Industry or the Economy … and Despite the Government."

Mechlinski — who grew up in Highlandtown and graduated from Patterson High School and Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in economics — describes his book as a "how-to guide for growing a small to midsize business in difficult economic times."

In your book, you say "something has been missing" from the hundreds of books on business that you've read. What's missing, and how does your book fill that gap?

I set out to write this book because, following the recession, I've seen countless business leaders struggle to pick themselves up and move forward, yet small businesses make up nearly 50 percent of the country's GDP and 65 percent of the net new job growth creators. So, to me, what's missing is an example or path for small businesses to follow in order to grow.

Because I have experience running a small business and have fought the same battles my readers are fighting, this makes me more relatable. Throughout the book, I present my unique outlook and proven approach to growing a business in a straightforward, comprehensive and entertaining way by using personal stories, the latest research and relevant statistics to explain and support my philosophies. I also lay out a concrete process for implementing it and give hands-on exercises for practice. Additionally, I introduce the readers to five business leaders who have actually used the steps to grow their own organizations.

Why is entreQuest's growth methodology right for these economic times?

While no one can agree on what's happening in today's ever-changing business world, we can at least agree that there is an unhealthy amount of fear, doubt and uncertainty right now. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Q4 Small Business Outlook Survey found that 82 percent of people think the U.S. economy is on the wrong track and 66 percent believe the climate for small businesses has actually worsened over the past two years. This is the new reality we're faced with: debt, distraction and an overall disconnect between the government and small businesses, leaving us in what many people would describe as a rock and a hard place. EntreQuest's Growth Methodology addresses all of these factors in a simple, easy-to-implement, four-step process:

One, hit the "reset" button, acknowledging the past and making preparations to move your company forward with a renewed commitment to your team, your customers and your community.

Two, develop your company's story, which tells clients and employees alike not only what you do, but why you do it.

Three, do everything you can to make your employees feel like valued members of your team.

Four, create a remarkable experience for your clients — at every turn.

In your experience, what is the biggest mistake failing companies tend to make?

Studies have shown that 70 percent of organizational change initiatives fail. Seventy percent! I think the failure rate is so high not because people are unwilling to commit to change, but because they are unwilling to un-commit … to their need to be right or to past commitments they once thought were musts.

With that being said, I think failure to grow a business comes down to two big mistakes. The first is not keeping pace with the change happening in the world, to an organization's clients and to its employees. This, I believe, is directly related to the second mistake, which is not truly listening to customers and employees. By not making employees and clients feel valued, an organization (and its leader) sets itself up for disaster, because, in the end, a company's most important assets are its people.

Can you talk about a success story from among your clients that used your methodology to turn around a business?

Absolutely, one of the companies highlighted in the book, COLA, is a great example of a client that used the eQ Growth Methodology to grow. COLA is a local nonprofit organization that offers training, accreditation and consultation to medical labs across the country. COLA has a clear story, mission and vision: to promote excellence in laboratory medicine and patient care through a program of voluntary education, consultation and accreditation. In working with eQ and implementing the growth strategy, COLA's employees have learned to view themselves as the company's most important assets and as ambassadors of the company story and mission — which has translated into tremendous growth for the company.

How did your background, growing up in Highlandtown, shape your work and management of your company today?

Growing up in Highlandtown and going to one of the worst high schools in the state at the time, you'd think I didn't have a good role model, but that is quite the opposite. My father instilled in me an intense drive, passion and sense of determination when it comes to business and work. He taught me the importance of heart, hustle and humility. So it is with heart, hustle and humility that I base my work today. As I grew up, I watched my father put in the time and effort to go from a forklift operator to vice president of operations at the same company, [and] I learned what it takes to build and grow a company into a successful organization.

Joe Mechlinski

Age: 36

Title: CEO and co-founder of entreQuest

Education: High school diploma from Patterson High School; bachelor's degree in economics from The Johns Hopkins University

Birthplace: Baltimore

Residence: Baltimore

Family: Wife Erica, daughter Ellie and son James

Hobbies: Spending time with family, working in the community, reading business books

Past accomplishment: All-Metro football player at Patterson in 1994

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