He was working for Hitachi Data Systems in the mid-1990s on the West Coast when the Vion owners called him out of the blue and asked if he would like to come east and be the company’s president.
He made a deal, on the condition that he could buy out the owners, which he did within two years after he and his team drove revenue through the roof. The profit helped pay off the loans they took out to buy the company.
His guidestars for running ViOn have been three lessons he learned from the Marines:
●Take care of your employees and customers.
Frana said he learned much of his business management skills watching the way non-commissioned officers — the military’s version of mid-level managers — led their troops in Vietnam.
“One of the first things you learn is a good NCO takes care of the people and makes sure they get trained and makes sure they understand how to use whatever you’ve given them . . . guns, rifles, machine guns or dropping equipment out of airplanes. What I learned and how I applied it to business was making sure what we gave to the customers, they understood how to use it, and the functionality and its value add.”
“If you took care of your troops, your troops took care of you,” he said. Years later, the same principal applies to Vion. “If you take care of your customers, your customers will do repeat business with you.”
●Deliver a good product and make sure customers know what to do with it.
“In air delivery, you are basically delivering a product. We delivered ammunition, tanks, rice, pigs, C-rations. We were extremely focused, making sure troops . . . got what they had requested in working order. At Vion, we deliver product sets, and we make sure that it gets to where the customer wants it to go. “
●Make sure that everyone shares.
“Whether it was beer, whether it was getting movies, whether it was scheduling the Red Cross women who come through for morale . . . whatever goodies or limited benefits there are, they are to be shared equally among the enlisted men.
“At Vion, we get tickets to football, baseball, hockey . . . all that stuff goes to employees. We give them Cadillac health care, a 401k match, profit match.”
Employees earn from $40,000 to $200,000 a year. Last year’s bonus pool was $2.4 million divied among 122 people. Some employees received $5,000 and some received more than $100,000.
Frana earns a salary below $500,000, but he pays himself a seven-digit bonus on top of it.
Some of Frana’s compensation has found its way back to his roots. The Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Va., has a playground he built. And St. John’s College High School, which had such a big influence on him, has the Frana Auditorium. It also has a scholarship fund named for Frana’s parents.
His father, the survivor of Pearl Harbor and Normandy, is alive and well and living in Northern California at the ripe old age of 96.
For previous Value Added columns, go to washingtonpost.com/ business.