FACETIME- Chinn up: Keeping the SNL train running

Mike Chinn

Mike Chinn says his job is to hire and keep the brightest people. As someone who took the helm of a company with $70 million in revenues at the age of 29, he falls into the whiz kid category himself.

"I'm a man of the people," says Chinn in his unadorned second-floor corner office of SNL Financial, a room redolent of Wendy's fried chicken. "We're not too swanky," he explains.

Chinn started at SNL in 1994, three weeks out of UVA with history and economics majors, the latter an afterthought. "I thought I needed something to look good on my resumé," he says.

Around 2000, he says, SNL founder Reid Nagle decided he didn't want to be as involved in day-to-day operations, and he tapped Chinn to be president.

"He focuses on the big and small issues," says Chinn. "I focus on the middle."

"Mike, who's both smart and even-keeled, operates in the middle," confirms Nagle, "and manages all aspects of the company. He brings a sense of cohesion, vision, and collegiality...."

Chinn, 34, looks like the golf pro he once dreamed of being, and he's one of the few males wearing a collared shirt the day the Hook visits SNL. But make no mistake. Despite their laid-back attire, SNL employees, Chinn says, "have to have intensity that belies the flip-flops and t-shirts."

After all, they're dealing with Wall Street.

He clarifies a common misperception about the company. "People think we're a securities firm or a brokerage or a money management firm," he explains. "People who do that are our clients. It probably is because the name was SNL Securities" before it became SNL Financial.

Another alleged misimpression: that SNL is a "sweatshop" where the people work long, long hours. "That's a relic of when SNL was younger," says Chinn. "People worked a lot of hours, and you get burned out."

He estimates he logs between 10 and 11 hours a day. Work and two young children limit his time on the golf course to about once a month.

With SNL growing 25 to 35 percent a year, Chinn's challenge is "managing growth, not figuring out how to grow," he says.

The biggest lesson he's learned as SNL president: "The right people make all the difference," he says. "It's just huge."

That's why he's on the second floor instead of on the fifth with Nagle. "I try to spend as much time with people as I can," he says, and by that he means employees, not clients. "I try to go out to lunch a couple of times a week with junior people. There's a tremendous need for bright people. I never want to lose them. And I try to figure out who the rising stars are."

How to tell if you're a rising star at SNL? "Only the real stars," he joshes, "get to go to Wendy's."