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Executive roundtable

Business success hinges on employee, client well-being

While bottom-line profitability is necessary for business success, 11 of San Diego’s top executives from a variety of industries said that employee and client satisfaction is an equally important measure, and one that distinguishes successful long-term companies from their short-sighted counterparts, at a Daily Transcript roundtable Sept. 19.

“We judge our success monetarily: Do we hit our budget; do we exceed our budget; if so, by how much or by how little?” said Jerry Jacquet, principal of Meissner Jacquet Investment Management Services. “But I think the underlying tone of the company is how are we perceived in the community? How do our employees feel about working for Tim and Jerry and the rest of the people in the office?”

Gary Levine, CEO of GS Levine Insurance Services, went so far as to say that to him, employee well-being takes precedence over profitability in some respects.

“I like the financial success, but I love this other part,” said Levine, referring to several of his employees each losing more than 20 pounds and making more healthy life choices as a consequence of the company’s focus on their health.

“And this is something we started with our employees, but we’ve moved it out to our clients, and so we have somebody that is a director of wellness on our staff, that all she wants to do is make our company more healthy. We migrate that out to all the other companies that we work with, and we’ve changed a lot of peoples’ lives.”

Ensuring that employees feel like an integral part of the team and have a say over the direction of the company makes for a more successful business, but the tactics that management takes to realize this goal vary, roundtable participants said.

“I think it starts with the recruiting and how you sort of communicate your values and the way you market openings in your organization,” said Natasha Arthur, president-elect of San Diego’s branch of the Society for Human Resource Management.

Mark Riedy, executive director of the University of San Diego’s Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate, pointed out that even seemingly small adjustments can make a big difference in the eyes of staff and the mood of the office.

“I went to a number of employees a couple years ago and said, ‘How can I be a better boss?'" Riedy said. “And the one comment I remember was so simple. One of the women said to just turn your computer somewhere else so your back isn’t to us at the door. We don’t know whether to interfere with what you’re doing or not. If you turn it sideways, which is as far as I could turn it, then we’ll see what you’re doing, and it’s OK.”

Gary Gallegos, left, is the executive director at SANDAG and Mark Riedy is the executive director of USD Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate. view full slideshow Staff photo by Michael Countis

Several participants said that being open about company financials with all employees worked well to create a sense of ownership that leads to success, and Gary Gallegos, SANDAG’s executive director, mentioned job-sharing as a way to keep parents from having to choose between work and home, a decision where home and children often win out.

“We’ve found, at least I’ve found, that those employees are super-productive,” Gallegos said. “In most cases they may be working from home, and I’m paying them for 20 hours, but they’re probably giving me 25.”

Sempra Energy’s (NYSE: SRE) Frank Urtasun, director of community partnerships, and AT&T’s (NYSE: T) Ignacio De La Torre, regional vice president, shared similar stories of multiple metrics for success based on product reliability, worker safety and responding to customers’ needs, but again, De La Torre said true success boils down to something more basic than these quantifiable measures.

“Ultimately at the end of the day, the measure really is, are we serving our customers, have we created a loyal customer, and will they recommend us to their friends and family?” he said.

Sandy Grove, owner of Grove Media, also stressed the importance of developing a real relationship with clients and employees to realizing financial success, and shared her tip for keeping employees engaged and encouraged.

“Every day I try to tell them thank you,” she said. “And if they nail it, it’s a big deal, and we celebrate that.

“I encourage my team to be very careful that even if we’re really busy, because we’re still recovering and we’re all working very, very hard, that appreciating each other is just huge. People want to hear that they’re doing a good job and that they’re valued.”

Communicating that appreciation, along with company goals and objectives, can take different forms.

“We wanted to get the younger folks who were in their 20s and 30s and 40s involved in that process and say, ‘Here’s the strategic plan, this is your plan,’” said Mickey Maher, attorney at Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley. “And then we took it to the senior partners and got them to buy off on it, but it’s very much a process of getting the younger folks involved so that it’s not a buy-in, but its true ownership from the get-go.”

For John Sawaya, vice president of operations for RSI Roofing, and Dave Grundies, president and CEO of GET Engineering, demonstrating their commitment to employees is largely done through a focus on workplace safety.

“Overall when we meet as a company, we’re looking at how safe are our employees?” Sawaya said. “Roofing’s a dangerous job, so what does that look like — are we sending people home to their families every night?”

“Success is when the systems work and the ships that go into harm’s way and the planes that fly into missions are able to complete those safely,” said Grundies. “Safety, I like the way John put it: We’re a manufacturing and engineering firm, so safety in the workplace is very important.”

These means of measuring and defining success clearly have some truth to them, as the companies represented at the roundtable would be considered successful by most standards, yet Sawaya said he thinks the first and most important step to ensure success is to start with a solid leader.

“I think it really comes from the top,” Sawaya said. “If the owner has integrity and is honorable, treats people fair, including his employees and customers, and he’s responsible financially, I think you’re going to find success.”

Related video: Ignacio De La Torre on AT&T's latest news


Roundtable participants

* Natasha Arthur, President Elect, SHRM San Diego

* Ignacio De La Torre, Regional Vice President, AT&T

* Gary Gallegos, Executive Director, San Diego Association of Governments

* Sandy Grove, Owner, Grove Media

* Dave Grundies, President & CEO, GET Engineering

* Jerry Jacquet, Principal, Meissner Jacquet Investment Management Services

* Gary Levine, CEO, GS Levine Insurance Services

* Mickey Maher, Attorney, Hecht Solberg Robinson Goldberg & Bagley

* Mark Riedy, Executive Director, USD Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate

* John Sawaya, VP of Operations, RSI Roofing

* Frank Urtasun, Director of Community Partnerships, Sempra Energy

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