There are probably thousands of articles online about company culture - why it’s important, how to improve one, how to create one, or what a good or bad one may look like, etc. I find myself wondering from time to time when exactly it was, I realized how important a great culture is to a company’s success?
I imagine I first learned about company culture and its importance during my school days at Virginia Tech (for all of my friends reading this, what was the over/under on me bringing up my beloved Hokies?). As I was working toward my degree in what was then called “Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management” at Virginia Tech, I also worked at a couple of the local restaurants and the dining hall during my 4+ years. I remember my favorite job at a local restaurant called Bogen’s, owned by a gentleman named Bill Ellenbogen.
At Bogen’s we made food from scratch in a fun environment. Our kitchen manager, Fred Umberger, was a pretty serious and straight forward guy, however, he also understood many of us were college students and that he had to have certain flexibilities and an environment that would make us want to choose to be there late nights, early mornings, and whenever needed to take care of the guests. We followed detailed recipes, but also had the chance to give input. We had scheduling flexibility whenever possible and were part of a team. It was a GREAT way to continue to learn the hospitality business, particularly restaurant operations, and helped to prepare me for my future.
Fast forward, prior to now, I had the privilege to work professionally with two world class organizations in Darden Restaurants and Swank Audio Visuals for over 20+ years. Before Darden was Darden, it was General Mills Restaurants, where I engrained their former Red Lobster brand deep into my heart day and night, raising a family and building relationships that I still cherish to this day. Red Lobster taught me the priorities of taking care of the “Guest, Crew, and Investor” with the importance stressed on the balance of taking GREAT care of your people, who in turn will take great care of guests, and ultimately by doing so, financial results would follow. My success was a result of following what I had learned, being surrounded by great people, and occasionally challenging the status quo on behalf of the guest and team member. I worked HARD for my team and my guests and followed established SOPs. There was nothing I’d ask of anyone that I didn’t do myself, and I cared a great deal about what the team wanted and always did my best to say, “thank you, please, and how can I help?” (well most of the time, I learned patience and how to temper my fire a little later with some more maturity I think).
I was also very lucky throughout these especially busy years to have tremendous teamwork at home. My wife, Christie, was and is my best friend and greatest support. Our family’s culture included our professional lives, and my professional culture included my family’s lives. It just worked…
I never thought I’d find a culture as strong as what I experienced in my Darden days. (shout out to Dean Turner, Howard Hohman, Roger Campbell, Bobby Cox, Susie Wallace, Dick Rivera, Edna Morris, Chris Himebauch and so many others…). Then I found Swank Audio Visuals. To say it was an absolute joy to go to work at and for Swank is probably even an understatement.
Swank was a blueprint for what a great culture looks and feels like, at least in my opinion. Swank was employee first, employee driven, customer centric, provided great training and timely and constructive feedback. There we celebrated success with gusto! We would have to make some tough decisions at times, but they were made with great sensitivity and respect to those affected. We won and lost with class, gave back to others and ran a healthy business. We weren’t always perfect, but there was no lack of care, not for a second. (shout out this time to Greg Diekemper, Mike Schott, Tim Brady, Steve Oliver, Dan Bauman, Kellie Russell, Tim Gray, Jerry Atkinson, Daryl Henry and all of my amazing team that was so supportive).
Today, I have the privilege of working side by side with many from my Swank days that have joined forces here at AVmedia Inc. Though we aren’t just a bunch of folks from Swank - or from several other existing or now acquired companies - with little direction or cause. We know our “why’s”, and we are focused on providing service and a culture like no other.
The culture of AVmedia Inc. is one that is unique and still evolving. It was crafted, drafted and is driven by our family members and two great owners, supported and guided by a defined set of core values and a core purpose that is simply “To serve people the way they WANT to be served…” The creativity, production capability, genuine desire to serve and having each-others’ and our customers’ backs are some of the many core values that support our Culture of YES and our never-ending journey to be the anomaly for all we service.
So, as I really think through all this, to help provide a great culture, requires one to be driven to think about how to serve others, and to promise to work hard and to be there for your teammates and customers.
In retrospect, perhaps I was born to do this, given the fact that my Dad went to the Naval Academy and truly served. He served for me and served for all of us. Well, I suppose I just figured out when and where I learned the importance of providing a great culture and serving others - Thank you Pop.
President | CEO |
Culture Captain at AVmedia, Inc.
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