Womack Machine Supply’s plans for rapid growth may mean the company’s traditionally close culture will change over time. CEO Mike Rowlett decided he wanted to work to make sure Womack remained a positive place to work despite its growth. He appointed a Vice President of Culture and pushed forward initiatives to make culture a more formal part of the distributor’s plans.
Company: Womack Machine Supply
Headquarters: Farmers Branch, TX
Leadership: CEO Mike Rowlett, President Art Kostaras
2010 Revenues: $134 million, up 7.2%
Details: Womack Machine Supply is an industrial distributor of supplies and components for hydraulic, pneumatic and automation control systems. It is No. 36 on MDMs list of the Top 40 Industrial Distributors.
Near his office sits one of CEO Mike Rowlett’s most important pieces of office equipment: an ice cream machine, which he purchased when he bought Texas-based Womack Machine Supply in 2006.
The ice cream machine along with the ping pong table and basketball hoop are not for him, but rather for employees at the industrial distributor of supplies and components for hydraulic, pneumatic, and automation control systems.
“I’ve never seen anyone eating ice cream that wasn’t smiling,” Rowlett says.
Besides the in-house entertainment, the company holds celebrations for birthdays and achievements, frequent potlucks and provides monetary support for employees’ volunteer efforts. It’s all part of Rowlett’s philosophy to maintain an enjoyable, respectful and giving culture.
“Other than sleep, people are spending the largest part of their life in work, and they need to enjoy being there,” Rowlett says. “What our culture is about is looking for an opportunity to celebrate something and looking for an opportunity to help to people…We believe strongly that if a company takes care of people, then the employees will take care of the customer, supplier and business.”
This kind of culture is “a human resources professional’s dream,” says Kimberly Sudderth, vice president of human resources. The respect and care given to employees attracts other quality employees while reducing turnover, she says.
Womack’s focus on its employees is fostered by its Vice President of Culture, Rodney Bryan, who spends most of his time meeting with every employee privately at least once a year to gather feedback.
The position was formed in 2008 as part of Womack’s strategic plan to grow the business from $84 million in revenue at that time to $340 million in 2018, Rowlett says.
“In looking at that we realized we were going to have to add a lot of people and acquire lots of companies, and we wanted to make sure our company kept a close family culture,” he says. “Rodney’s job is to make sure everybody in the company feels that they’re important and that their concerns and ideas are heard and acted on.”
Maintaining the culture over distances between locations requires the participation of all employees, who are often screened before they are hired for compatible qualities and values. Management is also encouraged to follow the universal Golden Rule.
“You cannot be a leader or manage in this company unless you have selfless attitude,” Rowlett says.
In November 2009, business dropped and the company laid-off 40 of its 300 employees, Rowlett says. Bryan conducted what he called “culture visits,” at a time when many people were expressing fear and uncertainty about the future.
Yet employees were reporting confidence in the company, and – in perhaps the biggest indication of the culture Womack has built – a few employees who were laid-off still participated with the company in the annual Muscular Dystrophy Walk-a-thon, Bryan says. Several employees were later hired back once business improved, he says.
“We didn’t put the Golden Rule in place and talk about it as a competitive advantage, but it turns out it is one because that type of culture improves employee morale, it reduces turnover, it helps us work better as a team and, you know what, work can be fun,” Bryan says.
Bryan continues to conduct culture visits at the company’s headquarters. He also travels to different
company locations for three to five days and meets with employees to ask: “How are you doing? What do you like? What are you concerned about? Do you have any questions?”
From the overjoyed comments to the not-so-positive, Bryan takes notes during the 30- to 45-minute private interviews and puts the anonymous feedback into a report. Rowlett and the executive staff review the report and take steps to continue to emphasize the positive and correct the negative, he says.
In addition to his regular visits to existing locations, Bryan spends extra time at a company once Womack acquires it. “There has to be a face there and a smile,” Rowlett says. “He’s there to take care of the people and help them run through the growth.”
It’s an effort that requires consistent work to maintain and the buy-in of management and employees. And it’s the kind of culture that Jimmy Vitulli, an outside salesman at the company’s Texas location, finds rewarding.
“It feels good working for a company that you know is not just a selfish company, that serves a bigger purpose,” Vitulli says. “No company is perfect, but when you know people have integrity, it makes work more enjoyable. I love the people I work with. They’re friends, and they’re people I look up to.”
One of the company’s most significant culture aspects is its spirit of giving, Rowlett says. Womack has supported a variety of employees’ local and international non-profit and volunteer efforts, including giving additional funding for Vitulli’s three trips with Living Water International, an organization that drills water wells in poor countries, and Africa New Life Ministries in Rwanda, which sponsors, educates and teaches the Bible to families.
Womack will match an employee’s donation, usually between $100 to $1,000 per volunteer, for a cause they are actively involved in, Bryan says.
The company has also supported employee Tory Gundersen with the Wounded Warriors Project and Scott Van Otten with the Ride for Life event benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
All in all, it’s a company culture that is sustaining and personally edifying, Vitulli says.
“It makes a difference when times are hard,” Vitulli says. “I feel like I enjoy my job a lot more than my friends do.”