By Jennifer Douglass
American Asphalt Company, headquartered in West Collingswood Heights, New Jersey, has a culture that does things R.I.G.H.T. This acronym stands for the company’s core values: Respect, Integrity, God honoring, Honesty and Trust.
A few years ago, the owner of the company, Bob Brown, joined a CEO roundtable group. This nationwide network of CEOs is called C12. It is a biblically based business group whose tagline reads “Building great businesses for an even Greater purpose.” As Brown learned more and more through attendance at these monthly, all day meetings, he was led to discover the book, The Advantage, by Pat Lencioni. Lencioni’s book focuses on six key questions regarding the health/status of a business. Brown and his executive team worked through these key points, the first one being, “Why do we exist?”
When Brown reflected on this one point, he realized he couldn’t easily answer that first simple business question. With books in hand, Brown, along with each of his vice presidents, spent the next few months reading and meeting to coalesce around a common set of answers to these six seemingly simple questions.
“Those questions took us all down a road that had to be shaped with humility, dignity, alignment, mutual respect and trust for one another,” Brown said. “Out the other end of this exercise came unity and a shared sense of purpose that was truly meaningful. It was not about who can make the most hot mix tons.”
From that exercise sprung a renewed mission statement and core values. As the employees saw these and heard them spoken consistently, they started to sink in. All employees were told they could make decisions within their realm of authority and know the company would always have their back and support them, as long as they kept to the core values.
Pretty soon, at company meetings, anyone could recite the values if asked, “What does ‘RIGHT’ stand for?” Then, as the C12 Christian-based teachings crept into the company, a new pay-for-performance bonus system was instituted. Of the five measurables that key employees are measured upon, one is the use and reinforcement of core values. “Our managers give a $5.00 gift card to any employee who is caught doing something “RIGHT”. We track these cards and measure our company by its demonstrated behaviors aligned with our corporate culture,” Brown said. “We are on track to give away over 600 of these cards this year.”
Over time, a culture gets stronger and becomes second nature. To help people associated with the company, a Caring Committee was formed. This employee-led committee is given company funds annually to give away, as they see fit, to help other employees in need. It’s an example of employees helping other employees get through life’s troubles.
The company also asks its employees annually for a list of charities that are important to them, where they are actively engaged themselves. Each charity is then funded with a company gift, given to the employee to present to his or her charity. This program has brought tears to the eyes of employees, who watched the charity receive funds, from their own hands.
“This is a part of a life of giving some people don’t get to experience that often,” Brown said.
As employees become emboldened, more charity activity has followed. On the recommendation of Bob Moncrief, vice president of construction, American Asphalt Company recently sponsored the 3rd annual Ronald McDonald House Run. The monetary support was one thing, but 125 American Asphalt employees and family showed up on a Saturday to walk or run in support, and represented the largest group in attendance by far. The event raised $50,000 for the local Ronald McDonald House.
To quote another long-term employee, Dawn Turner, construction manager, “It’s great to work for a company where you actually cry more for all the good things that we do to help each other, than for the sad things.”
Brown feels the positive energy in the company is palpable. “The asphalt work that we do allows us to serve and provide for others. That is why we exist. We don’t see ourselves as just another asphalt contractor; we see ourselves working here to help each other and the community.”
That is what is truly rewarding.
Jennifer Douglass is the marketing director at American Asphalt Co., West Collingswood Heights, New Jersey.