Garland Co. Awarded 2016 Top Workplace

For the fifth consecutive year, the Garland Co. has been awarded the 2016 Top Workplace honor by The Plain Dealer. This year, Garland placed fifth in the Small Companies category.

This year’s announcement, the seventh annual ranking from The Plain Dealer, ranked 100 companies in northeast Ohio. Garland is proud to be recognized among its peers for one of the company’s greatest priorities and most valuable assets—its people.

“Even as we have grown over the past 120 years, we have been able to maintain—and even improve—our culture of a hardworking family. I think a large part of that is our employee-ownership program, which makes each and every one of our employees an invested stakeholder in our success,” says Scott Craft, Garland’s vice president and general manager.

The Top Workplace list is based solely on the results of an employee feedback survey administered by WorkplaceDynamics LLC, a research firm that specializes in organizational health and workplace improvement. Several aspects of workplace culture were measured, including alignment, execution, and connection, just to name a few.

“The Top Workplaces award is not a popularity contest. And oftentimes, people assume it’s all about fancy perks and benefits.” says Doug Claffey, CEO of WorkplaceDynamics. “But to be a Top Workplace, organizations must meet our strict standards for organizational health. And who better to ask about work life than the people who live the culture every day—the employees.”

Lessons Learned During a Merger

In August 2014, I purchased the assets of a fourth-generation, 133-year-old roofing contracting company with which I had been competing locally for a few years. As a relatively new contractor in the area (I had been in business just under nine years), I wanted a larger share of the commercial roofing market. The clients I hoped to inherit with this acquisition would help me to accomplish that goal.

I had no formal business training, nor knowledge of how to make such a merger work. I started my company with very little industry experience back in 2005; I had a working knowledge of roofing and a desire to be my own boss. Things had gone well, so I trusted that my instincts would guide me through the merger. I was operating on nothing more than a gut feeling that this merger would be a good thing and a blind assumption that I would be able to handle whatever challenges might come my way.

I began the dialogue with the company’s owner in early 2013 and it took until August 2014 to close the deal. There were plenty of challenges created by this process—definitely some things I handled well and some I did not.

The primary goal of this acquisition was to retain the company’s customer base, thus growing my own. Relationships were in place that went back years, even generations, and maintaining those relationships was of utmost importance. I had a plan in place to personally visit with or reach out to all of these customers within the first two weeks. I thought this would be one of the main challenges—certainly the most important thing to get right—but, surprisingly, it was one of the easiest things to achieve. The previous owner assured these customers I would continue to take care of them well and I think these customers’ trust and loyalty already was so solid that the accounts transferred over to me almost without question. As planned, I personally met most of my new customers within the first couple weeks, continued to serve their needs with the same people and took care of them with the same high level of service to which they had become accustomed. I am proud to say, after six months, we have retained 100 percent of these customers.

I am fond of saying, “I don’t know much, but I know exactly what I don’t know.” It’s the tenet to which I attribute what modicum of success I have had. I knew that I did not know how to manage a process like this! It was definitely a good move on my part to work with a consultant. It did not answer all the questions, nor did it eliminate all mistakes, but the insight and advice of someone who had been through similar processes was invaluable.

Before we closed on the deal, I told myself that despite what problems, issues or frustrations might arise, I would treat the first five months as an observational period rather than a time to implement changes. I was patient and held true to that timeframe. Trust takes a while to establish and people take a while to know. I am glad I waited to learn what I needed to know before making any significant changes.

The biggest challenge the merger created was in dealing with the significant increase in my employee count and all the associated human-resource issues that resulted. I had kept my business pretty light on hourly employees in the field, whereas the company I purchased had close to 30 full-time roofers. I had written an employee handbook prior to the merger but many of the policies had not yet been questioned or tested. Of course, in the first few days after the merger, I had a wave of guys coming at me with issues and problems with the new systems to which they would be subjected. I modified a few policies based on legitimate concerns and to ease the transition while I held firm on others. I should have had clearly defined and time-tested policies in place, so I would have been better prepared for the questions I was asked.

In hindsight, I think the biggest mistake I made was to agree to keep this sale completely confidential until the deal was confirmed and I had officially taken over. This meant the first time I met any of the employees they were already on my payroll. There had been no opportunity to meet existing employees, interview the office staff, or gain any insight into systems and processes prior to the day of the merger. I basically had to jump right in! That could have been avoided and would have prevented a lot of stress and at least one early layoff I had to make.

I should definitely have hired, if only temporarily, an additional office person to assist with the mountain of paperwork that was created. We used a Small Business Administration loan to finance the purchase, which added significantly to an already overwhelming workload. A backlog of paperwork was created that took a few months to sort out.

Although I do not consider the merger process completed, we are definitely over the hump and, despite a few challenges, it has turned out as I hoped it would. Our commercial revenues have increased as forecast and I feel good about the fact that, had I not purchased this business, the employees I gained would be unemployed right now. Instead, they are part of a growing company that aims to provide long-term security for them and their families.

Twice in the same day earlier this month I was asked, “What one thing have you learned from the process of buying another business?” I did not have a clue how to answer that question. Certainly I have learned a great many individual lessons and become the wiser for it, but I’m not sure how to boil it down to one thing. I guess it can be summed up with my favorite cliché:
“That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” Mistakes are inevitable, and they are good. If you are afraid to make them, you will accomplish nothing. You will learn way more from one mistake than you will from 10 good decisions. People will not notice your mistakes nearly as much as you think. So don’t hesitate; make the call; learn from it if you can; and move on.

On a personal note, I owe a very heartfelt and big thank you to Horace Thompson King III (Tommy) for being such a pleasure to work with and for making a difficult process much easier than it could have been.

Whether Hands-free, Handheld, Texting or Talking, Distracted Driving Is Deadly

The Washington, D.C.-based National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), an independent safety agency, recently recommended a total ban of all mobile-device use while driving. According to Deborah Hersman, the chairman of the NTSB, distraction-related crashes killed 3,092 people in 2010, “the equivalent of a regional jet crash every week.”

Every year, drivers–distracted by the use of mobile devices–cause 636,000 crashes, 342,000 injuries and 2,600 deaths. The financial toll is staggering: $43 billion per annum. While some politicians argue about the science behind distracted driving, experts agree: mobile-device use impairs driving ability. According to a study at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, talking on a mobile device reduces the amount of brain activity related to driving by 37 percent. Further, recent studies show hands-free mobile devices are no safer to use while driving than handheld mobile devices. Distracted drivers have slower reaction times, and the odds of a crash are four times more likely when a driver uses a mobile device. Critically, many scientists believe these distractions make drivers as collision- prone as having a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent, the legal limit.

Legal Landscape

In the last 10 years, courts have seen an “explosion” of distracted-driving cases.

In the last 10 years, courts have seen an “explosion” of distracted-driving cases.

In the last 10 years, courts have seen an “explosion” of distracted-driving cases. In the last five years, juries–emboldened by a “profits over safety” trial theme–have rendered numerous multimillion dollar verdicts, as evidenced by the sample verdicts in Figure 1, left.

The claims in these cases are easy to allege but difficult to disprove. This is because the precise time of the accident often is not known and the telematics data and mobile-device records—once obtained—may show or suggest that the employee was talking on his mobile device, texting and/or emailing in close proximity to the time of the accident. Even if there was no actual distraction, a clever lawyer will argue there is “circumstantial evidence” of driver distraction.

The typical distracted-driving case involves multiple types of claims, including driver negligence, vicarious liability, direct negligence and punitive damages.

Driver Negligence

In states that ban texting and/or the use of handheld cell phones while driving, an employee who is involved in an accident while violating these laws will be negligent per se. Under this doctrine, the mere act of using a mobile device while driving automatically makes the driver negligent.

For states that do not have texting and/or cell-phone bans, courts look at the reasonableness of the driver’s accident-causing behavior. In evaluating behavior, courts will consider state laws, federal regulations, voluntary standards, recognized best practices and common sense. For example, in Scott v. Matlack Inc., the court explained, “it is permissible for a trial court to admit [OSHA] regulations as evidence of the standard of care in the industry in a negligence action.” Likewise, in Peal by Peal v. Smith, the court observed, “the breach of a voluntarily adopted safety rule is some evidence of a defendant’s negligence.”

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