It's mid-afternoon in the Bay Area, and Dem Padrones is setting up happy hour for residents of the assisted living home where he's worked for just over three years. Little did he know that within the hour he would be $50,000 richer.
Wednesday marked the fourth employee giveaway Redmond, Washington-based Aegis Living founder and CEO Dwayne Clark has organized in the past year. He's given away more than $115,000 to members of his 2,300-person workforce in senior housing facilities across California, Nevada, and Washington state in what he calls the Dream Big Lottery. He has also divvied out trips to Hawaii, London, and Disneyland.
"It's a lot of fun, and it gets emotional when you see how it changes people's lives," Clark said. "We wanted to give people enough to buy a condo or a house."
And he has. Last year, Irene Magana of Aptos, California, used her grand prize money ($35,000) on a down payment for a house, helped her daughter pay for college and flew her parents from Mexico for a visit for the first time in fifteen years. Padrones, a 47-year-old divorced father of four, plans to use his $50,000-winnings on a new house. His mind is "still hanging," Padrones says. "I'm still dreaming and I can't believe it. I'm so excited."
Succeeding With 'Soft Benefits'
Clark runs a big business by many measures. The senior housing company pulled in $170 million in revenue in 2015. It employs thousands of people at numerous facilities that cater to thousands of elderly Americans. But it still can't afford to provide fancy benefits like its more famous neighbor Microsoft, which is also based in Redmond.
Many of Clark's employees hold low-paying positions. They're nurses, culinary workers, and housekeepers making roughly $14 to $16 an hour or about $30,000 a year. His customers--elderly people, many suffering from dementia or illness--are on a fixed income, and he can't afford to raise prices to pay staff more.
That's why, in addition to the Dream Big Lottery, Aegis offers employees a package of roughly 30 "soft benefits," like $5 haircuts and massages onsite. Employees can buy unlimited meals for a dollar each--they are welcome to take these meals home to their family. Executives in the corporate office are expected to advocate for soft benefits in every partnership they negotiate. Working with a bank? Employees should be able to open a free account or have access to low rates. Buying food from a vendor? Let's secure employee discounts on holiday turkeys.
Employees seem to approve. According to reviews on Glassdoor, the jobs and career site, 97 percent of Aegis workers approve of the job Clark is doing. The company overall landed 4.5 stars out of 5 when looking at categories like work-life balance and benefits. Clark wrote a book in 2001 called Help Wanted about high employee turnover in the senior housing industry. Per his research, he says CEOs of companies like his reported turnover rates from 125 percent to over 300 percent annually. He says Aegis has a turnover rate of 23 to 58 percent.
"When we first started the company, we had a motto: 'Our customers are No. 2,'" he says. "People thought it was odd, but staff has to be No. 1 or we can't make a good customer experience."
Hitting the Jackpot
And the Dream Big Lottery is Clark's biggest show of appreciation yet. The winners were announced on Wednesday in an event that was live streamed (complete with lots of dancing, woo-hoo-ing, and fist bumping) from the company's home office to the its 29 assisted living communities across Washington, California, and Nevada where the majority of employees work. Aegis Living president Judy Meleliat hosted the event with Clark. To find a winner, Chief Operating Officer Tom Laborde snatched tiny strips of paper containing employee names out of a clear glass tank. The longer an employee has been with the company, the greater their chances of winning--from one ticket for three years of employment up to five tickets for 10 years. (All prizes are grossed up to cover taxes, so that winners net the amount they were promised.)
Fifteen people won $1,000 each on Wednesday, including Rebecca Sandoval, a 59-year-old housekeeper in Pleasant Hill, California, who has been with Aegis for 16 years and Jayne Porsha Tamayo Fabian, a 31-year-old nurse in Bellevue who has been with the company for four years.
Clark understands how much a check can change someone's life. He grew up poor, the youngest of four, with a single mother. "We didn't have food to eat at times," he says. "Our only furniture at times were cardboard boxes." Clark recalls his mom "borrowing" 25 potatoes from her employer so the family could live on soup for two weeks until her check came in. But during those times, Clark said his mom always built up his confidence, telling him when he made it some day--as president of a company or of the country--he had to remember what it was like to have nothing.
That's the heart of the employee lottery, he says. "Staff are working with people who are at the end of their lives. It's difficult work, so as a corporate culture, we have to work extremely hard. We have to do so much more than the Googles of the world to keep people around."