It's time again to don the protective gear: We're being bombarded by Norman Rockwell images of happy families gathered around holiday tables. Of course all the schmaltz is just advertisers' way of getting to our wallets, but there's no escaping that families are on everyone's minds right now.
When I founded Big Ass Fans more than 15 years ago, we were like what most people would call a family. We went on outings to the bowling alley and pizza parlor. Now that we're up to nearly 800 employees, we're more like a tribe--a tribe where mothers, daughters, uncles, cousins, fathers and sons work together. You'd think it would lead to problems, but our experience has been just the opposite.
We have extended families working in production--I can't keep track of them all. We even have grandfathers and grandsons. Of course we have strict policies to prevent favoritism--no family member can ever supervise another. But working for us seems to be a glue keeping relatives together.
The person who greets visitors at our headquarters spent a year hand-balancing fans in our production facility. Now she works around the corner from her mother. Mom's happy--she gets to see her girl every day. And her daughter likes being able to go to her mom with work-related questions and know she'll never be perceived as a nuisance. They recently finished 1-2 in a company cook-off.
Because we also employ a lot of recent college graduates, it can sometimes feel like we're a matchmaking company, too. Relationships come and go. Sometimes they end in marriage, and that's a whole different category of family. It can create problems, but far fewer than I would have thought.
Employing family members works as long as everyone has a strong work ethic. Unfortunately that's not always true, and that's when you can wish there wasn't a family connection to complicate matters. It's very hard to tell an uncle his nephew isn't doing his job. But those times are rare.
The majority of family ties work strongly in our favor--and I like to think in the family members' too. One of our longtime production employees has a son who's worked in packaging now for four years. You talk to them and they'll both tell you they love being able to see each other every morning. But more than that, the son says he works harder because he knows his work reflects on his dad, too. That's the kind of sentiment that can make the crustiest old capitalist go teary-eyed.
And in case things haven't gotten sentimental enough, there's this: Almost all employees are eligible for a nice referral bonus if they recommend someone who is hired. After his son was hired four years ago, our longtime production man got his bonus. Did he spend it on a new set of power tools or new tires? No way. He went out and bought a computer for his wife.
That's a pretty nice holiday story, if you ask me, with just the slightest hint of schmaltz.