by Heather Feeler
photos by Keith Borgmeyer & Anthony Jinson
Started in 1999 by local owner Bruce Gibbs, GFI Digital is a full-service office equipment business offering multi-functional printers and managed print services. GFI has 255 employees in 10 locations serving Missouri and central Illinois, with its main administrative and operations center in Jefferson City.
Prior to starting his own business, Bruce Gibbs worked for a company with a great business culture, but things changed drastically when corporate took over. He took what he learned over the years, including how to create a fun and motivated staff, and applied it to his own business model. Gibbs took the open-book management approach, made famous by businessman Jack Stack, to share financials with all employees and teach them the rules of business. It has paid dividends.
“It’s a big motivator, and we send out weekly stats,” says Gibbs. “If you’re sharing in the numbers and bonus opportunities, everyone gets smarter and understands the vision and how those numbers tie back to customer needs.”
Hitting those numbers also means that employees get to share in having fun, all funded and organized by GFI. All employees are treated to an annual volleyball weekend hosted at the Lodge of Four Seasons at Lake Ozark to spend time having fun on the volleyball court, which also has a bonus of $1,000 attached for the winning team.
“It got way too competitive. Now we have a strict ‘no jumping’ rule in volleyball to save our knees, because we were all having to have knee surgery,” Gibbs laughs.
It is that competiveness, the drive to keep getting better, that is at the heart of the corporate culture at GFI — motivation through incentive. Gibbs has built a corporate culture where those open-book numbers are part of every employee’s individual and team goals. When employees rise, so does the company.
Employees are also rewarded for exceeding goals through the annual president’s club and quarterly awards. Gibbs even gives an incentive for recruiting new employees to the team; 70 percent of GFI employees come via a reference from another employee. There is a $500 bonus for referring someone that stays at least six months with the company.
“People are everything,” Gibbs says. “Customer satisfaction becomes easier when employees are happy doing what they’re doing.”
Gibbs has learned a lot over the years, including about himself as a leader. Even though he is fiercely focused and competitive, he also understands the importance of being candid about your mistakes along the way.
“You have to be humble in business,” Gibbs says. “When something’s not right, you need to say it was a mistake and be quick to do that.”
For GFI, there’s been more wins than mistakes over the years, and their financial numbers keep trending upward. Gibbs’ motivated teams, all across the company, continue to be the drivers of their own success. It’s a success they can proudly keep growing in together.
Put Me in Coach:
Pro Food Systems Inc. is the parent company to Champs Chicken and Cooper’s Express. The company now markets under the PFS Brands name and distributes chicken, along with other products, to 700 locations in 37 states from its headquarters and distribution center in Holts Summit. Started by CEO Shawn Burcham and his wife, Julie, PFS Brands has 115 employees and been named one of Inc. magazine’s “Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies in the USA” for the last seven years.
The walls and offices at PFS Brands might look a little different than other corporate offices. They’re completely personalized. Each employee is encouraged to make the space their own, including quotes added to the walls or decorations that make them feel comfortable. The quote in the fitness center reads, “Think big, believe big, act big, and the results will be big.”
Shawn Burcham knows a thing or two about going big. He started the business from scratch in 1998, originally as a coffee business, and he’s now responsible for a multimillion dollar company with a new state-of-the-art headquarters and distribution center. While he’s been busy growing the business, he’s also been developing a corporate culture where employees are always learning.
PFS Brands, which also has an open-book management approach, hosts PFS University, a whole curriculum of classes focused on teaching employees about business financials, literacy, and leadership. In addition, the company has a Better Book Club, with free access to books and an online reporting system to share
their book reviews with others on the team. New employees also have the opportunity to learn more about PFS Brands core values directly from Burcham himself. It’s a role he never plans to delegate.
“The most important and most expensive investment we make is in people. Why not invest in them?” asks Burcham. “There’s nothing like core values coming directly from the CEO. It’s a mistake to delegate the onboarding process to someone else.”
Investing in employees is something Burcham is very passionate about. So much so, in fact, that he’s willing to give them some of the company he’s worked so hard to build the last 18 years. In 2015, the company officially launched an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, which is a retirement plan where the company contributes stock to benefit the company’s employees. Burcham is investing heavily in their future.
“I want to provide everyone a stake in the outcome of this company,” says Burcham. “It’s a succession planning tool with an end goal of being able to transition this company [to employees] and keep it right here in central Missouri.”
An avid reader and a lifelong learner, Burcham has grown tremendously over the years, not only in how he approaches business, but also in how he keeps growing personally. He has some big goals on the horizon, including doubling sales every three to four years for the company and finally writing his own book.
Burcham lives what he preaches every day. Never stop growing. Win big. Be open to change. It might even be a quote on an office wall somewhere in the building
Quaker Window Products
Founded in 1949 by Harold (also known as Bud) and Marge Knoll, Quaker Window Products, in Freeburg, Missouri, is a manufacturer of both residential and commercial vinyl, aluminum, and wood clad windows. Quaker has more than 700 employees working in an expanding state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and is a nationally-recognized brand for quality windows. It is still family-owned.
Quaker Windows manufacturing facility sits nestled off the highway in the small farming community of Freeburg, population 429. From the highway, it’s hard to tell how big the million-square-foot operation really is (it includes a separate campus two miles down the road) or how fast it continues to grow. It’s larger than the Knoll family could have ever imagined when starting out 67 years ago, yet despite the tremendous growth over the years, it still has the same family values as when they first started.
“I think about how Bud and Marge started this business as a mom-and-pop shop selling windows out of the back of their truck,” says Pam Knoll, one of the family owners. “Their dream has grown into something they could have never imagined.”
While there are third-generation Knolls still working at Quaker, all 700 employees are considered family and a critical part of the success of this family-owned business. It’s one of the reasons Quaker continues to invest in a corporate culture of employee growth through common goals, open communications, advancement opportunities, and a profit sharing program that rewards every employee.
“We’re really focused on everyone at Quaker growing from a career standpoint to make this the last place they work,” says Kevin Blansett, Quaker CEO. “We are teaching the business to the entire organization, so they have that ownership thinking because they are owners through profit sharing.”
In 2015 Quaker began offering employees profit sharing opportunities with the first payout last December. This opened the door for Quaker leadership to continue educating employees about the bottom line of business. Blansett meets with all 700 employees each quarter to update them on key metrics and numbers as well as answer any questions on future goals. There are also digital monitors throughout the facility to track numbers in real time for each of the company’s divisions.
“We get better so much more quickly because everyone is participating in the same goals,” Blansett says. “We’re focused on growing the team, and we need those great ideas to grow the business.”
Growing the team also means giving employees the opportunity to grow in job opportunities. Kiosks have been set up throughout the facility to allow employees to bid on jobs immediately when they are posted, including many jobs that are only open internally. It gives them an opportunity to move up levels, make more income, and further their leadership skills. This investment in family is paying off.
Last year Quaker had the most profitable year in the company’s long history. It’s a corporate culture they hope to build upon year after year, allowing all of the Quaker family members to receive a valuable slice of the blue-ribbon pie.
“The pie is getting bigger and the opportunities are amazing,” Blansett says. “We really haven’t even stepped on the gas pedal. We’ve doubled sales in the last four years, and our momentum just keeps growing.”