When Tom Slater first joined Timberland Lumber Co. four years ago, he never imagined that one of the perks of his employment with the Brazil, Ind.–based pro dealer would be sitting in on a speech from the president of the United States. Hired as a director of business development, Slater has been entrusted by the Timberland management team to make and maintain contacts within the home building industry and identify new market and growth opportunities for the two-unit pro dealer, which led to an appointment to the board of directors of the NAHB. As a result, on Oct.2, Slater and the rest of the NAHB board were addressed by President George W. Bush, who thanked the housing industry for helping to lead the nation's economic recovery.
“I can't think of a company in this area that I could work for that would give me the chances that Timberland does,” Slater says. “Whenever a new leadership opportunity comes up I get asked two questions: ‘How can we help you?' and ‘Do you need extra [financial support]?' How can you not work your butt off for a company like that?”
With a corporate culture emphasizing unity and team play internally between employees and externally with others in the residential construction arena, Timberland has invested heavily in the company's corps of employees, in people like Slater, beginning with an intensive recruitment and hiring process that includes full yard tours and personal introductions to every one of the company's 49 full-time staffers. “We want candidates to see at the start where they are going to work and whom they are going to be working with,” says vice president of human resources Kim Emmert O'Dell. “Lumberyards deal with every aspect of employee—anywhere from the CFO with a master's degree to someone working in a line situation—so it's a lot of different personalities that you have to adjust to, and we want them to appreciate how our facilities and our teamwork can ultimately make their job easier.”
Timberland relies heavily on newspaper and Internet ads to generate groups of job candidates and maintains a philosophy that “You are only as good as the people that surround you.” As a result, the interview process and a post-hire mentor program have been essential facets of a documented corporate HR strategy to “foster the personal and professional growth,” of employees, O'Dell says. New hires work side by side with a Timberland mentor in their department for a full 60 days before going solo, a training process that, while time-demanding, ensures a full indoctrination into Timberland's team-unity philosophy. “That strategy can work in almost any of the positions we have here,” O'Dell says. “It seems to work very well with those individuals who are motivated to take advantage of it.”
Indeed, unleashing the motivation and creative potential within company staffers—whether new hires or Timberland veterans—has been an HR tool that the company has wielded to create both career opportunities for employees and bottom-line success for Timberland's balance sheet. Greg Sirianni, for example, found Timberland management more than open to moving him from a dispatch position to the company's special order department, an area the company had been struggling to organize for several years and one where Sirianni had excelled in when he worked with Furrow's and later Payless Cashways. “The management here was willing to allow me to make changes, to make suggestions. Sometimes in a corporate structure you get a little bit of lip service that they really welcome [input], but you never really see it in place,” Sirianni says. “But nothing was held back. I needed some systems, I needed some programs, I needed some space, I needed some manpower, I needed some equipment—and there was no balking.” With that support, Sirianni has been able to save the company tens of thousands of dollars by revamping special order receivables.
Talent Finders One unique method employed by Timberland to discover untapped employee potential like Sirianni's is a bi-annual review process, which involves supervisors and employees meeting every six months to review progress, determine goals and objectives, and brainstorm career tracks. “I'll be honest, it is very difficult to get that second one in,” O'Dell says. “But at the same time, your review tells you if you are in place for a raise, if you are facing challenges, what you need to do to get to the next level, and I don't think it is fair just to cover those aspects of employment only once a year.”
Frequent reviews also can mean more frequent promotions. Aaron Albers, for example, joined Timberland in 1994 as a load builder. Although still 18, Aaron showed a quick aptitude for builder relations, and was moved to the inside sales counter to gain product knowledge and personal sales skills. After two years, he was promoted again to outside sales and now leads the company in annual sales, including bringing in new big builder business to Timberland's wall panel plant. “Aaron's career growth is the perfect example of bringing in an individual and using their talents for both them and the company,” says company vice president Brad Emmert, who manages day-to-day Timberland operations with O'Dell. “Aaron sells a lot of materials, he is a great employee, and he's only 28 years old. If you understand someone's talents and actually use those talents, you can get a lot of production out of a person.”
While quick promotions and audiences with the president of the United States do not happen every day at Timberland, providing steady opportunities for peer recognition on a day-to-day basis tops a list of standard HR benefits that also includes employee and family health insurance, company contributions to 401(k), and paid vacations and holidays. At an annual winter holiday celebration attended by more than 100 Timberland employees, family, and friends, service awards are presented to distinguished employees, O'Dell screens a film of Timberland accomplishments edited together from photographs and video shot throughout the course of the year, and door prizes—including coveted Timberland logo apparel—are handed out to all in attendance.
To kick morale up even further, company owners Sam and Joyce Emmert purchased a Prevost Coach bus in January 2002 to host employee and customer trips to sporting events, concerts, and fishing and hunting trips. Originally owned by Sylvester Stallone during the filming of “Rocky,” the bus has since been stripped of its cream leather seats for a more professional appearance, and takes Timberland employees and their contractor guests to trips as far away as Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Additionally, the Emmerts also award employees the use of a Ft. Myers, Fla., condo that they own, as a spot bonus for notable achievements.
While these perks definitely boost morale, employees say the most motivating thing about working for Timberland is the never-say-no attitude of the company's management. “We've made some great leaps and bounds here and I think it is because they really stop and listen,” says Sirianni.
“We've been on a path that has worked so well on moving the company forward,” agrees Slater. “We are hitting our goals and I know it is the flexibility provided by the company, whether it is the opportunity to act on your feet, or the chance to change directions to overcome obstacles and stay on course—at Timberland it's yours.”
Company: Timberland Lumber Co.
Year founded: 1969
Headquarters: Brazil, Ind.
Number of locations: 2
Number of employees: 49
2003 gross sales: $18 million
Pro sales percentage: 95 percent
Team Builders Special Report
- Team Builders: Introduction
- Team Builders: Growth Opportunities - Dixieline Lumber
- Team Builders: No Holding Back - Timberland Lumber Co.