AE Works finds balance between freedom, responsibility

That impact comes from the wellness of the staff — whether it’s their overall health and personal well-being or learning experiences and career goal planning — and being a positive force in the community.

Visitors often mention that AE Works operates like a tech company.

Cherock uses Peter Senge’s words to explain it: As a business you’ve got to be profitable — it’s like oxygen for business — but unfortunately, businesses act as if breathing is their only purpose.

Cherock decided to become a B Corp with input from his employees.

“As I gathered that data and listened to my staff, I knew that there had to be more to the company than just coming in, designing buildings, getting paid and going home,” he says.

Overcoming skeptics

Some employees are more closely aligned, but Cherock says the business model is legitimized through internal communication and processes.

AE Works has chiefs such as chief design officer, as well as a social chair and eco chair. There’s a dual hierarchy of technical and cultural leaders; cultural warriors and associates aligned to the triple bottom line model to help build momentum.

Everything at AE Works is a project, he says. So today, the company creates social projects under the categories of fun, fit and forward, as well as eco projects that focus on footprint, governance and knowledge.

For example, employees participate in Canstruction, where architectural firms build structures out of food cans. Cherock says AE Works donated those cans afterwards and involved both a customer and contractor.

Cherock meets many CEOs who are skeptical about the triple bottom line model because in the end, any business still has to be profitable.

His response is that if your company has human beings, it’s triple bottom line. People have good and bad days, and there’s social and eco capital in play.

“Everyone else can act like it doesn’t exist. You can treat your people like robots. That’s your call,” he says. “We don’t do that.

“We recognize it, and we believe from a value proposition perspective, as a pure business sense, it’s the right move. It’s not only consistent with our values. It’s good business.”

You also have to remember that you’re a human being, too.

“I think a lot of CEOs forget they are,” Cherock says. “They get so caught up in what’s happening — and it’s easy to — they forget that they’ve got a heartbeat.”