Recognizing culture

When William “Bud” Brian founded Budco, a marketing services company, he put extra emphasis on creating a culture he could be proud of. He believed strongly in giving back to the city of Detroit, inspiring innovation among his employees and creating a family-like work environment and built his company around those values.

When it came time to replace himself as president and CEO, Brian sought someone who would maintain the culture he had created and continue to grow the company. In 1999, he decided William Henry, former president and CEO of The Stroh Brewing Co., was that person.

That choice paid off last year when Budco won a Stevie Award for Best Overall Company with up to 2,500 employees in The 2005 American Business Awards. During the six years that Henry has been with company, Budco has grown to $100 million in annual revenue, and the number of employees has increased by 65 percent.

Smart Business spoke with Henry about how he’s dealt with this growth without losing the original culture of Budco.

How did you maintain the culture while transitioning so many new employees into the Budco environment?
It’s a challenge. We did that at a time when we grew business, we moved into a new facility and we also introduced a new warehouse and logistics system. There were a lot of things going on, and it was a big challenge for us.

The culture was such that it allowed us to add those people and absorb them and get them into our culture.

I think we were lucky that we have one campus and we’re not so big that you can’t go out and see people, and they see the management and leadership of the company on a frequent basis. That really makes a big difference.

Having worked for Ford and Stroh’s, which were bigger companies, it’s hard. Ford has facilities scattered all over the country and the world. It’s hard to build a consistent, uniform culture in that kind of an environment. We’re lucky that we are not so big that we have people all over the place.

We are privately owned and there is one owner, so we think of ourselves more as a family. We do a lot of volunteer activities and barbeques. For example, as a holiday tradition, Bud and I serve coffee and doughnuts [to employees before the holidays]. It’s an opportunity to reach out and say, ‘Happy holidays’ to everybody. It’s those kinds of things that go a long way with the employees and maintain our culture.

How does Budco University help train and retain new employees?
It goes back to what we are trying to do with our customers. We are trying to provide unique, competitive solutions for them.

It requires that we have good people. The company has always been willing to invest in its people, to be a learning organization where we are always getting better. We formalized that training program into what we call Budco University.

All of our employees have, every year, a list of classes that hopefully they can attend to make them better and to make the company better and help us achieve our vision of serving our customers better.

One of the ways we measure (the impact of Budco University) and really measure all of our culture is through employee turnover. Our turnover has declined fairly consistently over the years. I think the training program is part of that.

On the other side, which is a little harder to measure, we are constantly upgrading the skills and knowledge of our people, which helps the company move forward.

How does the McNaughton Award fit into your culture?
It’s a formal recognition of something that is important to us and important to every company, and that is innovation. If you go back to what we are trying to accomplish here — help our customers — you do that through innovation.

Part of our culture goes back to an employee who was here when the company started. His name was Bill McNaughton. He was a very innovative kind of guy.

The McNaughton award is a way of formally recognizing the importance of innovation and the importance of the people who contribute to it.

Why is it important for Budco to give back to the community?
It is part of the culture of the company that started back with Bud. Bud is very committed to being involved in the community.

He believes firmly that private enterprise needs to lead the development of our inner cities. It has become an important part of the culture. We work very hard at maintaining that as we grow so that we don’t lose that.

As you get bigger, it’s easy to forget about some of that stuff, and it ends up changing the culture. It has helped us to maintain our culture, and it is an important part of what we do.

We are not doing it for the credit. It’s just part of our family-based culture.