Twenty years ago Jason Baker started as a warehouse technician at S-E-A Ltd., the company his father helped co-found.
S-E-A, which stands for Scientific Expert Analysis, is a leader in forensics analysis, investigation and production testing. Its engineers, scientists, investigators and researchers are involved in virtually every kind of loss-related occurrence.
Baker, who later went into sales and operations, is now the company’s president and CEO.
“The reality is anybody here that’s not a technical engineer, anybody that you would consider overhead, our job is to make the engineers and our business development staff — our job is to make their jobs better,” he says. “So you do whatever you have to do to make that happen.”
The company recently finished its new four-building corporate headquarters and testing campus, on a 48-acre site next to the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Baker says they’ve added staff since the opening to reach more than 260 employees, including people in 10 regional offices.
“We’re constantly looking for, not necessarily the first person, but we’re always looking for the right person,” he says. “We’ve had positions that will remain unfilled for two years because we can’t find the ideal person.”
Baker says he would rather tell clients that S-E-A couldn’t handle their need, than take on something improperly.
“Sometimes we turn work away or we lose a little bit of market share — we would rather make sure that we put the right person in place, as opposed to just getting revenue or not taking care of clients,” he says.
Investing for success
S-E-A’s biggest challenge is the one it has had for years — finding staff.
Not only do its employees have to be technically savvy, they have to be able to communicate technical terms in a form that a non-technical person can understand. That’s because S-E-A staff often testify in depositions or arbitration.
“We can find technically competent people all the time. It’s the other aspect that becomes very challenging,” Baker says.
In order to meet a challenge, employers often have to invest in the solution. At S-E-A, the company brought on a full-time recruiter two years ago. A licensed attorney who understands the litigation world, she is fully dedicated to the task of recruitment.
Previously, S-E-A used outside recruiters, but because the company is so selective it didn’t have all of their attention, Baker says. Outside recruiters could make more money by placing people elsewhere, places that hired more often.
S-E-A also puts its new hires through an extensive training period, which Baker feels is unrivaled in the industry.
“We invest a lot of money in making sure that our engineers and our investigators can properly take care of our client’s needs — and that we can maintain our brand and our reputation as a top-flight provider of technical services,” he says.
It’s not uncommon to train somebody for 12 to 24 months, on depositions, client communication, file documentation, etc., before he or she independently handles projects.
Committed and engaged
It’s critical to never compromise your hiring standards, Baker says. There’s a reason why people say: Surround yourself with great people.
S-E-A also is 100 percent employee owned, which increases commitment and a shared sense of responsibility.
“I would say it’s been the best form of governance that we’ve had,” he says. “We’ve been privately owned. We’ve been publically owned, and now we’re a limited liability company and it’s by far (the best). By giving your employees part of the business, it gives them a higher level of commitment and interest in making sure things get done.”
All employees have a mentor, and everybody is generous with their time, helping others do the right things and be prepared, Baker says.
The employees are engaged, partly because there’s such diversity in the work. There’s a mixture, for example, of being in the office, writing reports, and being out in the field investigating an accident.
Baker says S-E-A gives its staff independence, the professional responsibility to manage their own schedules.
“We’re a professional company — we hire professionals, and we expect them to behave like professionals,” he says.
And if you’re not doing your job, it will reveal itself. You can only hide for so long, Baker says.
The company also tries to balance the expectations of the people entering the workforce with those who have been with S-E-A for 30 or 40 years.
Its new headquarters has a mix of private and collaborative spaces. Baker says the newer workforce likes the latitude of being able to work where they want. As long as they are working smart and working hard, you can try to accommodate everything.
“We’ve got incredibly bright people. We’ve got incredibly driven people. And it makes my job significantly easier,” he says. “I don’t ever really feel like I ever come to work — I know it’s cliché — but I love what I do, and I think everybody else does here as well.”