People first Featured

8:00pm EDT July 28, 2006
 Ray Hoover believes that people are the key to the successful growth of a company. Hoover, managing principal of architectural design firm Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc., credits his more than 300 employees in the United States and overseas with growing the nearly $60 million company while other companies have struggled.

“It seems like most of them don’t survive from the first generation to the second generation,” Hoover says. “TVS is in the process of making the transition from second generation to third generation. Being able to do that with that type of longevity requires a culture that does keep your most valuable asset around - and that is the talent and the people you surround yourself with.”

Smart Business spoke with Hoover about how he attracts employees and creates a culture that makes them want to stay.

How do you attract top talent?
It’s a great incubator for young talent. TVS has a reputation ... that it is a great place for young people to come to learn a lot of things about all aspects of this very complicated profession, so you could get the necessary experience and savvy to take and pass that exam faster than anywhere else. We’re able to recruit some of the best and the brightest from around the country because of that.

Secondly is the work that we’ve got, the quality of the design, the acknowledgement that we’ve got out in the marketplace as being committed to high-quality design and the products that various students and other people out there in the profession see

Lastly, our Generation X people are very excited and attracted to firms that practice on a global basis. Even though their work may be on a domestic basis, they’re attracted to firms that are on a global basis.

Our younger folks are much better read, are much better traveled, they are more sensitive to the cross-culture realities that are on the globe now, they are more fulfilled about a diverse set of work-life issues, concerns about the environment, and it’s a rather sophisticated group, which makes me incredibly encouraged and optimistic about not only the future of our industry but about all industries.

That group is interested in organizations that have a diverse background of employees, of cultural backgrounds, and then clients and project opportunities that are equally diverse.

How do you create a good work environment?
TVS is 100 percent owned by our employees through an ESOP program. It started in 1980 ... and it has been about eight or nine years that we are 100 percent owned.

The ESOP culture drives a lot of who we are. Each and every person here is eligible to be an ESOP beneficiary. It doesn’t matter what role you are in. What it instills is an employee owner culture where we know that as individuals, we will do well if the overall organization does well. And as individuals, we equally share with our colleagues based upon our level of contribution and our performance.

But first and foremost, it is the health and success of the organization that comes first. If the organization is first because we all own it, if it is successful, then we and our families will be equally successful. That drives a lot of our culture.

We are not working for anybody. We work for TVS. We work for the organization. I like to think that we don’t have bosses, but we all are equal colleagues. We just have different missions and different roles within the greater entity called TVS.

How does having a positive work environment contribute to your growth?
Part of the ESOP culture is we have a couple of annual meetings. One annual meeting is dedicated strictly to ESOP and ESOP-related issues.

We also have ... an annual business meeting. All members of TVS attend that. If they can’t all be here in Atlanta, then the leadership of the firm goes to them, and we share not only what we’re doing for projects and looking ahead about what we are getting ready to do, but we share financial information, just like you would in a public company, even though we’re not public.

There are enough employees that we have a public-type mindset. So we open the books and show it to them. It’s amazing what a benefit that has.

Our employees not only know how their actions and how their performance can drive the performance of the company, but from an attitude standpoint, it lets them know that they are fully vested, trusted members of the organization.

HOW TO REACH: Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates Inc., www.tvsa.com