Family affair Featured

7:00pm EDT November 1, 2005
Retaining employees for 20 or 30 years has become a lost art in corporate America, but apparently nobody told the folks at CASTO.

“We have a guy who’s been here for 30 years; another for 31,” says Don Casto, a principal with the $175 million Columbus-based real estate company. “A couple of our maintenance guys have been here over 40 years ... and I’ve been to retirement parties for people who have been here 44 or 45 years. It’s mind-boggling. These people can get a paycheck anywhere, but they choose to stay here.”

Casto credits the family atmosphere that he and the other executives at CASTO strive to maintain at the 350-plus employee company.

For example, none of the top executives at CASTO has a title, he says.

“We sort of pride ourselves on that fact,” Casto says. “We’re highly unstructured in that way. We’re all first among equals.”

It’s an attitude that permeates the company.

“When we have a new hire, I make a point of telling them, ‘I’m not Mr. Casto. I’m Don. We’re resolutely not hierarchical here. You can walk into anybody’s office at any time.’”

In addition, Casto maintains that a family that works hard together should play hard together.

“I think people are more productive if they’re having fun,” he says, noting that golf outings and other socially driven company functions are commonplace. “Ours is a family-friendly work environment, but we’re also very professional. It’s a great place to work because everybody likes everybody.”

That mutual kinship is especially evident among the eight partners, he says.

“We all care about each other personally — and I mean sincerely care,” he says. “We travel together; we go to each other’s kids’ sporting events. We almost function as a family. There’s not a single member of our management team that thinks of himself or herself first. I’m not sure there are a lot of other businesses like that.”

Of course, running a flat organization with no clear-cut CEO comes with its own set of challenges, Casto says.

“When you have eight people that need to make a decision, the decision-making process can be very cumbersome,” he says. “A decision that in a normal hierarchy would take a couple of hours to make, in our environment can take a couple days. There’s a lot of pushing back and forth, a lot of significant disagreement, but that’s part of dealing with a large-base partnership.”

The upshot, he says, is the confidence his company has in the thoroughly debated decisions.

“It helps prevent mistakes when you have to convince eight people that your project is one we ought to do,” he says. “We make a lot fewer mistakes than other developers because we have a self-correcting mechanism. You know the saying that two minds are better than one? Well, eight are better than two. If everybody can’t be persuaded, we don’t do it.”

It’s that type of mutual respect and caring at the top that feeds the sense of family throughout CASTO.

“You really have to care about the people you work with and who work for you,” Casto says. “You have to really care that they succeed both financially and in their professional and personal growth.

“I am well-paid for what I do, but the biggest compensation I receive is watching my associates and my partners grow professionally and have financial success. I take real, genuine pleasure in helping them succeed.”

HOW TO REACH: CASTO, (614) 228-5331, www.castoinfo.com