Investing in the future Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

Jim Green works hard to keep his employees happy, knowing that how he treats them impacts how they treat their customers.

And the customers seem to be happy. As an example, the founder, co-owner, chairman and president of Aetna Maintenance Inc. recalls a prospective customer who called an AMI customer for a reference.

“Our customer told them that we made him feel like he was our only customer,” Green says. “That prospective customer is now a customer.”

Green’s 1,500 employees provide commercial and industrial janitorial maintenance, and the company posted 2007 sales of $23 million.

Smart Business spoke with Green about how he attracts and retains good employees.

Q. How do you build a strong work force?

You have to keep your employees happy. We pay a competitive rate for the employees, and if they’re not happy with our company, they’ll go to work for someone else, and then we have to retrain someone else.

We give them training, and we make them comfortable in their job. We don’t hire someone new and just turn them loose. They actually work with a trainer or a supervisor on-site to get them familiar with what they’re supposed to do, with equipment and supplies.

If they’re doing a good job and they’re happy at their job, our customers will be happy. That’s the whole key to growth.

Q. How does training benefit your company?

There’s less turnover. If employees are trained and know what you expect, they’re happier.

If everyone is paid the same minimum wage, employees are going to stay with the company that treats them better than the other companies. They’ll feel comfortable in their job.

If you can cut (turnover) in half, management doesn’t have to spend time training new employees, and they can devote that time to better checking the building and making sure our customers are happy. We don’t ask our employees to do something that our management team would not do.

Q. How do you attract employees?

We try to get referrals from other employees. If they can bring somebody in, and that person lasts for 90 days, we’ll give them a bonus. If an employee knows someone who’s looking for a job, it makes more sense to hire that person.

We run a statewide background check, but that really doesn’t say how hard they work or their attitude — you don’t find out those things until after they’re hired. But, if someone says, ‘I know this person, and he’s a good worker who’s going to do his share of the job,’ we prefer that route.

Q. How does hiring that way benefit you?

That helps the quality of employees; hopefully, they’re better than you’re going to get off the street. If you run an ad in the paper, you have no idea the quality of the person. They may have a clean background, but you don’t know how good of a worker they are.

With privacy laws now, most employers will not honestly tell you what an employee’s like. We try to put the percentage on our side. It may not work for other people, but it works for us.

Q. What advice would you share with other business leaders trying to grow their company?

Keep your employees informed and ask for suggestions from your employees. I’ll meet with my top management, and we’ll kick around how we can save a customer money or how can we give them a better job than they’re getting now. You’d be surprised at some of things that other people come up with.

My management style is autonomy with accountability. My managers have the autonomy to make changes that will result in a better outcome. They also have to have accountability. It’s a two-edged sword; they’ve got the freedom, but they also have the responsibility.

You don’t have to make all the decisions yourself. Everybody shares the decision-making, and you empower your management people to do the job that they think should be done.

I don’t believe in bullying or management by intimidation; that’s not my style. I absolutely hate that, and I will not have it in my company. That went out of style 30 years ago.

Q. How do you deal with people who don’t make good decisions?

We discuss what was wrong with the decision and how we can correct it. Hopefully, they’ll learn from their mistakes. If they make the same mistake over and over again, then you have to discuss whether they’re in the right business or not.

Our customers are tough. Dollars are harder to come by, and they want more for their dollar. If you can’t do it, they’ll find somebody that can. Everybody is doing more in their jobs with less people, and there’s more demand on everyone.

HOW TO REACH: Aetna Maintenance Inc., (800) 330-2400 or www.aetnamaintenance.com