The folks at Porter Pipe have. Not long ago, they raised a massive billboard for their new location in Milwaukee, proudly proclaiming, “The Family is Coming, Summer 2023.”
Outside sales representative and family member Jimmy Porter Jr. said of the sentiment: “Thank you to everyone who supports our family business. You are the reason we can continue to grow to new markets, create more opportunities for more families and raise the service bar!”
That family foundation extends beyond bloodlines — it’s a profound consideration, respect and love for every member of the Porter Pipe family and a commitment to one another and the values they live.
“What makes us different and what makes companies who truly stick to their values different is that people believe in them,” CEO Nick Porter shared in the first episode of We Supply America Season One.
In a follow up interview, he told me:
“If I’m in service to the people here, they will exponentially multiply that service to the marketplaces that we serve. If people believe that you care about them and that you will always look out for them and that you’re genuinely in service to them, they’ll turn around and they’ll do that tenfold.”
Can Company Culture Be Built on the Foundation of Family?
Some thought leaders and associations like the well-respected Society for HR Management (SHRM) will advise you not to define your business as a family. And Dr. Adam Grant, author and well-regarded organizational psychologist at Wharton, famously said: “A company isn’t family.”
I fundamentally disagree.
Here’s why: They haven’t visited the over 80 independent family and employee-owned distribution businesses and a handful of manufacturers committed to the distribution channel. They haven’t seen, firsthand, why the word “family” is the best way to describe these world-class organizations.
Take Leonard Rawlins’ story. After 17 years at Dallas-based distributor Graphic Solutions Group, Leonard, a delivery driver, won’t go anywhere else.
When his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he had already used his vacation time. But he needed the time off anyway, so he went to talk to HR. By the time Leonard had left the office and went back downstairs, President Mark Granberry had already heard the story, and made a decision.
Give him what he needs to take care of his wife.
Leonard got the time off with pay. “That’s what I like about this company. That’s why I’ve been around for 17 years.”
The word that comes to mind for him when it comes to the GSG culture? “It’s love. Care. And friendship. We pick each other up.”
When I started the We Supply America tour and film series, which GSG is a part of this year, I don’t think I anticipated hearing so many of these life stories. What lifts me is that these family businesses understand that life happens outside of four walls. These distributors have doubled down on their family cultures to serve as a Force for Good, for their people, for the local communities and for their customers.
Understanding the deep need for individuals to make it through hard times and to do whatever they need to do to help support them – that’s what families do.
Family Culture: The Unrivaled Force in Modern Business
Now is the time to wield your inherent superpower—the familial essence that beats at the heart of your operations. Let us declare without reservation that your family culture is not just an asset, but a groundbreaking force, a beacon of humanity in a business landscape yearning for authenticity and deep-seated connections. This is not merely an opportunity; this is an imperative, a vital step toward reshaping the business world into one that champions humanity, respect and unity.
My experience at dozens of distributors on my We Supply America tour has reaffirmed my belief in the role family culture plays in business. But how can the independent distributor weave that family essence throughout the organization?
Here’s how I see it. The very fabric of business is changing, and employees’ needs, wants and expectations are changing with it.
As a result, there is a growing emphasis on community, belonging, mental health, genuine connections and a sense of purpose. People want workplaces that mirror the solidarity and camaraderie found in closely knit families.
This need is driving the strategies of nearly every business I meet, whether on the We Supply America tour or when keynoting an association or company meeting.
Distributors have a golden opportunity to foster a work environment steeped in trust, mutual respect and unwavering support, much like the nurturing atmosphere of a family. Something the independent distributor has naturally done since the dawn of time.
Don’t just acknowledge this force; amplify it tenfold, brandishing it as your flag, your unique identifier in a world craving genuineness and compassion. It’s far more than a strategy; it’s a solemn duty, a calling to showcase the monumental power of community, belonging and interconnected bonds that transcend mere business relations.
Embrace this unrivaled force and harness the monumental potential of your family culture, cultivate it with fervent dedication, and unveil it to the world with unabashed pride. Double down, unapologetically.
Here’s how distributors are doing that:
They are harnessing the power of a multi-generational workforce.
Missouri-based IBT Industrial Solutions, featured in this year’s We Supply America film series, is about to celebrate 75 years in business in 37 cities. Their motto?
“Where family and tradition meet innovation.”
Look around IBT – or most independent distributor locations, for that matter – and you’ll see that the workplace is a blend of several generations (many actually related) working side by side, each bringing a unique set of values, perspectives and approaches to their work. A sense of mutual understanding and collaboration.
While we continue to see experienced workers retire in droves, the folks at IBT aren’t afraid to pass down their wisdom. David Leffert, Account Manager, has doubled down on the importance of sharing his years of hydraulics knowledge and passion to the next generation.
“There is a young lady that has taken up where I’m going to leave off. It’s great to see that women are getting more involved, and that the company is making it a level playing field for everybody.”
He said if he didn’t pass on his knowledge and expertise, it would have all been for naught.
What’s the lesson in that?
In family cultures, our people want to contribute to each other’s growth, be recognized and be fulfilled. That fulfillment comes when we give our people the chance to look beyond themselves and contribute to something larger.
They are focusing on the emotional and physical well-being of employees.
We’re seeing a shift from transactional relationships to more profound, meaningful engagement in the workplace. The employee experience is a critical focus, with organizations striving to create an environment that fosters happiness, fulfillment and a sense of belonging.
As the global economy experiences uncertainty, employees are seeking stability and security and looking for companies that can weather these turbulent times.
When Robbie Stark, Field Installer, first started at IBT, they told him he was joining a family. That was 39 years ago, and it’s still true today. “When my kids were in sports, I wanted to be there for my kids. The fact that I wasn’t going to lose my job because I wanted to be a dad, that was priceless.”
IBT’s family culture embraces the humanity of their people instead of viewing them as a cog in the wheel.
They are providing a purpose.
Employees are actively seeking opportunities for personal growth and continuous learning, turning workplaces into hubs of knowledge and development. They seek:
- Flexible work arrangements for healthier work-life balance
- Greater emphasis on team collaboration
- Emotional and mental health
- Employment that aligns with their personal values
- Advancement opportunities
It’s more than job satisfaction. The newer generations entering the workforce are actively seeking work that not only pays the bills but also aligns with their personal values and contributes to societal betterment.
Giving back to the community is a major initiative at IBT.
Kevin Cloud, Organizational Development Manager, heads up the philanthropic efforts at IBT.
“We believe at IBT that part of the role of a corporation is to give back to the communities that ourselves and our families live, serve and work in. You hear these stories of heartbreaking things that people out in the world are going through. We believe being a good corporation means doing good in the world and giving back to folks that really need the help.”
Independent family-owned and employee-owned businesses like IBT and Porter Pipe are Forces for Good, businesses that create jobs and pathways for purpose, helping individuals become better versions of themselves. Their stories fill my heart and fuel my passion. You can meet companies like these for yourself in the recently released Season 3 of the We Supply America film series.
There is a narrative out there that says you shouldn’t have a family culture. For those of you who treat your company like your family, my message for you is to double down on it.
Heed this call, and let the golden era of family cultures commence. Stand tall, stand united, and let the transformative power of familial solidarity pave the way for a brighter, more connected and prosperous future. For the future is not just business; the future is family. The future is us, united in purpose and enriched by our shared values and visions.
To family culture, we say: It’s time to rise, unapologetically and resplendently, as the gold standard in business excellence.
Dirk Beveridge is the founder of UnleashWD, Executive Producer at We Supply America, President of the Beveridge Consulting Group, and Champion for the noble calling of distribution for over 37 years. He often speaks at company and association meetings to share his one-of-a-kind perspective on leadership, the future of wholesale distribution and how distributors are a Force for Good. Learn more about Dirk by visiting WeSupplyAmerica.net.