Success by the Book

When business leaders talk about the success of their organizations, they often cite their people and corporate culture as the company's two most important differentiating factors.

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And among the companies competing in the price-sensitive and margin-challenged foodservice industry, I was hearing these statements so often they were becoming cliché to me. Someone would start waxing poetic about their company culture and all I could hear was the "wah wah wah" of the teacher from an old Peanuts cartoon. And then I paid a visit to Mission Restaurant Supply in San Antonio.

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During our first visit around the glass conference table in Mission's offices, CEO Jack Lewis had gathered a group of key business leaders. They each took turns discussing what working at Mission meant to them, how the employees treat each other like family and more. I took lots of notes, admired the very colorful paintings produced by Liza Lewis, who is Jack's wife and partner in the business, and then we toured Mission's various facilities. What struck me about the initial visit is the way the employees greeted and interacted with Jack, Mission President Andy Wueste and branch managers Joshua Folan and Duane Moller. The warm interaction seemed to be based on equal parts friendship and respect. This was not the typical employee-manager interaction where the former feels compelled to acknowledge the latter. They really sought each other out, shared a laugh and discussed anything from business to family.

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With our initial visit over, Jack gave me and Maureen a copy of the Mission Culture Book. I set it aside for a couple of days while attending a conference in San Antonio. After sandwiching myself into yet another plane seat for the return trip home, I reached for the Mission Culture Book and began reading this 106-page unfiltered look inside the soul of FE&S' 2012 Dealer of the Year. What I read amazed me. A simple compilation of e-mails gathered from the Mission employees, the casual, comfortable and respectful tone of the book speaks volumes about the dealership's working environment and the employees' feelings toward one another and the management.

What's most interesting about the entire company, though, is that they all feel fortunate to have one another and to get to work together every day. I mean, when was the last time you heard of a company where people from other departments actually volunteer to stay after hours to help take inventory? It's a regular occurrence at Mission. And they pay that spirit forward through the company's philanthropic efforts and the employee-endowed scholarship in the name of Jack and Liza Lewis.

It all comes down to this: trust. The employees trust that management will do the right thing for the company and management trusts that the employees will do what's right for one another, the business and their customers. With that level of trust and accountability governing everyone's actions, doing what's right by the customer and finding new ways to serve the customer that lead to new revenue streams remain the focus. The net result is a business that appears immune to the economic hardships of the past few years and poised for continued growth.

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