You would think hiring relatives of employees would be a problem but this Kentucky manufacturer's experience has been just the opposite.
Anyone lucky enough to have a growing business knows how frustratingly hit-and-miss the hiring process can be. No matter how many hoops you add, there are people who inevitably jump through them all, exuding enthusiasm and full of ideas, only to turn into “the wrong person for the job” after the paperwork is signed. Surprisingly, I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to guarantee success is to have a job applicant referred by another family member.
When I founded Big Ass Fans more than 15 years ago, we were like what most people would call a family. We went on outings to the bowling alley and pizza parlor. Now that we're up to more than 800 employees, we're more like a tribe — a tribe where mothers, daughters, uncles, cousins, fathers and sons work together. You'd think it would lead to problems, but our experience has been just the opposite.
We have extended families working in production — I can't keep track of them all. We even have grandfathers and grandsons. Of course we have strict policies to prevent favoritism — no family member can ever supervise another. But I’m proud to say that working for us seems to be a glue keeping relatives together.
The person who now greets visitors at our headquarters spent a year hand-balancing fans in our production facility. Now she works around the corner from her mother. Mom's happy — she gets to see her girl every day. And her daughter likes being able to go to her mom with work-related questions and know she'll never be perceived as a nuisance. They recently competed against each other — and finished 1-2 — in a company cook-off.
Because we also employ a lot of recent college graduates, it can sometimes feel like we're a matchmaking company as well as a manufacturer. Relationships come and go, and I’ve long since given up trying to keep up with them. Sometimes they end in marriage, and that creates a whole different category of family. It can sometimes lead to problems, but far fewer than I would have thought.
Employing family members works as long as everyone has a strong work ethic. In fact, that’s the one thing we hope all new hires bring to the workplace. Unfortunately, there are times when a slacker slips through the cracks, and that's when you wish there wasn't a family connection to complicate matters. It's very hard to tell an uncle his nephew isn't doing his job. But those times are rare.
The majority of family ties work strongly in our company’s favor — and in the family members' too, I like to think. One of our longtime production employees has a son who's worked in packaging now for four years. You talk to them and they'll both tell you they love being able to see each other every morning. But more than that, the son says he works harder because he knows his work reflects on his dad, too. That's the kind of sentiment that can make the crustiest old capitalist go teary-eyed.
And in case things haven't gotten sentimental enough, there's this: Almost all employees are eligible for a nice referral bonus if they recommend someone who is hired. After his son was hired four years ago, our longtime production man got his bonus. Did he spend it on a new set of power tools or new tires? No way. He went out and bought a computer for his wife.
That’s my kind of “family values.”
Carey Smith is a lifelong entrepreneur and founder of Big Ass Solutions, which manufactures fans and LED fixtures as Big Ass Fans and Big Ass Light. The company employs a unique direct-sales strategy and manages all aspects of business in-house from design and engineering to marketing and customer service. This gives Carey a unique perspective on how manufacturing affects all aspects of a business, resulting in an often contrarian take on best practices.