05/05/2014 10:16 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

Building a Community That Takes Care of Its People

At the heart of any company that offers empathy and strong incentives and engagement is a company that is "employee centric." What that refers to is a company who puts the needs of their employees in the forefront.

Obviously the bottom-line, the need to increase profit share, to keep a company afloat is primary. Development of a strong customer base is always the target. However, in order to have your employees support your mission, to go out there and sell to your clients, "they," the employees must come first. My personal motto is: "Take care of yourself so you can take care of others." I stretch that to corporations I work with by saying: "Take care of your employees so they can/ will take care of your customers."

Given this philosophy, the first question I posed to Cecelia Lakatos Sullivan, President and CEO of PTI Solutions (formerly Pinnacle Telecommunications, Inc.) was does she consider her company to be an "employee centric" company. Her responses left no doubt. As a privately owned, self-funded company of about 160 employees, she and her partner grow and invest in their employees. They offer wellness programs, excellent health insurance, and incentives for people who don't engage in risky behavior (e.g. smoking) and a strong focus on safety.

As a result, her "people" are very candid with her. If someone at work has a major illness or a loved one who is experiencing illness, Cecelia will know. She personally understands the impact, having experienced a major illness within her family and what that required of her as a caretaker. Her husband is a cancer surgeon, which obviously gives her an even greater awareness of the special needs involved.

She also realizes how the work team might feel "helpless" about how to respond to someone who in reality needs even more from them. Due to the size of the company, it feels very much like a family. Therefore, when the employee is willing, Cecelia encourages them to be open and public about how they are doing and what they need so that the team can respond appropriately. The company and the team does everything possible to keep the ill employee or the caretaker focused on taking care of themselves while also working to whatever level they are capable.

My next interview was with Adam Goodman, President, Goodmans Interior Structures, in Phoenix, AZ. Adam has taken the reins of the family business that has been around for 50 years. Just going to their website is indicative of the kind of company they are. Here's a quote from their website about their mission: "We will build a community that takes care of its sick, supports its weak, inspires its artists, protects its resources and promotes faith for its citizenry. At Goodmans, we will change our community. And we will do it by establishing ourselves as an example -- with style, humor, compassion, integrity and respect."

Like Cecelia, the first question I wanted Adam to respond to was if they are an "employee centric" company. He responded that there is nothing more important then the welfare of their people. He acknowledges that for them to have the very best talent, they must prioritize the welfare of the team.

Their company is also rather small (as compared to Fruit of the Loom with 300,000 employees.) They have about 150. As a small "family" of sorts, they know when a fellow staff member is experiencing cancer or some other major / challenging illness. They are only beginning to see the serious impact that illness can have on an employee when they are the caretaker or the loved one and not the actually diagnosed individual. This awareness is helpful for him.
My next set of questions was about resources and community. They stress self-care for caregivers and a variety of wellness programs. They offer Employee Assistance programs and some management training. While neither offers outside coaching; both definitely see the advantage of that should the need arise. Lastly, Adam told me how his employees would pool vacation days and donate them to someone in need of more time.

Both Cecelia and Adam are active in their communities. They are involved in cancer programs and charities. They see it as important to expand awareness in the community. Cecelia has been such an advocate for as long as she can remember.

What I admired about both of these wonderful CEOs is their commitment, their caring, their concern and their devotion to their people.

They are, indeed, a model for how a culture "should" put the needs of their employees first.

Thank you to Cecelia and Adam.