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All in the Family

March 01, 2009 |

Sixty-four-year-old Robins & Morton has grown from the small Robins Engineering Company of Birmingham, Ala., into one of the top healthcare general contractors in the nation. Today, R&M has offices in Birmingham, Huntsville, Dallas, Orlando, Nashville, and Charlotte, N.C. It is ranked the fourth-largest healthcare general contractor in BD+C's 2008 Giants 300. All of its management (including 20 partners) have been with R&M for more than a decade, and its voluntary turnover rate is a slim 8.2%. Fifty-five percent of R&M's 480 salaried employees have spent their entire careers at the firm. The company has 802 employees overall.

President and CEO Bill Morton attributes his company's successful retention rate to the firm's family atmosphere. Morton's grandfather, “Sunshine” Morton, was a laborer in the company in the early days, and he introduced his two sons to the business. Morton's father, Barry, worked up through the ranks to become a partner in 1972 and president and CEO in 1982. He moved up to chairman in 1996 and was succeeded as president and CEO by his son Bill.

“Sometime in the late '70s, the company took on a team approach where the philosophy was always to do what was right for the client,” said Morton. “Back then, that wasn't a popular way to approach the business. Projects were mainly hard bid at that time. But that [client-centered approach] really allowed us to succeed.”

R&M states that 80% of its business comes from repeat clients like Community Health Systems and Auburn University. The company creed includes responsibilities to customers, employees, subcontractors, suppliers, stockholders, and the public. All employees carry a business card-sized copy of the creed as a reminder of these responsibilities.

R&M recruits more than a third of its entry-level hires from 29 colleges; it visits 18 of those schools each year. Prospective hires are interviewed by the immediate manager, co-workers, and the senior management. In 2008, R&M's hit rate for entry-level posts actually exceeded 100%, because they hired three more prospects than had been planned. In 2008 87% of R&M's open positions were filled internally.

Once hired, R&M employees are shown a clear path to advancement. All new hires are assigned a mentor, and although the relationship formally lasts one year, most employees reported that their mentor relationship was lifelong.

Every employee is automatically enrolled in R&M's Training for Excellence program. The firm spent about $1,500 per employee on education last year and offers such classes as “Project Management the Robin & Morton Way.” Most classes are taught by senior staff, and subcontractors and clients may enroll.

All classes take place in the company's state-of-the-art 2,827-sf training center, which was upgraded in early 2008. Employees can take classes from their desks via video conferencing. R&M also covers tuition for its employees' outside CE classes.

R&M created an open forum, the Quality Action Council, for all employees to voice their suggestions for improving operations. Last year, six employees received awards of $100 for making suggestions that were successfully implemented.

Employees receive paid time off to volunteer. Last year, they contributed 3,758 hours to charities. The company was instrumental in establishing the Alabama chapter of the Architecture Construction Engineering (ACE) Mentor program, which exposes high school students to AEC careers.

Employees at the firm more or less adopted one young man whom they met through the ACE program. He started working at R&M as an intern in high school, and it became clear that the boy's home situation was difficult at best. Individual employees and the firm helped him with financial and emotional support. The young man was admitted to college, but had no place to live the summer prior before matriculating, so an R&M employee's family gave him a home for the summer. He is attending Auburn's McWhorter School of Building Sciences on a full scholarship.

The firm's generosity even extends to the friends of employees. Last year, an employee's jobsite friend underwent cancer surgery and needed home assistance. R&M employees transformed the friend's carport into a bedroom and full bath at no cost, so that the friend's daughters could stay at the house and help out their father.

One of the more notable recent events at the firm was the R&M family retreat, a three-day, all-expenses-paid celebration for employees and their families at Renaissance Ross Bridge Resort and Spa in Birmingham. Due to the current economic situation, R&M has postponed the planned 2009 retreat. “Although the company is doing pretty well, we do have some clients that are feeling the pinch,” said CEO Morton. “We don't want to go forward with an event that might seem lavish when others are suffering.”

One benefit that is still on the menu is the R&M team-building trips. The company covers hotel, airfare, and basic expenses for groups of employees with similar job responsibilities to travel together—to New York, Miami, or elsewhere—solely to build camaraderie. Two months after joining the company in 2008, Lindsay Draney, a communications manager, went to Miami with a group from the office. “It was a great way to get to know my new co-workers,” she said.

In 2008, a survey of employees by an outside agency found that 100% of respondents said they were proud to work for R&M. “We want to share the wealth and success of the company with as many people as possible,” Bill Morton said. “There's nothing that's more important to the company than the people you work with every day.” — Jeff Yoders, Senior Associate Editor


More Benefits at R&M

Paid child care and—and pet care!— for employees traveling for business
Company contributes 13.56% of employee's salary to 401(k)
Annual holiday gift packet
On-site dry cleaning and car washes
Free tickets to local sporting and cultural events
Monetary gifts for every five years of tenure
Corporate softball team; running, walking, workout groups
8 weeks 100% paid maternity leave and five days paid paternity leave
Radio Flyer wagon full of R&M baby gifts sent to parents of newborns
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