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Culture is Key, But Key to Culture Comes Through Hiring

By Rex Huppke

I Just Work Here Column

November 13, 2012


No. 1 large company

Abt prides itself on being a family-run business — there's almost always an Abt family member on the showroom floor — so it's fitting that the culture is less formal than at many large companies.

"It's very noncorporate here," said co-president Jon Abt. "It's a real family-centric environment. It's certainly not for everyone. But it's very similar to how it was run by my grandparents in the '30s and '40s."

Jennifer Guzman, the company's human resources director, said many job candidates come as word-of-mouth referrals from employees. And while Abt is looking for people with relevant job experience and a strong knowledge of the products the company sells, character is a key factor.

Each candidate has a "character group interview" with a small committee of managers.

"We're really looking for someone who is honestly just friendly," Guzman said. "A huge amount of our business is return business. No matter if it's sales, customer service, human resources — if we don't think they can provide the top level of customer service, then it's not a good fit for us."

She said the company looks for people who are self-starters and aren't afraid to innovate.

"We want people to have ideas and run with them," Guzman said. "We really don't micromanage. The people who are innovative and do have good ideas, we tend to notice that quickly, and those people tend to move up in the ranks."

Abt said the company maintains its collegial culture by closely monitoring staff performance and swiftly addressing any problems, particularly in the area of customer service. If someone ignores the needs of a customer or doesn't go above and beyond what's expected to help that customer, a manager will coach the employee on proper protocol, focusing on the company's motto: "The answer is yes to any reasonable request."

"We try to identify issues as quickly as possible," Abt said. "We're constantly monitoring calls and doing quality assurance on our employees. If there's an issue, we issue them a file letter and the manager will have a conversation with them. We try to fix the problem as best as we can. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, it isn't a fit and we have to part ways. But we try to fix the problems instead of just hammering away at them."

Copyright © 2012 Chicago Tribune