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Some Things Won't Change: Lessons from Our Founders

by Jeff Gau on January 17, 2013

This month we are celebrating our 40th anniversary at Marco. It was back in 1973 that Dave Marquardt and Gary Marsden, which make up the “Mar” in Marco, turned their dreams of owning a business into a reality. They were IBM sales guys who purchased The Typewriter Shop in St. Cloud, which has become one of the largest technology providers in the Upper Midwest.  

As much as things have changed over the past four decades, there’s as much that has stayed the same. Yes, there are a lot more zeros in our sales figures these days, but I feel these five principles of business established by our founders  provide a strong foundation for our ongoing success:

1. Let employees share in the success.
Profit sharing has long been a part of the culture at Marco. Gary and Dave developed a formal profit sharing program early on and that eventually gave way to Marco becoming one of the first ESOPs in the state in 1989 when Dave left the business. Today we are 100 percent employee owned and have distributed over $21 million in stock and cash to the employees. This unique ownership structure has been a key component in our ability to attract and keep good people. 

2. Record keepers are record breakers.
You’ve heard me talk about this in previous blogs and it comes from our founders. Like myself, they were sales-focused and defined a true sales-driven culture that continues today. They were both heavily involved in sales activities and took active roles in developing new team members. As a new sales guy, I can remember them lining us up from worst to first according to our monthly sales performance. You did not want to be the first name called. I would say it was a hard core sales culture, but it worked then and we continue to post individual rankings of sales reps’ performance today. I believe this contributed to us having one of the highest performing sales teams in our industry.

3. Doing good isn’t optional.
Marco’s reputation for being a good corporate citizen started back in the 70s and since 1981, we have been a recognized Keystone Company, donating at least 5 percent of our profits each year to charity. Our founders’ philosophy that it is not enough for a business to “do well,” it must also “do good,” continues to be the foundation for our commitment to giving back to the communities we serve. An example is our support of the United Way where participation really did become almost an expectation of our employees and that continues today. It was clear that if you were going to be a leader in the company, you needed to be a leader in the community.

4. Customer satisfaction: if you can’t measure, you can’t manage it.
Every company strives to achieve good customer satisfaction and many believe they have attained it, but few can prove it. Marco has been conducting monthly surveys and documenting results for nearly 20 years to ensure we are meeting our customers’ expectations. In fact, we have dedicated a full-time person to measuring results, identifying issues and implementing our corrective action process. The results are updated and posted consistently for employees and customers to see and are reviewed by our leadership team bi-monthly. I believe this has been a key component to client retention.

5. Employee satisfaction cannot be compromised.
My primary role at Marco is to support a culture that people want to be a part of. Being known as a great place to work has become a hallmark of our company and something we don’t take for granted. This will be our 25th consecutive year of measuring employee satisfactio,n which includes everything from compensation and benefits to manager’s performance and trust in leadership. The initial 100-question survey was written by an employee team led by one of our founders. In 2012, we integrated five new companies, added 270 new employees and had our highest employee satisfaction score since we’ve been keeping track.

Often times when a new CEO takes over, they think they have to change everything. Now in my ninth year as the president and CEO of Marco, I hope I’ve been a good example of how leadership can retain the established best practices, while incorporating their own initiatives into the success of an organization. I hope I too can leave a legacy of principles for the next generation of leadership. Marco has been built to last and should be in good shape for another 40 years.

Topics: Change, Lessons

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