Lee Company: Imagining Life Better By Marielle MacMinn
In today’s cutthroat business environment where millennials are job hopping every few years, people are putting a focus on company culture. In fact, Adam Grant, B-School professor at Wharton, says investing in building a culture of givers is the single most important thing you can do to ensure your success. Creating a company with a culture of giving is beneficial to a business on many levels: employees help each other with no strings attached; are passionate about helping clients; and won’t hesitate to extend themselves to helping the local community. Bill Lee of the Lee Company in Nashville, TN understands the importance of having a company culture that creates value.
Founded in 1944, the Lee Company is a mechanical contracting, facilities, and home services company with over 1000 employees. In 2014, they were honored by the Associated General Contractors of America as the Subcontractor of the Year; the Tennessean newspaper named the Lee Company as one of Tennessee’s Top Work Places in 2006, 2007 and 2014. Tennessee is known as the “Volunteer State” and the Lee Company only reinforces that nomenclature. As Lee discussed in his recent interview with Co.Tribute, building a company with a mission and purpose is what creates value and distinguishes them from competition. “The goal is to make sure employees genuinely know the company is invested in their wellbeing; it makes work more fun.”Lee recognizes the fact that the current work force is concerned with more than just a paycheck – they want to feel a part of a purpose and mission – and the Lee Company emphasizes that every year in their strategic management meetings.
A Strong Foundation
Great companies (and buildings) have strong foundations. Bill Lee joined his grandfather’s company in 1981 after earning his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University. In 1992, Bill became President of the company and grew its worth from $20 million to $160 million. Now he serves as the Chairman and is still dedicated to building a company culture focused on philanthropy. For the last three years, Lee has been honored by the Nashville Business Journal as a Williamson County Impact Award winner. The award “honors leaders, community supporters, business owners and developers who are leading the charge for improvements and economic development for Williamson County.”
One of the ways Lee and the company ensure employees know they are genuinely appreciated is through the LEAF program: Lee Employee Assistance Fund. All employees are able to contribute to this fund at will and the Lee Company matches any donation. A committee made up of employees then controls the disbursement of those funds based on need. The fund is intended to assist employees who run into unexpected financial hardships: an uninsured situation, help with a mortgage payment, catastrophe help, etc. Employees make requests directly to the committee which eliminates red tape and the corporate bureaucracy that often prevents other companies from successfully implementing similar programs.
The Lee Company is not only generous to their employees, but they encourage their employees to be generous in the community. They work very closely with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee with a program they sponsor called Vans4Cans. During Vans4Cans, employees alert customers to the program before they arrive and collect canned goods from all their jobs to donate to Second Harvest. This program has had so much success that Second Harvest nominated the Lee Company for the 2016 Mary Catherine Strobel Volunteer Award for corporate volunteerism. They were one of three finalists and part of the inspirational stories shared at the April awards ceremony.
Another exciting program is the charity golf tournament that the Lee Company just hosted to raise money for the Special Olympics of Williamson County. The program was a success garnering many participants and raising $50,850. Those funds will be used to provide gear and supplies for the winter game athletes and swimming program. The Lee Company’s focus on philanthropy and giving back to the community is an integral part of their culture. Aside from these organized programs, 10% of the company’s profits are given to non-profits.
Yet their main goal is to inspire generosity more than to be generous. As Lee explained, “the ability to inspire generosity in 1000 others is more generous and effective than writing a check from Lee Company.” This mindset leads them to engage their employees, customers and community, and is a part of their resounding success under Lee’s leadership.