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Doing well by doing right

Melissa KelloggVail, CO, Colorado
Preston Utley putley@vaildaily.comKatie Ryan and her two kids at the R.A. Nelson office in Eagle-Vail. As Ryan's family grew, R.A. Nelson allowed her to adjust her work schedule. That's earned Ryan's loyalty as an employee.
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AVON – When Katie Ryan began her career in 2004 with R.A. Nelson & Associates, a custom builder in Avon, she was a full-time employee working as a project administrator. Since then she has had two children and has another one on the way. As her home life has changed, the company has changed her job to fit around her parental responsibilities.In order to keep her, the company allows her to work around her firefighter husbands schedule so both parents can care for their children.The company totally adjusted to what I needed, in terms of schedule, Ryan said. She added that because R.A. Nelson makes her feel so valuable she in turn feels more loyal and inspired to give her best effort to her job.In order to keep her, the company allows her to work around her firefighter husbands schedule so both parents can care for their children.The company totally adjusted to what I needed, in terms of schedule, Ryan said. She added that because R.A. Nelson makes her feel so valuable she in turn feels more loyal and inspired to give her best effort to her job.Because they are so giving they get 110 percent from me, Ryan said. Ive never seen anything like it, she said of the corporate culture.In the modern business climate where all too often stories are about outsized CEO pay and companies like Enron that bilk investors for millions of dollars, its easy to become cynical about corporations. But away from the headlines is a movement that is gaining momentum: The rise of Firms of Endearment, a phrase coined by co-authors Rajendra S. Sisodia, David B. Wolfe and Jagdish N. Sheth of a book by the same name.Firms of Endearment bring together the expectations and needs of all groups society, partners, investors, customers and employees into alignment to create a profitable, responsible company. Nationally recognized companies that operate this way include Whole Foods, Costco and Southwest Airlines. Locally, R.A. Nelson has adopted the philosophy.Founded 31 years ago by R. A. Chupa Nelson, a well-known, well-liked, local ski enthusiast (a.k.a., ski bum), Nelson always wanted his company to be fun to work for while still providing top-notch construction services, said Diana Scherr, the companys director of marketing.Nelsons personality continues to shine through in the culture that permeates the now 140-employee company. Nelson recognizes that most people live in the mountains for the lifestyle and want to do work they love.So the focus at his company is to attract and keep great people by being generous with benefits and respect.We hire for attitude and train for skill, said Scherr.When the company began, two of its largest clients, East West Partners and Aspen Ski Company, were also small companies.Business was done on a handshake, said Scherr.Ever since, taking care of relationships with clients has been a core value for the company.Sometimes we take on projects that are out of our normal scope because its the right thing to do for the relationship, Scherr said.Building lasting relationships extends to the community as well. As much as possible, the company uses local vendors and gives employees paid time to volunteer locally. R.A. Nelson & Associates also donates generously to local charities.Im blown away by all the money and time we give away, Scherr said.The company vision of fun, generosity, and respect is carried on by a strong corporate culture and loyal employees. The company earns that employee loyalty by going above and beyond what employees have come to expect.The company provides the standard benefits of health insurance, paid vacation and retirement accounts. However, R.A. Nelson also provides scholarships to employees children, assistance for home buyers and on-site English and Spanish classes to facilitate better communication in the industry. Promoting a healthy work-life balance is a favorite benefit of many of the employees. Employees are encouraged to create their work schedules around their lives, said Justin Potter, an estimator and relatively new employee. Potter grew up in the area, graduated from Battle Mountain High School and then Cornell University before coming back to work for R.A. Nelson. He says if theres a good snow day and you want to catch a few hours on the mountain, its not a problem just as long as you get your work done. Teamwork is an important part of the culture at R.A. Nelson. Departments go on team-building trips. Potters team went to Lake Powell last year and on a float trip earlier this year. Compared to other work environments hes been exposed to, Potter says R.A. Nelson makes him feel respected as an individual and praise for a job well done is given frequently. Potter often works with sub-contractors and said the company tries hard to work closely with those smaller companies. In turn, subcontractors like working with R.A. Nelson.We like to try and give opportunities to new subcontractors to give them a chance and we also continue to reward long time subs with more work, said Potter. Scherr said that the cost of being generous to clients, the community and employees is not an issue. Being generous brings so much back to us, she said, adding that empowered, satisfied employees have brought the company more profitability, lower turnover and cost less in the long run. In 2006, the employees of R.A. Nelson & Associates paid the company back by voting to have it named one of Colorado Biz Magazines Top Ten Companies to Work For. Scherr says that single award means more to the company than any other award they have ever received.


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