By Fran Duskiewicz
I suppose the reason that I have been mulling over what makes for a great corporate culture is that I will be moderating a panel on that topic at the National Advisors Group (NAG) Conference in Santa Fe, N.M. in mid-September.
There are some outstanding participants from great companies on that panel and I want to make sure we do a good job analyzing what creates and, maybe most importantly, what maintains a culture as a company grows and its circumstances change. All I can do now is offer up our experiences at Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, where culture was king.
Culture has to be based in something, usually a belief system that resonates with people and makes them want to be a part of it. Call it Phase One. It’s not as easy as it seems. We’ve seen company leaders veer from one business philosophy to another. We called it “management by best-seller” at Nice N Easy, where we had that part knocked.
John MacDougall chose the word “nice” in the name of his company for a reason. It represented what he was all about and it was the rock upon which we were built.
In Phase Two, John needed to find his counterpart. Enter me. Similar backgrounds, same core values, complementary business skills and interests. The other side of the coin, so to speak. I was in place pretty early in our history.
In Phase Three, you need the “True Believers,” the ones who will spread your gospel and who will protect your culture by hiring those who also believe and casting out those who do not. I think they call these people “operations.” At Nice N Easy, the final piece of our senior management triumvirate was put in place when John brought Peter Tamburro on board. John had tried hiring operations people from the outside with no success. He needed someone from the inside and they didn’t come anymore inside than Peter.
Somewhat overlooked in our story is that we were a very successful franchisor. People signed on early because of the MacDougall Mystique, but maintaining our culture in the franchise division was never easy. Our name was on the buildings, but their people didn’t work for us and we had to rely upon their operations people to carry the NNE torch.
That was never a problem at Valley Oil, where Peter Tamburro was in charge. He was almost like an extension of our staff. In fact, when we reorganized our mystery shopper program, it was Peter who came up with the N.I.C.E. Pledge, the perfect embodiment of our culture that would reward True Believers every month and constantly reinforce itself.
When Peter’s company was sold, John MacDougall wasted no time in bringing him on board the corporate mothership and the senior management team of John/Fran/Peter was in place, where we operated seamlessly for over 20 years. And, yes, it was the three of us who downed many brews at Graziano’s while we strategized our future, and, yes, sometimes Peter didn’t handle red wine any better than I did.
In terms of our corporate culture, John needed Peter badly. I was a true believer, but my responsibilities did not allow me time to get out and preach. As COO, Peter had to oversee both the corporate and franchise divisions. He spent years getting “True Believers” in place—managers, DMs and our director of operations, Ron Rowland, a True Believer of the first order.
His devotion to protecting our belief system was so strong that he recommended cutting loose our largest franchisee because it had grown to a point where it had developed a strong culture of its own and it just didn’t mesh well with ours. Lots of franchise dollars were lost, but the culture was maintained.
Peter had it tougher with John, too. John gave me free rein, but his operational background made him hold his operations people to very high standards. Every day that John was in the stores usually resulted in a phone call to Peter with a list of what needed to be addressed, which would fill a yellow pad. Peter just hunkered down and got it done.
Peter is still within the Nice N Easy family, with a franchisee, Clifford Fuel. They just opened the first new ground up Nice N Easy since the company was sold and it’s gorgeous. John would be proud of him. In fact, I’m sure he is.
You know, company cultures simply will not maintain without Keepers of the Flame. It’s good to know Peter is still out there, keeping that flame alive.