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Middleby's CEO On How to Foster a Great Culture

In the following video interview, Motley Fool CEO Tom Gardner speaks with Middleby CEO Selim Bassoul. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Bassoul has led a remarkable transformation at Middleby, the cooking-equipment maker, turning the stock into a nearly 50-bagger over that time. In the video, he discusses the culture of Middleby, and what gives the company such a high employee retention rate.

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Tom Gardner: So let's talk about the culture for employees, because maybe somebody watching us is thinking, "Wow, that would be terrible to be working on New Year's Eve." What is it like to work at Middleby? What makes it a unique place to work? How well do you think you're doing by the stakeholder that is your employee?

Selim Bassoul: Well, we are proud to say that our turnover is 2%, so 98% retention. And simply, it's not because of perks. Our offices are not glamorous. In fact, our officers are most probably below standards. We don't have day care on premise. We do not have open cafeterias. We don't have free meals, but I'll tell you what we have.

We have two things that are very powerful. We have a mixture of autonomy, great autonomy, and great incentives. And I think I've learned that from an early age. I used to hate getting up to go to school, so my parents had to drag me to get to the bus stop because I hated getting to that school. Why? Because it was highly structured, it happened to be a Jesuit school, and I will talk about my early experience because it's relevant.

It was structured; it was military discipline. I was over-supervised at school. The teachers were not informative. They were basically going through the session without catering to a classroom. They were catering to the smartest, but then everybody else was left behind. I decided that in my company, I won't leave anybody behind. I wanted people to be empowered. I wanted people to have fun when they come to the job, and having fun is the ability to do two things. One, to be able to not have to deal with bureaucracy and feel that they are empowered; number two, be able to have a voice heard.

So in my business, I think in many of your members, they run businesses that have 60 to 80% blue collars. In my case, they are blue collars. They are workers in the shop, so they are literally ... doing work that has been designed by engineers with tools and equipment that been basically allocated and approved by accountants, and in many instances, they have to live with what they were given.

So one of the things I've done, while they go around our factory on a monthly basis to have employee meetings, I say if there is something, a design that's not good enough for you and you think it's not superior, stop it. Go back to the engineer and have rebellion. And that has created such a freedom among our employees. So many times engineers are literally stopped on the floor saying, "This design stinks. It's not good. It doesn't look good. It's not going to hold out in the field." So we've given that empowerment to our employees.

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  • Report this Comment On July 18, 2013, at 9:23 PM, humbleservant66 wrote:

    98% stay after the initial 25-35% purge after Middleby acquisition. Executives at new companies fair much worse. And those engineers that are free to be thrown under the bus leave at a far higher rate than 2%. Middleby is also a contributor to the stagnate salaries you often refer to as a sign of an economy in crisis. Only a crisis for the 98 percenters who can't even get some company stock at a discounted or commission free rate for the good old 401k. While Selim and Tim continue to earn at a rate rivaling any company. Good for them I guess.

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