Brad Bollinger: Early thoughts about no contest; winners show ability to adapt

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Back in the economic winter of last fall and early 2009, friends and advisers were asked: “In this environment, should we not do Best Places to Work this year?”

It’s easy to forget how business and CEOs were being demonized.  Millions of Americans, including thousands in the North Bay, were losing jobs, houses and savings.

With virtually every business facing enormous stresses not seen in at least a generation, would undertaking the fourth annual Best Places to Work in the North Bay seem un-sensitive, a misreading of the times?

“Maybe,” one responded sarcastically but in the spirit of good humor, “we should rename it ‘Places to Work.’”

Thankfully, and, frankly with only momentary hesitation, it was decided that “Best Places to Work in the North Bay” was needed more than ever.

We are glad we did because, it turns out, hard times bring out the best in the best. In fact, the Business Journal received more nominees than in 2008, 121 versus 104. And the companies themselves raised the bar. The average employee survey score for participating companies actually rose to 4.41 out of a possible 5.0, up from 4.38 in 2008. Ten truly outstanding companies returned as winners for the fourth consecutive year along with 18 first-time winners.

We did tweak the competition process a bit. We delayed the announcement seeking nominations by a few weeks, pushing it past the economic nadir of March and into April to get a little more clarity on the economy. And we added an open-ended question on the anonymous employee survey: “How has your company dealt with the challenging business environment?”

Participating companies represented about 12,000 employees of the North Bay's work force. From the nearly 4,500 employees who took the online survey, both management and non-management, the winning companies across-the-board responded to the business realities with clarity, decisiveness, creativity and compassion.

One employee of a winning engineering company said of the firm’s leadership, “They were way ahead of the curve and had developed a plan to position the company in the best possible way in order to avail ourselves of every opportunity. ... What makes this company great is the respectful way each employee is treated, the pride in the services and products that we produce and our dedication to improve the lives of our community neighbors.”

Another employee of the Napa construction company, Nova Group Inc., a first-time winner, said:

“We had a meeting at the beginning of the year. Everyone on the jobsite was asked to attend by teleconference. We were all included, from laborers to superintendents. This told me everyone is important to Nova.

“The meeting informed everyone of Nova’s vision and strategies for the next five years. Being included in this made me feel like I mattered to Nova.  I have never been included in any other company’s planning meetings. This made me feel wanted, needed and important to their purpose, and that I was needed to achieve this purpose.”

With close to 4,500 respondents, it was impossible to sugarcoat the difficult times. None of the 121 companies nominated and the 55 winners were unscathed by the recession.

Many openly talked of losing colleagues. Benefits and salaries were cut, furloughs implemented. It was at times hard to read. But it was also inspiring to read.

When times are good, success is often easy. It is the tough times that bring out true leadership and resilience.


Brad Bollinger is the Business Journal editor in chief. He can be reached at 707-521-4251, bbollinger@busjrnl.com or online at northbaybusinessjournal.com.