BETTER TOGETHER, from page 7
provide mentoring and internships. While we are still in our infancy, I’m excited about the opportunity to help expose more and more women and children to STEM education. TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers? EI: Shortly after I bought Primera, I enlisted the help of an outside consultant to build very robust hiring and performance review processes that work hand-in-hand and center entirely on people. It’s important to me that we are all great people managers. We developed a list of 25 character traits that define what makes us “Primerans.” Those traits drive all aspects of our recruiting and professional development. For engineers, technical skills are critical; but as “Primerans,” soft skills carry equal weight. To develop an ownership culture, we need to be open and honest, kind and compassionate, as well as trustworthy and accountable. The focus on soft skills has been an adjustment, but we’ve seen people become more self-aware and growing into really good people managers. It’s completely changed the kind of conversations we’re having. That’s fantastic. TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced? EI: When I bought the firm in 2016, I did a valuation. After that, we’ve been doing them annually since 2018. As part of Primera’s succession planning, we set out on a slow transition to employee ownership. Our ESOP trustee hires a valuation firm every year to do an independent valuation. The independent firm looks at our last five years of financials, revenue, EBIT margin, backlog, budgets, forecasts, opportunity pipeline, and competitors. “I want to empower people to think and act like owners, and I have really started to see that take shape over the past two years as we have kicked off an ESOP program and started practicing open-book management.” TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO? EI: Empower people to lead. TZL: Has the culture of the firm changed since you purchased it? Has it remained the same? Please describe the greatest changes that have taken place since then. EI: Primera’s culture was a big factor in why I decided to buy the firm. People have always been the most important asset, and I did not set out to change that. I would say that the culture has evolved in the last four years, but it’s still centered around people, kindness, knowledge, and teamwork. The greatest change is that I set out to take the entrepreneurial spirit and really ingrain it into our culture.
Primera staff enjoying their annual volunteer time off together.
I want to empower people to think and act like owners, and I have really started to see that take shape over the past two years as we have kicked off an ESOP program and started practicing open-book management, which teaches employees about our financials. TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue? EI: Throughout my career, as a woman in a male- dominated field, I’ve frequently found myself the only woman in the office, on the project, or in the meeting. It can be intimidating and uncomfortable. No one should have to feel that way. Primera was founded as a minority- owned firm, and I’m proud that our staff is more than 50 percent minority and women. Even with that, I knew we still had work to do. The events of the past few months have shed a new light on that. From a personal standpoint, I’m focused on becoming a more inclusive leader and making our culture more inclusive. I’m committed to being better, and I’ve shared that commitment with the staff. I’m making myself personally accountable for walking that talk. We’re launching an employee-led D&I committee to help to ensure it’s ingrained in our firm. We’re also actively looking for opportunities to use our annual volunteer time off to directly impact the inequities in our community. TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around? EI: We’ve put a lot of time and money into our hiring process to ensure that the people we hire are a good culture fit. While we know turnover is inevitable, we work hard to create a culture where people want to stay. Last year, as part of our plan to create and foster an ownership culture, we started playing the Great Game of Business. We not only share financials, but our employees are engaged in forecasting our revenue and expenses every week. We want everyone to understand how we make money, how each individual in the company can impact the financials, and how they share in the profits. It goes back to my desire to empower our people. A fundamental principle of the Great Game is that people support what they help create. It’s radical transparency, but it’s a hard thing to give up once you have it. We also constantly revisit our benefit offering to ensure that we are competitive. We offer a very flexible work environment, sabbaticals at milestone anniversaries, wellness programs, social events and opportunities, volunteer time off, and more.
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THE ZWEIG LETTER NOVEMBER 16, 2020, ISSUE 1368
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