I was reading the most recent edition of Florida Trend Magazine the other day about the “Best” companies to work for in Florida. I always enjoy reading anything with “best” in it because it seems more often than not I learn something from those stories. For instance, I travel the state frequently, so of course I want
to know “Best” new restaurants and other local businesses.
When I read through the listing of “Best” companies, a few things stood out to me. First, two companies
that made the grade were either owned or employed by good friends of mine. AgAmerica, one of the
largest agriculture lending companies in America, is owned by my former college roommate who also
happens to be married to one of my wife’s best friends.
The second company, Bouchard Insurance, is also near and dear to my heart. Bouchard is a FHCA
Service Corp member and our top executive level sponsor. They specialize in the senior living industry
and offer an array of excellent, exclusive benefits for FHCA members needing all lines of insurance,
including general and professional liability, property, workers’ comp and group health.
If you’re ever around my former college roommate or with the representatives from Bouchard, their
personalities will reveal why they are considered the “Best.” It shows in how they treat other people.
What makes these companies the “Best?” The criteria for this honor is heavily weighted into what
employees think of their company. And while money and financial benefits come into play, there were
many other factors that were highlighted. Some companies provided bicycles for their employees to
take a quick ride to exercise or blow off steam. Flexible work schedules, team competitions, wellness
benefits, ice cream giveaways, themed lunches, game rooms…there were some cool ideas.
Which brings me to my dad. If you’ve been reading my articles for the past nine-plus years, you might
recall me writing about being raised in my family’s citrus business. Reed Brothers Citrus was a small
citrus nursery that, over the years, did a big business.
My dad bought the business when I was 11. It was so small in the beginning that he could only afford
one other full-time worker besides himself, so my mother and I pitched in any way we could. I started
out watering plants, and as the business grew, so did my responsibilities.
I worked seasonally throughout my middle and high school years, and I was responsible for hiring any
friends willing to help as business grew. By high school, I had a core group of four friends who would
work any time I asked them. I believe if we needed more help, it would have easily come.
Allow me to give just one example of what a day looked like at Reed Bros for me and my crew. Our
citrus nursery provided several different types of products, one known as a citrus liner or root stock.
A citrus liner is a small citrus tree, about 12 to 18 inches high. The liner tree, when grown to maturity,
produces inedible fruit; however, some smart farmer figured out that the liner tree itself was hardier in
cold weather and more disease resistant than a navel orange tree, for example. They figured out you
could actually “bud” or “graft” whatever type of edible fruit bearing tree you wanted onto the liner. That
explains why in some back yards you might find a tree producing lemons on one side and limes on the
other. Pretty cool, huh?
To grow these trees, you must start with the rootstock seeds. We would pick the fruit from the grove, haul the fruit back to our business and run the fruit through a crusher that would separate the seeds from
the pulp. After that, the seeds would be washed and placed in a tub to be heated and chemically treated. Finally, the seeds would be dried and ready to plant.
There was no fancy machine to plant the seeds for us. My “faithful four” and I, along with two full-time employees, would set out to hand plant every single tree, in a greenhouse, in the heat of summer.
Each greenhouse had 1,080 trays that each held 128 seeds. Do the math – that’s 138,000 seeds planted by hand. On a good day, we would plant two greenhouses, or just over a quarter-million trees in a day!
Once the prickly trees grew, we had to pick them by hand, but that’s a story for another day. I often wondered why my “faithful four” always returned for such monotonous and hot work. Then I recalled what our days looked like. Yes, there were hours of sweating, standing and “dropping” seeds, as we called it. But we had the music playing in the background, and lots of good conversation. During break and lunch, we were always provided with delicious food and drink, and we would always end up playing basketball on a miniature hoop put up by the company supervisor.
Finally, at the end of the week, we always knocked off a little early, and dad had a volleyball net set up where my group would play with other workers who were doing different jobs around the property.
As we played, my dad would grill steaks and mom would put out incredible side dishes, along with a delicious dessert.
Sure, I remember the hard work that went into being the son of a citrus nurseryman. It’s those other memories, however, the extra mile my parents went to make everyone feel valued and special, which are
the ones I remember the most.
There is no doubt Reed Brothers Citrus was one of the “Best,” not only to work for, but also for providing the best products. I am sure their “Best” was because they had hard-working, happy employees.
I strive to help make FHCA the best through similar methods. What are you doing to help create an atmosphere in which people don’t mind working hard because you are willing to do something
extra, albeit small, to make them feel valued?
Once you figure out how to do that, you will be on your way to being the best too!