By Anthony Mathews
Harrell Remodeling, Inc. (HRI) is the result of a young woman's belief in the ideas that good fortune comes from hard work; that anything is possible with enough commitment; that listening to and serving the needs of others is the only correct business model and that thoughtful, methodical planning is a good thing – not a handicap. Today, it is one of the most respected design-build remodeling companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. For HRI to result from the initiative of one young woman with no background in construction and no capital would be more than a miracle, but when you get the whole story, you realize that HRI as it is today, probably could not have emerged any other way.
The company began in Texas in the early 1980s as a reaction to Iris Harrell's ambition to earn a better living, and her recognition that "any typically male job" would pay better than what she had been doing to that point – teaching, touring with a rock band and working for a non-profit. From that motivation, the company started with one power drill provided by her life-partner and eventual business partner, Ann Benson. They added a few softball friends and with some small repair jobs in her neighborhood, the business began to take shape. By 1985, they had the bones of a real business and realized that a move to California was going to improve the future of a woman-owned and operated construction company, and so came west.
Over the 30 years since, HRI has blossomed into a stylish, respected, high-end remodeler with walls of awards attesting to its success. Their dark blue iris logo is synonymous with practical elegance and quality today, but the road from there to here was not without its potholes. Three major recessions periodically and dramatically reset their growth plans. The stubborn idea that women cannot compete in a male dominated industry was a constant additional hurdle to overcome. With each challenge, though, the same commitment to service and excellence and their initial core values pulled them through to a successful outcome.
Perhaps this is because the service model of HRI is first based on understanding and honoring the intimate and sensitive relationship between people and their homes. The HRI business model is dominated by an absolute respect for that relationship. In everything it does, the company reflects a fundamental commitment to excellence delivered with respect and consideration for the real needs of real people regardless of age, race, creed, gender or sexual orientation, and this is true equally with regard to its customers as its employee owners. At HRI, diversity is both an absolute reality and the bedrock upon which is built a remarkable business. From the first moment one enters their Mountain View corporate office, it is clear that this is an unusual construction company. The entire facility is a showplace for awards and acknowledgments of the excellence of their work and their pride in the employee owners who work daily to accomplish it. The office itself is very effective testimony to the design sensitivity and good taste that is the company's stock in trade.
Simply put, the company at all levels reflects, first and foremost, clear and uncompromised values that have carried forward through new generations of employee owners and management.
From the platform of those values, Harrell Remodeling has grown steadily and incorporated a growing team of individuals, led today by CEO Ciro Giammona, mutually dedicated to the same ideals: To let their shared values and nurturing culture create a thoroughly inspiring home remodeling experience that benefits clients and employees alike.
Through a whole range of techniques, HRI works relentlessly to help employee owners develop into real contributors to the success of the company. Quarterly "all-hands" staff meetings, training organized into "HRI-University" presentations, mentoring, roundtable dialogues, advanced two-direction communication techniques and a constantly evolving menu of operational development techniques provide HRI employee owners a constant opportunity to grow and develop into business savvy, autonomous contributors to the collective success of all the stakeholders. And most of the people who are engaged here take them up on the opportunity.
CEO Giammona is a great example of that very fact. Hired originally in 1996 as an estimator, Ciro has grown through vice president of sales (2002), general manager (2006), and president (2011) to CEO leading the 100 percent transaction (2014). Also an accomplished musician and entertainer, Ciro brings both a sure hand running a growing company through good and bad times and a communication style that has that hand often attached to an electric guitar or microphone through which he is entertaining at the staff meeting singing a song parody birthday or anniversary anthem for one of the many long-term HRI employee owners. Ciro manages to keep the culture and values consistent while thoroughly branding the leadership role with his own unique approach.
Given the collaborative work environment that is embedded in the company from the beginning, it is not surprising that as Iris got to the point in her career from which she could see the need for an end-game, the idea of employee ownership was a natural thought in the context of business succession. What could be more natural for a company that had already built a real ownership culture than committing to 100 percent employee ownership as the company's long-term future?
In 2001, the first concrete step to that future came in the form of an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Like everything in the development of the company, the founders were very careful and methodical in investigating how the plan would fit into the company, and assuring that the employees would have a real chance to make it work. The next 14 years contained two major financial disasters for the industry and the country as a whole, yet HRI saw steady growth of both the company and the ESOP. Employee ownership at HRI developed methodically through annual contributions and sales of stock that were determined based on the available profits of the company with a constant eye to the ongoing health of the company. Over the years, the ESOP developed an approximately 40 percent stake in the company, and in 2014, as the founders got closer to actual retirement, the variables came together to allow for a final transaction through which HRI became 100 percent ESOP owned.
Their corporate motto is: "We never forget it's your home!" and it has recently been joined by the proud declaration, "Woman founded. 100 percent employee owned. Client focused." Harrell Remodeling Inc. wears both its roots and its vision for the future as a distinctive (often iris blue) uniform reflecting their complete commitment to excellence in their chosen trade as well as their pride and commitment to an inclusive culture that is determined to be successful as a company and to share that success with all those who contribute to it.
As Iris says from the tee box of her local golf club where she is beginning to enjoy the retirement that started so many years ago, 100 percent employee owned HRI is a clear example of "capitalism with a heart!"