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An Environmental Evolution (without Darwin or finches)

So, we’ve talked a little bit about RLE’s company mindset before, but here’s a brief recap of the story of RLE:

In 1984, there was a little company that decided to try to do things right.

Not because they were feeling particularly righteous that day. But they decided that if they were going to dedicate their lives to this endeavor, they wanted to do it in a way that looked at the whole picture and not just the bottom line.

For owners Don Raymond, Sr., Don Raymond, Jr., and Roy Lae that meant starting out RLE Technologies with domestically manufactured parts and products.

It meant thinking about the impact their business would have on the communities in which they operated: the local jobs, the local economy.

It meant fostering the right work environment, a place where the dreamers and the builders both had a voice. Where engineers and manufacturers could come together to brainstorm their way to the best product.

It meant focusing not just on business, but on people.

We’ve also discussed, however briefly, the effect that has had on our company culture. The bottom line has looked after itself and the average RLE employee has been with the company for at least 12 years.

There’s a natural evolution that occurs when people have worked together for that long, when they actually like each other, when they feel respected and cared for.

They become something not unlike a family.

And as Mario Caballero says, “Family is more important than anything.”

One Big, Happy Family (but not in a Mafioso sort of way)

Who is Mario Caballero?

Mario is one half of the emblem of RLE’s dedication to making their employees feel like more than co-workers – Mario and Nerio Caballero, aka the Caballero Brothers.

It starts like this:

In 1997, RLE landed a big new account and a major new OEM client.

Not a very exciting start. This is something that happens in businesses. New clients mean more work. More work means more employees.

And in 1997, more employees meant Nerio Caballero.

Nerio, who was already acquainted with the owners, was a pretty good fit for the opening on the manufacturing floor. He had experience in construction and customer service and they knew he would fit the company dynamic on a personal level.

He learned quickly. RLE has a good training program and the dynamic of the shop floor was already one of friendly encouragement. His co-workers were happy to take the needed time to teach him how to build RLE’s signature products.

Before long, Nerio’s work ethic and attention to detail proved his value to the company and under his care and dedication, RLE achieved the high quality standards they maintain to this day.

After one such success with the Caballero family, it was logical for RLE to bring on Nerio’s brother when a job fell open a few years later.

Enter Mario.

Family Is Great. Except For When It Isn’t.

For a while, it seemed like this fit of inspiration might dissolve into disaster. When Mario first joined the team, the transition from fraternal to co-worker relations was rocky.

“At first it wasn’t too easy,” Mario remembers. “He is very demanding. I almost quit.”

Nerio had been with RLE for a few years and he knew all the ropes, knew exactly how he liked things done, and why. Mario, new to the job and trying to keep up, quickly grew frustrated.

The faltering dynamic was troubling to those who had brought the brothers into the business and not just for business reasons.

The owners, who had taken the time to get know the Caballeros outside of a professional role, did not relish being the cause of family division.

So they decided to step in. But they looked at the situation and they didn’t just see a professional problem. They saw a human problem and approached it that way. One day, Roy sat down with Nerio and just encouraged him to talk.

“The owners are great listeners,” says Nerio. “They give great advice.”

In the course of that conversation, Roy encouraged Nerio to remember what it was like when Nerio was the newcomer, to slow down and have patience with his brother, to ease him into his new role.

That conversation, the brothers recall, made all the difference. Before long, Nerio and Mario were working in sync on the manufacturing floor.

And the Caballero Brothers working in sync is a mighty thing.

The Benefits of Brotherhood

The thing about familial relationships is that a wealth of shared history, shared quirks, and shared priorities means that working as a unit becomes smooth and productive.

(And in working with Nerio and Mario, it also means shared lunch. Although that leads to friendly debates on who’s the better cook. “We both cook great,” Nerio finally concludes.  “He’s a good cook,” Mario concedes, “but more importantly, he’s a good brother.”)

Having that dynamic works in the company’s favor. When the brothers agree to do something, they know how to work together and get things done.

And for family, you work harder.

This is a feeling that has moved beyond the brothers to the entire company. That the owners take the time to listen and advise, that the managers will come to the shop floor and work side by side on every project, inspires both loyalty and dedication.

As Nerio says, “It has been the greatest thing to work for these guys over the years. We’re like a family, and they’re always there to help and give advice. This keeps us motivated and makes us want to help make them successful. I’d give more than 100% if I could.”

Cause and Effect, Like Chocolate and Happiness

There are practical benefits to this kind of warmth in the workplace.

It’s actually a fairly simple equation: family environment means happy employees. Happy employees are long-term employees. Long-term employees know the product. Long-term employees care about the product.

Long-term employees make the product better.

This has certainly been the case with Nerio and Mario. “When you have worked with the [leak detection] cable as long as we have, you get to know the cable,” says Mario. “We know the cable so well, we can see the problems when we work with it that others wouldn’t notice.”

Every product that goes out the door has fallen under their watchful eyes and they firmly believe that every detail matters, from materials to equipment to presentation.

“Everything needs to be well done,” says Mario.

With their attention to detail and personal pride in their work, the Caballero brothers have suggested more than one small change that has, in the end, improved the product and saved the company money.

Both brothers frequently credit their bosses for allowing the flow of information and creativity to go up as well as down.

“They have treated me well,” says Nerio. “It’s a good place to come work. Our managers work with us on the shop floor and listen when we have ideas or concerns…The whole experience has been great. That’s why I’ve been here almost 16 years.”

Mutual Affection

The trust and admiration is not one-sided nor do their efforts go unnoticed.

“They take such pride in producing quality products,” says Sales Manager Christina Ihfe.

Their direct manager John Riott says much the same. “They are two of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been privileged to work with. No job is too big or too small for them, if it means the company will succeed…I like to spend time working with them on the shop floor because they are such great guys – I just enjoy being with them.”

It’s owner Don Raymond, Jr. that perhaps sums it up best. “They are extremely loyal and have a tremendous work ethic…They are co-workers that have turned into family.”

The Moral Of the Story Is…

…if you hire brothers that can both cook, you get double the chances at home-cooked lunch.

What RLE has learned from the Brothers Caballero is that making the right human decisions in your company can also be the right business decisions.

How about you? Who are your Mario and Nerio? Has there ever been a time where taking the human approach to a business problem has reaped unexpected rewards?

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