Integrity: Greg Williams

Oct 18, 2020

Chairman and CEO of Nabholz (Conway, AR), a 1,200 person multi-discipline, employee-owned firms whose name has been synonymous with integrity since its founding in 1949.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Through the decades, Nabholz has grown into a national, multi-service contractor offering a full range of construction, industrial, civil, and environmental services. Williams joined Nabholz in 1991 and says that his greatest accomplishment as CEO has been establishing its wellness program in conjunction with its self-funded health insurance program.

“We grow our people, serve our clients, and build our communities with integrity. That’s the Nabholz way,” Williams says.

A conversation with Greg Williams.

The Zweig Letter: Your wellness program is impressive. Please tell me about the impetus for this program and how long it’s been around. Can you share some information about results the program has seen and benefits to company as well as employees?

Greg Williams: In 2007, Nabholz shifted to self-funded health insurance to reduce rising health care costs. Nabholz leaders hired Jayme Mayo, PA-C (Certified Physician Assistant), Wellness Director. She decided she needed to create a program that provided individual support for employees and spouses to make lifestyle changes. The program brings health care into the workplace with on-site wellness testing, a medical clinic at headquarters, and a dedicated medical team. Nabholz provides on-site wellness testing twice a year for employees and spouses on its health insurance plan. The medical team screens employees and spouses for cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, obesity, and nicotine – all major drivers of health insurance costs. They recently added screening for thyroid levels and prostate cancer. Nabholz pays 100 percent of the employee-only health insurance premium if employees and their spouses take part in the health survey and wellness testing. If the employee or spouse does not participate, the employee pays 30 percent of the employee-only insurance premium.

For each outcome that meets or exceeds Nabholz targets, employees can earn an annual gift card. More importantly, the wellness testing results are the starting point for personal support from Nabholz’s wellness team.

Almost all eligible employees take part in wellness testing: 99 percent completed testing each year between 2010 and 2017. Nabholz employees’ health also has improved. In 2011, 34 percent of employees who completed testing had biometric outcomes that met Nabholz targets in four or more categories. By 2017, this increased to 82 percent of employees. And, since 2010, Nabholz saw its annual health insurance premiums increase an average of 1.6 percent, lower than the national average of 3.7 percent annual increases from 2010 to 2017.

TZL: What measures are you taking to protect your employees during the COVID-19 crisis?

GW: Disinfecting offices and taking additional hygiene precautions on job sites. All group meetings are postponed or conducted online. We’ve also limited travel.

TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?

GW: About two months on average.

TZL: Your company focuses on implementing the Lean principles. Can you give me a specific example of how this has been implemented on a recent project?

GW: Recently, the Nabholz team at the Ozark Mill project applied Lean principles to drive waste out of their project. In preparation for the busy phase ahead, Superintendent James McElhaney challenged his team to anticipate bottlenecks and devise creative solutions to maintain workflow.

“Nothing Hits the Floor” is a Lean practice that keeps materials and debris off the floor. Using palettes or wheeled carts for material staging promotes better housekeeping and improves traffic flow. It makes moving materials easier, quicker, and safer. Using wheeled containers for cutoffs prevents debris piles from accumulating in work areas. It saves cleanup time and helps get debris to the trash containers quicker. “Nothing Hits the Floor” eliminates wasted transportation and wasted motion, spoiled inventory, extra processing, and the deadly waste of waiting.

The Ozark Mill team combined “Nothing Hits the Floor” with the some of the “5S” principles – sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain.

Josh Johnson, a Nabholz carpenter, created temporary battery charging stations to promote standard common spaces on the jobsite to recharge cordless tools, creating a tidier jobsite and eliminating the time it takes for other workers to locate charging cords and outlets.

Josh also created a temporary lift charging station to promote a standard common space on the jobsite for recharging man lifts, making it easier for workers to locate this vital piece of machinery and eliminating wait time while the lift would need to charge. Josh also put what he calls his “spider box” on wheels so workers can quickly move the cluster of electrical receptacles to wherever work tasks require it.

Though not one of the 5S principles, safety stays top of mind with any activity on the jobsite, and these innovations all improved safety conditions. The tool charging stations will eliminate the trip hazard from cords being scattered across work areas. The charging and “parking lot” for lifts keeps these bulky pieces of equipment from creating tight points on the jobsite that could cause workers to hurt themselves.

TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future?

GW: We work hard to have a strong balance sheet to make it through tough times. We expect periodic downturns in our industry and we plan accordingly.

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?

GW: We invest in education and training every year. We strive to maintain our culture of caring about our team members.

TZL: Founded as a small construction company more than 70 years ago, now with 1,100 employees, how do you work to maintain a culture that still feels like family?

GW: Nabholz’ company culture is about growth, but not in the typical sense of the word. We work to grow our people, and from that point on, work to grow our business. It’s a lesson we’ve learned again and again after 70 years in business – there’s no one factor that determines our success more than the people we employ, and we try to treat them fairly, like family.

This culture didn’t just form by accident; it started by putting the health, well-being, and safety of employees and their families above all else, and it will soon crumble if we abandon this as our primary and most important value.

This manifests itself in several ways. We’ve built an award-winning wellness program with one mission: give our employees and families all the tools they need to become healthier. Second, we make safety an individual responsibility for all Nabholz team members. Third, we provide employees with the best benefits in the industry, including a choice of health plans in which Nabholz pays 100 percent of the premiums for employee coverage, and a 401(k) program with employer match allows employees to be fully vested after a year of employment.

We also aim to give employees the tools they need to advance at Nabholz. We’ve developed apprenticeship classes open to all employees and community members; we’ve established two in-house leadership training programs; and we promote continuing education through our tuition reimbursement program. Simply put, if our employees stop developing and growing, our business will too.

We focus on building the communities we work in, as well. We want our employees to be proud of the money and time their company invests in their communities. On Friday nights, you’ll find us working at the concession stand at the local high school. On Saturdays, we’re at Tulsa Tough, or the Tulsa City Marathon, as both sponsors and participants. We have fun. We temper the hard work we do with employee gatherings, gumbo and crawfish boils, and parties.

TZL: When you identify a part of your business that is not pulling its weight in terms of profitability or alignment with the firm’s mission, what steps do you take, and what’s the timeline, to address the issue while minimizing impacts to the rest of the company?

GW: We typically do a thorough analysis of the underperforming group and develop an action plan to get things back on track. Normally, it takes one to two years to get things on track.

TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s?

GW: There are no hard and fast rules. Yes, we have people in ownership in their 20s and 30s. Performance and their role in the company are the drivers.

TZL: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting/working remotely?

GW: If an employee can work from home, they have that option if their manager approves.

TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?

GW: Keep our team members and their families safe and healthy in all aspects. Don’t be the person that damages a great company!

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