The Chamber of Commerce is sitting down with each of the winners from the recent Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards, supported by Foster Construction Group, to find out what they did to stand out from the crowd. This week's Winners’ Insight is with owner and founder of EAS Carey Penn and marketing manager Sarah Johnston. EAS was the winner of this year’s new award category – People and Culture.
In 2014, Carey Penn was working as an electrician at Fonterra. He was working long hours, not conducive to a work-life balance. So, he made the decision to go out on his own with a view to working less and spending more time with his family.
When Carey started EAS (Electrical and Automation Solutions), one of his ‘whys’ was about spending your time doing what brings you joy.
“For me, it’s not just a money thing. I’m not motivated by gross profit or sales goals. What brings me real joy is helping other people.”
Fast forward a few years and little did Carey know that the business’ organic growth would mean that he’d end up starting his day at 7am, finishing at 4.30pm, heading home for dinner with his family before working on quotes and invoicing from 7-11pm. Overwhelmed by his workload and the transition from technician to business owner and manager, Carey took a call one day from business mentor Tony Fraser-Jones.
“I remember saying to him, I don’t have time for a business mentor with everything I’ve got on my plate. But then I thought about it again and figured, what harm can it do?” It was a smart decision that led Carey to slowly making a mindset shift about how he wanted to run his business, putting in place strong support networks and devouring lots of books about business management and leadership.
Along the way, Carey has also taken time to crystalise his ‘why’.
“I started bringing people on board and we kept growing. There came a point when I needed to get back to my why. I was parked out at Manu Bay thinking about that and it was there I realised I just love helping people and I knew I needed to use that ‘why’ to drive the business.
“I wasn’t aiming for a certain business size or financial goal; it was down to having more time in my life and helping people.”
And it’s that foundation of helping people that Carey has indeed built his business on. EAS marketing manager Sarah Johnston recognised the work the company had done to develop and build a culture of care and support for the team and thought the new Waikato Chamber of Commerce Business Awards category – People and Culture – would be a good one to enter.
It turns out she was right. This was the first year EAS had entered the awards. And while they were blown away to first of all make the finals, they were even more blown-away to win the People and Culture category.
Sarah said as EAS has grown, they decided to bring in consultant Laurent Sylvestre to help formalise the company’s values.
“Everyone got together for a day to work out what we all believed our values are, what we all agreed on and what it meant. And those were ‘grow together, people matter’ which fundamentally embodies who Carey… that it’s all about other people and trying to do our best by them. That shared vision is ingrained in everything we do.”
The People and Culture category judges said that one of things that stood out during their visit was the care, the desire to help, and provide support for the EAS team both professionally and personally. Another was that the consistency in communication (planned and ad hoc) and team interaction was a key success factor for the business.
That’s evident in the ‘life catch ups’ that Carey has implemented.
“Carey realised he wasn’t catching up with the team as much as he used to, so now he has ‘life catch ups’ with everyone.”
Yesterday he took one of his apprentices out for a beer and the pair got talking about how the apprentice was keen to buy his first house.
“So we talked about what steps he’d need to take to do that. I asked him what are the things you can influence to get to your goal faster and he came up with scenarios for that. I love helping people think outside the box and challenging them. I’m always pushing the boat out about how I can do better and help people better. I’ve spent so much time with my mentors who’ve helped me and now it’s my time to give my people the support and motivation to do better and be better.”
It's fair to say Carey didn’t have those sorts of interactions or support when he was an apprentice learning his trade. Notwithstanding that Sharesies didn’t exist when Carey was an apprentice, it would be a stretch to imagine an employer in the 1990s setting up a staff shares savings scheme. But that’s exactly what’s happened at EAS. A Sharesies savings scheme is linked to how the company is doing. Stocks are discussed with the team, and they diversify the stocks to spread the risk. Wins and losses are part of the learning and teaching process.
Judges said: EAS works offsite across many locations but through a company-wide commitment to wellbeing, camaraderie and support it is a deserving winner of the People and Culture Award
Staff numbers now sit at around 16 with the company advertising for another four staff.
“The business grew 28 per cent last year and we’re tracking at around 40 per cent this year,” Sarah said.
“We might still be relatively small, but I think what we do is really special. A lot of us work here because of the culture.”
Winning the People and Culture Award was affirmation the company is on the right track.
While their goal was to reach the finals, Carey hadn’t banked on having to deliver a speech if they won.
“Two of my worst fears is getting eaten by sharks and public speaking… But anyway, I went out and bought my first ever suit to wear to the gala dinner. Normally you’ll find me in jeans and Doc Martens! So, we’re there – a bunch of tradies, drinking champagne. And then we saw the videos of who we were up against and we were like ‘holy s**t, we won’t win this. But when they announced EAS was the winner, we were just star struck. I was pretty emotional…. I was choking up the whole way.
“When you get an award – among some really amazing other businesses as finalist – that recognises why you do what you do, that’s just incredible. You look back at the journey and how far you’ve come and it’s pretty raw emotional stuff.”
Carey says he was chuffed that Hauraki Mayor Toby Adams – who also owns an electrical company – came up to congratulate the EAS team on the night.
“He told me it was so good to see a trades company up there on stage. So hopefully other tradies look at the Awards and back themselves to enter next year.
Really, we’re used to just getting on with fixing stuff, we’re not great at celebrating success. Hopefully our win sets the foundation for other tradies to jump in there.”