Whenever someone learns that I run a business alongside my family, they usually assume it's messy and hard. But the truth is, as long as your leadership has implemented a strong culture and put intentional structures in place, it doesn't matter whether the owners/operators are related. In many ways, our inherent closeness pushes us to be more accountable, because when the founder's sons are in leadership roles, they all better be in the pit with the rest of the crew.
There are simple philosophies my father has lived by from the beginning: Work hard, lead by example, care for your employees and their families, and don't ask anyone in the company to do something you aren't willing to do yourself. My family and I believe that leaders should understand their business through firsthand experience. This sort of bottom-up experience allows the folks in charge to more intuitively empathize with the challenges faced by all the key team members who power their company. This makes management easier, establishes clear-cut values and lays the foundation for a strong culture.
By setting and sticking to your core values, the culture you have built and the standards for the quality of work you have established won't be compromised by changes to company size and makeup. These simple ideas have guided us as we've grown from a small operation into a national leader in disaster recovery.
Leadership From the Bottom Up
I started as a restoration technician, and I respect what our techs go through on the job because I've been there. In fact, if any relative of our ownership team is interested in working at ATI, we require them to have at least two years of work experience outside of the family business. It's important that they are exposed to different work cultures and processes for a fresh perspective. We are also sensitive to the trust we've built with our broader ATI family of employees, so we want to ensure our family members earn their stripes with work ethic, not relation.
Our approach to growth through mergers and acquisitions is simple: We grow so that we can do what we already do, but better — and for more Americans.
This business was started in 1989 by a party of three — my father Gary and two employees — as a small restoration outfit. Although we've grown organically and, more recently, through acquisitions, we're still a family business at our core. Our approach to growth through mergers and acquisitions is simple: We grow so that we can do what we already do, but better — and for more Americans. We're not a speculative company looking to make quick investments. We're looking for companies who are a cultural fit, have strong track records and are good at what they do. These are indicators of strong leadership, which make a potential acquisition extremely attractive.
As leaders, we are hands-on and we are actively engaged with our ATI family of nearly 1,400 employees. To this day, Gary is often the first person to respond to clients in a disaster. In fact, during the wildfires in northern California, he was the first one on a plane to help our offices in the region meet client demands. While this kind of client service is part of Gary's DNA, it's a leadership style that can be cultivated and encouraged in future leaders.
A Simple Leadership Philosophy
We've had a lot of time to practice our leadership style in our 30 years. Our focus is to empower employees to prioritize their families and home lives first because we believe happiness and job satisfaction start at home. If we help eliminate the common stressors that impact many American workers — like affordable healthcare, fair salary, paid time off, sick leave, manageable workload, balanced work schedule and leaders who genuinely care about them — then they have the opportunity to be the best version of themselves possible. We've seen firsthand how happier employees perform better and have higher job satisfaction.
We treat employees with care and respect and genuinely consider them our "ATI Family." This philosophy is the cornerstone of our success. Because we spend so much time with our co-workers, it's essential to our success and longevity as a company to take care of our family throughout the ups and downs of life. Several years ago, we established the ATI Cares core values to guide us through our journey of growth and keep us grounded as a company. Through this initiative, we offer our employees experiencing difficult times support, financial and otherwise. Also, through this program, we invite members of the ATI Family to acknowledge their colleagues and nominate them for bonuses. It's a small way to show that we have each other's back.
Intentional and Responsible Growth
We've grown substantially over the last 10 years, quadrupling our revenue. Our client retention and satisfaction are a reflection of our staff and leadership and the quality of our work.
Ideally, we look for leaders inside our organization and work to cultivate the skills needed to promote from within. We want future leaders to have the drive and confidence to rise in their careers. For many of our leaders, we identified their strengths early on and gave consistent mentorship to help them blossom. We understood what motivated them and provided training to prepare them for future roles. When we can't promote from within, we seek candidates who are team players and good communicators with strong coaching skills. We need to motivate our team to be great at what they do while also ensuring their role is right for them.
This formula applies to the companies we seek to acquire as well. Our number-one priority in M&A is to make sure the company is a cultural fit, and it starts with getting to know the personalities and intangible traits of the leadership team. We want to know how engaged they are in the day-to-day business operations and if they cultivate strong relationships with their staff. We are only interested in partnering with firms that share similar values and practice them daily. Culture is what makes the difference. Lots of companies are good at what they do. Lots of businesses make big profits. But if those essential intangible traits are missing from the leadership team, I'm not sure how long that business will last.
We also look at a company's history — how long they've been in business, the average tenure of employees and reputation in the market. Longevity can tell you a lot about both culture and business acumen. As a company that intends to stay in this business for a long time, we equally weigh the intangible qualities of an M&A candidate's leaders with their company's success. This is why we place so much emphasis on the culture of an acquisition.
By nature, the M&A process can be an uncomfortable transition — and understandably so. It's a big change that involves a lot of moving parts. We've learned how crucial the integration phase is to the entire organization. It's a delicate transition, and we prioritize welcoming our new ATI Family members and supporting the incoming leadership and ownership team. Without this, we would risk losing the most important part of the acquisition, which is the people. Our incoming partners need to know we value their expertise and knowledge of the market.
The key to a successful onboarding process starts with having a skilled integration team to help the transition go smoothly. It helps acclimate our incoming ATI Family and lets them know they will be supported every step of the way. Practically speaking, this includes deploying all the physical support and resources they need, whether it's field crews, marketing support, business development support, and other opportunities to help their office grow. We want them to feel part of ATI right away.
As long as we're in business, our philosophy remains:
Focus on the people, empower them and then watch them succeed.
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