Building Values Fit for the Future

Amanda Loman
Top: Tonya Smith, Treasurer, Steve Smith, CEO Bottom: Next generation family members: Callie Smith & Stephen Grantham

Brand Story – How Tec Labs is equipping its family business for generational success.

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On Steve Smith’s desk sits a bottle of 2002 Brunello di Montalcino made by the Padelettis, 18th-generation winemakers whose Tuscan vineyard has flourished since 1571. At first glance, it might seem out of place, but after getting to know the family behind Tec Labs, it’s symbolism becomes obvious.

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In a world where the only constant is change — from ever-evolving technologies to shifting policies and lifestyles — the Smiths seek to build success with the potential to last generations. To do so, they are instilling in their heirs & company culture with a type of wealth that transcends time: core values.
“Values are transcendent. Technology, ethics, policies, everything is changing so quickly, but we want these values to soldier forward after we’re gone,” said Steve, CEO, Tec Labs, creators of Tecnu poison oak and ivy solutions.

For him and his family, these values — (1) always do right, (2) perpetual improvement and innovation, and (3) people working together to their hearts’ content — are so much more than marketing fodder. They are the real deal: guiding principles reflected in all of the company’s processes and policies.

IMG 9848Tec Labs headquarters.
“It’s a strategy for us. It’s not just a whim. It has to do with developing an environment where people can be creative. As inventors, that’s what we need,” he added. “We look for core values when we hire and we use the same cultural measures for family. If they don’t live up to it, they’d be asked to leave, which has happened before.”

Tec Labs relies on every member of its rapidly growing team to champion these values. It works to protect the special culture with a full two-week intake process for new hires that includes a values-test based on the books The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The Smiths embrace their role as stewards of community; building a safe, positive place for their employees to grow, half of whom have been with them for over 10 years and many for over 20. As a family business, its focus extends far beyond quarterly profits.

“Most of the time, people will amaze you if you create an environment where they can reach their full potential,” Steve said. “After 10, 15, 20 years, you can’t believe what they’ve developed into. That’s really our family interest.”

For any employee motivated to continue their education or skills development, the company’s Talent Management Team sits down and outlines a tailored training program, which is then funded by Tec Labs. Taking into account the goals and schedules of each participant, the program promotes growth without interfering with their daily responsibilites.

Additionally, internal job-shadowing opportunities and a General Management Rotation lets employees and next-generation family members explore different positions within the organization.

IMG 9946Assembly line.

“We look for people who are continuous learners and then we support them in their learning. My dad was studying quantum mechanics the last six months of his life in his care facility,” Steve added.

Putting people first is part of the Smith DNA. On the family’s fourth-generation Iowa farm, Steve’s great grandfather would work with his horses 12-13 hours a day — waking up even before the horses to prepare for the day and tending to them in the evening before thinking of himself. From there arose the family motto: “take care of the horses first.”

That mentality has led Tec Labs to rank among Oregon Business magazine’s top 100 places to work since 1997. After 12 years of making the list and no signs of slowing down, Tec Labs was inducted into the Magazine’s Hall of Fame. This year, it ranked third among medium-sized businesses.

“My personal leadership goal is to create an environment where everyone can reach their full potential. That includes me,” he explained.

One of the major internal practices Tec Labs adopted early on was complete transparency within the company, inviting the entire staff to attend regular open book meetings where the company’s financials are laid out for all to see. On top of that, they take their “share the harvest” mentality literally, with a significant portion of annual before-tax profits divided equally to every person in the company — regardless of salaries. One share equals one person.

IMG 9880On-site lab.

Combined, these decisions remind everyone at Tec Labs that they are respected, valuable parts of one team.

Beyond exemplifying their values within the workplace, the Smiths are passing them along to next-generation family members, whether they intend to join the business or not. Twice a year, the entire clan, spouses and children included, head out for a two-day retreat – a time to reflect on values and family governance.   

As a fairly young organization, founded by Steve and his father roughly 40 years ago, the family governance aspect continues to evolve. Currently, any Smith relative looking to become more involved in the company must complete a two-year business program and meet the same requirements as employees. More importantly, perhaps, they will be expected to live its core values.  

“Our employees like that we’re a family business and that we’re educating the next generation. It gives them a sense of security and confidence that they’ll see the same values continue,” explained Tonya Smith, Corporate Treasurer, Tec Labs.

From one generation to the 18th and beyond, Tec Labs vows to remain a company with soul, where people thrive and values rule.

Brand stories are paid content articles that allow Oregon Business advertisers to share news about their organizations and engage with readers on business and public policy issues.  The stories are produced in house by the Oregon Business marketing department. For more information, contact associate publisher Courtney Kutzman.