“It’s Not About Being Right, It's About Getting it Right”

December 7, 2021

“We’ve all seen other local companies where successful entrepreneurs sell to a large company and eventually lose their identity and their employees — and their culture is gone,” says Restek’s Head Coach Bryan Wolcott. “But we were determined to sustain for the long term.” 

Holding onto the principles that founder Paul Silvis had infused into the company, while also adapting and innovating to increase Restek’s impact on the world was a tall order, but here’s how this employee-owned company did it. 

HappyValley Industry: Why is Restek’s culture so important?

Bryan Wolcott: Restek employees are the owners of the company, and as owners, we all want the company to be successful and endure. We are cheering each other on to be successful, and collaborating to win. 

One of our core values is “Plus 1” where we go above and beyond the expected to serve our customers. Restek employees, whether scientists or in marketing, sales, finance or operations, anticipate customer needs and constantly strive to exceed their expectations. 

"We are cheering each other on to be successful, and collaborating to win."

An employee-oriented culture empowers employees to build trusting relationships with our customers, which in turn brings timely market information into the company so we can build customer-centric solutions that our teams are able to deliver with high quality and on time. We invest the profits in our people, our business and community which, in turn, supports our employee-oriented culture.

HappyValley Industry: How does strong culture impact your profitability?

Bryan Wolcott: Restek is not a top-down organization. We practice servant leadership. It’s not about us, and it’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right and that involves a lot of people. 

Here’s an example: At the beginning of 2009, Restek saw a decrease in sales for the first time. It was right after we purchased the company from the founder and we were deep in debt for the first time, plus sales were declining due to the effects of the 2008 recession. Every employee saw our sales numbers and everyone knew we were in trouble. What to do? 

"Restek is not a top-down organization. We practice servant leadership. It’s not about us, and it’s not about being right. It’s about getting it right and that involves a lot of people."

We reminded all employees that they are the strength of the company and the reason we were now employee-owned, and Restek was not going to lay anyone off. Instead our focus needed to be on becoming more efficient and taking care of Restek’s customers. 

Customers were having trouble, which was why sales were falling. Our employees worked with customers to find creative solutions to challenges and needs, providing a Plus 1 experience even in the worst of times. Employees felt accountable for their company and executed new strategies and practices that contributed to our survival and success through that crisis.  

HappyValley Industry: As a company leader, how do you cultivate a positive work culture?

Bryan Wolcott: One of the ways Restek promotes positive work culture is in the area of wellness. We’ve had a fitness room and on-site personal trainers (also Restek employees) for a very long time. In 2017, Restek expanded its wellness program by building a new facility called Founders Point, a 17,000-square-foot gym and fitness facility including modern exercise equipment, locker rooms and plenty of space for yoga and class exercises. Our wellness staff provides a wide variety of training for employees plus private and group sessions to help everyone improve their health and wellness — even those who are remote and cannot be present in the facility.

HappyValley Industry: What are employees looking for in company culture?

Bryan Wolcott: I believe employees want to belong to something important. They want to know they are valued and they want to know their work matters.

Employees want to know where we’re headed as a company and what our current priorities are. Restek is in a scientific industry where laboratories use our products to acquire and analyze critical data — our teams understand the importance of their work because those laboratories serve industries such as environmental, food safety and clinical/diagnostics — our products are used to ensure the safety of food, drugs, water and our environment.

"I believe employees want to belong to something important. They want to know they are valued and they want to know their work matters."

One of my joys is that, here in Bellefonte, we work in a facility that has been designed thoughtfully, by our employees, for our work, and is held to a high standard of functionality and cleanliness that we all take great pride in.

HappyValley Industry: How have you maintained your company’s culture during COVID, as many employees are working remotely?

Bryan Wolcott: We care about employees beyond the work they do at Restek — their health, their families, their ability to balance their priorities, etc. The pandemic has reinforced how important this is — for our people and for the company.

Our employees were awesome during the pandemic. We had a Rapid Response team that met daily to monitor the changing landscape and be on top of every safety measure recommended. In fact, today we look back and are proud that no one contracted COVID at work. Those who needed to be onsite to manufacture, test and ship our products were eager to do all they could to keep Restek going and our office workers transitioned to work-from-home arrangements almost seamlessly and we continued to conduct our business without a hiccup. 

"How do we maintain a vibrant and inclusive culture regardless of location? The answer is that we will do it with the same care for people and commitment to the customer as always, and we will have to learn how to do it well."

Today, some of our 500 employees work onsite, some still work from home and some work in our international offices. This raises an important culture question: How do we maintain a vibrant and inclusive culture regardless of location? The answer is that we will do it with the same care for people and commitment to the customer as always, and we will have to learn how to do it well. There will be mistakes. One of our core values is “Fast Failure,” where we’re encouraged to learn from our mistakes and keep innovating.

HappyValley Industry: What’s one piece of advice you would give a company that is just starting out? How do you build and maintain a ‘best place to work’?

Bryan Wolcott: Consider what you will need from employees and what their contributions will be. How will you create the right environment and get the best work? Most importantly, how will you treat them? Determine your values ahead of time and be prepared to stand by those values, especially when things get difficult.

It’s important to note that management provides the environment for culture, but employee beliefs and behaviors actually determine the culture. One philosophy I like is from Patrick Lencioni's book The Ideal Team Member.  He discusses his company core values — Humble, Hungry, and Smart — which became his hiring criteria. He talks about the importance of seeing all three in employees, saying that you can always help them acquire skills, but getting the right people on board will make all the difference.

HappyValley Industry: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bryan Wolcott: Today I met a new employee who talked about his first three weeks on the job, and it reminded me so much of my experience 25 years ago. He told me he has never seen or heard so much appreciation among employees for each other’s work. It reminded me of how much I have enjoyed being a part of this incredible team. 

"Determine your values ahead of time and be prepared to stand by those values, especially when things get difficult."

Restek people really want to help each other. We believe in our core values, we respect each other and we know how to behave as a company of owners. And as a company of owners, we have the freedom to create the future we desire. 

Live, Work, Play…Happy Valley!

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