SBC October Newsletter: The powers of running a cause-driven business
Recently I had the good fortune to meet Charles Antis, founder and CEO of Antis Roofing through our shared work supporting the nonprofit, OneOC, that helps organizations enrich their missions with instituting giving and volunteering efforts. Charles is a role model for all of us. He has artfully blended giving back to the community with his business's purpose.
Sherry Benjamins: What do you attribute to your company’s success?
Charles Antis: I have to start with the people. You can’t carry on or achieve much of anything without an amazing team. Before we understood how to leverage marketing or social responsibility as a means to get more work, we were always extremely customer focused. If one person in the room is unhappy, I’m going to do anything I can to fix that relationship. This belief led to an extremely high expectation for customer care. Our first level of success started there and allowed us to grow.
SB: Can you tell us more about customer care?
CA: The customer needs to be right. It doesn’t matter why they’re upset because in their dissatisfaction is a kernel of absolute truth on where we can do something better. In our company, we always air on the side of generosity towards the customer.
SB: Part of your success has been social corporate responsibility. When did that start?
CA: In the company’s first year, I received a call from a lady with a leak problem. I went to check it out and as she opened the door, I was overwhelmed by the smell of mildew. Her daughter grabbed my hand to show me the house and in her room was a mattresses with moldy bedding. I went home and organized a relief party to immediately fix the problem. We didn’t start with a policy to fix situations like this, but they happened again and again. We never let anyone have a leaky room just because they didn’t have the money for it. We can’t be good at what we do unless we’re willing to help people in need.
In 2008, Sharon Ellis, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, OC asked if we would donate a roof to a development and we’ve donated every year since. We quickly realized that we were making an impact and it was exciting! When we talk about it inside our culture, our people see it happening and want to be a part of it.
SB: Are your employees onto this mission of giving?
CA: We have about eighty employees and for our industry, it’s a pretty young workforce. In the office, we’re about half millennials and out in the field, we’re a bit older. We embrace newer voices and perspectives and have a common response when thinking about social responsibility. We also embrace a changing workplace. I know that we have to adjust to a changing culture and we are all listening to create a more flexible workplace. Our employees want to give back. Even the baby boomers, who at first don’t want to talk about these issues as much, get really excited about the conversation and join in. We’ve gotten a lot of recognition for being philanthropic and it’s important for me that this recognition is directed towards the employees.
SB: What do you think gets in the way of an entrepreneur building a “cause” culture with a commitment like this?
CA: Small business owners have to scrape by to survive. I understand how difficult it is to take that hard earned money and donate it without seeing a clear bottom line of investment. We always share anecdotal stories about the benefits, but we haven’t seen a clear algorithm yet to support this decision. But only by doing shows others a way to understand and follow. It’s hard to shed the biases of our past, but with the shifting climate right now, everyone is re-thinking strategy and culture. I don’t see myself as a pioneer, I’m just quick on transitions.
SB: Can you share more about your mascot and visual graphic of the Roof God?
CA: I grade myself by how well I sleep at night. We serve up to half a million homes so when it rains, I understand how our customers worry about their castle being in danger. In 2008, I started to think about how I could tell this story with images. We went to an artist specializing in comics to create the Roof God as a way to encapsulate this feeling of being able to relax, knowing that your roof is being taken care of.
SB: What have you personally learned on this path as CEO?
CA: I’m trying to create value. If the value isn’t coming to me or my employee’s wallets that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not good value. I could be putting money into securities, but instead I give it back to the community. This is where I differ from a lot of small businesses. If I put an extra half million in the bank to accrue interest, that’s great. But if I take that same half million and put it out into the community, it will create an exponential ripple effect that will find its way back to me and my stakeholders. I haven’t figured out how to show it on paper—yet—but I believe that the return is ten times more than keeping the money in the bank. Once you understand that it’s OK to give away more than think you can, I think it’s the safest and most secure path to creating success.
SB: What do you recommend for the new entrepreneur interested in trying this strategy out?
CA: Don’t wait. Build giving into the model. Be generous. The Toms model stands out. You’ll have a difficult time competing in the market if an intention like this doesn’t ring with authenticity. It’s a tougher economy with slimmer margins, I get it. But try it! Make it a living breathing part of your everyday and you will notice the difference.
SB: How does your new President share your values?
CA: Our new President, Karen Inman comes into work every day with the same, likeminded passion and enthusiasm. She believes in what we do and loves it. She wouldn’t be at a roofing company if we didn’t have a cause built into our brand. We get the Google people because our brand is visible and powerful. We make decisions that reflect family values and our recruiting has gone up to a level that I never knew could exist!
How can businesses today create and value the space, time, and culture to give back to their community, to be driven and inspired by a cause?