Back in 1989, you might remember a famous book by Robert Fulghum titled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. This popular credo struck a chord with so many people because it reminded us of the simple values we learned as children that made it easy to get along with others, be happy and be successful. We recently published a corporate credo of our own, that is shared with every GroupeSTAHL team member. It lists out the values our parents, Ernie and Ricki Stahl, taught us. These values have served my brother and I well and they are also the backbone of the corporate culture here at Stahls’, and all GroupeSTAHL companies around the globe. Passed down from those who went before us—most likely very similar to things learned from your own parents and grandparents— they are the foundation of the company’s purpose—to help make our customers successful.
Living the following values is expected from all GroupeSTAHL team members:
- RESPECT—Our parents taught us that respect is won by giving it. No matter what mistakes we made as a children—and there were quite a few, believe me—our father never yelled at us in front of our peers. When we did something stupid, he took us aside and explained what could have done differently and taught different ways to approach a situation. He didn’t question our integrity and always spoke respectfully to all his children.
- FRUGALITY—Another lesson learned was frugality. For many years, there were weeks when sales were as low as .38 cents. That’s not much on which to feed a growing family. That’s why we had a big garden growing up and it’s also why my mother was very creative in preparing zucchini. And when we did take a camping vacation, we always brought our own food.
- DON’T WASTE—Ernie Stahl was not only frugal, he was the king of minimizing waste. He always said that if you want to see where your profits are going, look out the back door in the garbage can. He was always reminding us to minimize scrap waste and maximize production efficiencies in all areas. This value led to many production innovations, the introduction of more sophisticated die-cutting equipment, water-jet cutting and much more.
- BE COMPASSIONATE—Even when we didn’t have much ourselves, our family was always helping the less fortunate. Our mother Ricki was our role model for treating everyone with kindness. When dealing with others, be compassionate, be kind. You never know what kind of a day someone has been having, or what kind of burden they are bearing.
- PRAISE OFTEN—A little bit of recognition for a job well done goes a long way. Things as simple as pounding a nail straight or weeding a garden builds our self-esteem.
- RESIST CRITICIZING OTHERS—One story that really illustrates this is the time as a preteen that Ted criticized his younger brother’s handwriting. Instead of telling Ted not to do so, Ernie simply took out a piece of paper that he had kept in his wallet. It was a letter Ted had written to him when he was overseas during the war. Suffice it to say the handwriting was not very legible. We learned a powerful lesson from this simple act.
- LEND A HELPING HAND—When you’re part of a family business, you may find yourself doing jobs you didn’t originally sign up for, such as sweeping the production room floor or answering phones. Ernie Stahl always expected you to be busy and to intuitively lend a hand to others when needed.
- HAVE FUN —In spite of being a hard worker, our parents always knew how to have fun, and encouraged and allowed us to have fun as well. It wasn’t unusual tohave squirt gun and shaving cream fights to make work more fun. Our father also built a cement swimming pool for us and an enormous sand box, where we were allowed to build our own clubhouse, which leads me to another lesson:
- ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY—Our father supplied the wood, poured a cement foundation, but let us build our own clubhouse. It was a lesson in creativity and learning by doing. We built that 6’ x 6’ house completely on our own.
- EMPOWERMENT—The fact that our father put so much faith in our abilities to build a clubhouse empowered us to tackle even more difficult construction and work-related projects, each time with greater and greater success.
- HUMILITY—Although we didn’t have much money growing up, there were always less fortunate. We were taught to not to brag or be boastful.
- LISTEN AND INNOVATE—Some of our father’s best ideas were born by listening to the needs of his customers. Whether he was figuring out how to cut reflective material into lettering or making envelopes of letters with school names in them, he did everything possible to make personalization easier for our customers.
- BE PERSISTENT—Ted remembers going with Ernie to Missouri to look at an automatic stamping machine. It took a long time to engineer the machine to make it work for our purposes. But Ernie was persistent. He never said “I can’t do that.” Instead he said “We’ll figure out a way.”
- FIX IT—Just as Ernie wasn’t one to throw out scraps, he also never threw in the towel when a machine broke down. He always figured out a way to either fix it himself or call in someone who could fix it.
- BUILD RELATIONSHIPS—Our father and mother taught us the most important lesson we need to know—that business is done with people, not companies. They always went out of their way to make sure people knew we were grateful for their business, and we had similar good relationships with suppliers and vendors.
- COMMUNICATE—Our parents knew that they couldn’t run the business on their own. Theyneeded the help of everyone on the team. But in order to keep everyone on the same page, they taught us the value of communication. Of course it was a lot easier in those days, when you just needed to call 10 people into a room to discuss a problem or introduce a new idea.
By building a business based on the foundation of all the lessons learned from our parents, we were able to build a team that today is unstoppable.