Charleston CEO begins experiment in company loyalty
by Paul Bowers
How do you keep employees from job-hopping? Here’s one idea: Offer them a $50,000 check for every five years they stay with your company.
At SIB Development and Consulting, a small business with about 35 employees, it’s as simple as that. The three-year-old company’s Meeting Street office where its 18 Charleston employees work has all the Spartan design cues and quirky touches you’d expect from a young startup — a putt-putt area, a kiteboard in the corner, an entire wall that serves as a dry-erase board — but what really catches the eye is a back wall lined with postdated checks, each one a $50,000 carrot on a string.
And by the way: They’re hiring.
When founder and CEO Dan Schneider announced the starting line for the bonuses in May, he was operating under the premise that people don’t stick with employers like they used to.
“Your friends, aren’t they switching jobs every two years, three years or so?” Schneider asks, leaning over his desk and speaking with the measured cadence of someone who has had to explain himself a few too many times. “OK. If you’re on LinkedIn, you can see your friends changing careers every two and three years like clockwork. So yes, I’m being cynical about it, but it’s not that it doesn’t happen. And then when you’re hanging out with friends and peers and colleagues, everybody’s just bitching about their job or their employer, and they’re always looking for the next great thing. And the next great thing is either a monetary thing for them or it’s a better work environment. And if you have both, there should be no reason why anybody would leave.”
With zero formal training in business, management, or accounting, Schneider runs SIB (which stands for Solutions Integrated Business) on his own terms. SIB does audits for its clients, which tend to be large businesses looking to cut costs, and doesn’t charge a penny until the savings take effect. In addition to his 18 Charleston employees, Schneider hires industry experts around the country to offer their insider knowledge on everything from workers’ compensation to restaurant grease pickup fees. Local clients include Andolini’s Pizza, Wild Wing Cafe, and several fast food franchisees. Nationally, SIB has done work for a few divisions of Berkshire Hathaway, one Fortune Five company, a publicly traded gentlemen’s club, and a televangelist megachurch in Missouri.
Schneider reckons he’ll save on the cost of training new employees by keeping the old ones for longer, but he says he made the decision to hand out beaucoup bonuses for more than just financial reasons. “The employee who’s not trying to sneak and look for the next job onMonster.com is going to be more productive doing work,” he says.
CNN Money published an online article about the SIB bonus plan on Nov. 8, and Schneider says he has gotten a kick out of the reader comments. Some predict he’ll just fire people when they get to four years, 11 months — a claim he scoffs at, saying, “Why would I do that? Everyone would revolt.” Others question whether the company can afford such lavish employee rewards, but Schneider seems unconcerned. He says his company is on track to pull in $6 million in revenue this year, and since SIB signs long-term contracts with its clients, he is confident the money will be there when the first round of five-year bonuses rolls around in 2016.
Assuming employees work an average of 40 hours a week for 50 weeks out of each year, the big bonus translates into a $5 hourly raise across the board. But Schneider likes the idea of a big lump sum, imagining his employees using it to pay off a house, start a child’s college fund, or splurge on a boat. He got one such windfall in his early 20s, and he says it made for the best two and a half years of his life.
Schneider comes by his odd managerial habits naturally. At age 16, bored and frustrated with high school in the Philadelphia suburb of Doylestown, he dropped out in the 10th grade. It was late in the ’90s, and he found work making balloon animals for tips at TGI Friday’s restaurants, a career move he credits for his ability to talk to anyone. When he was 17, he started doing business sales for a cell phone company. When he was 18, he started his own cell phone store, eventually expanding it to 12 locations before selling them all off individually and going into wholesale cell phone sales.
By the time Schneider was 21, he had moved from suburbia to center-city Philadelphia. But after a few years, he realized how little time he had taken to drink it all in. “I was working crazy hours. You asked me what my hobbies were, I couldn’t tell you,” he says. “And I never got to be a kid … I went to my friends and I said, ‘You know, if you had a check for this much money, what would you do?’ And they all told me they’d quit their job.” So he did. Within a week after his epiphany, he had sold his house, turned the company over to someone else to begin collecting royalties, and taken up cycling as a serious hobby.
He says that for the next two and a half years, he “took not working like a job.” In August 2008, he found himself in Charleston for a three-month kiteboarding stint while waiting for his condominium to be built in the Dominican Republic. But as the condo construction got mired in delays and as the Charleston waves got chilly with winter, he became restless and went back into business. Before he had settled on a plan of any sort, he leased office space in Mt. Pleasant and started going there to work every day, whether that meant researching business ventures or poking around on the internet. Finally, he landed on the SIB gig, which exists in a field known as contingency-based cost savings consulting.
At age 30, Schneider is young for a CEO, and he’s turned a few heads already. An entire side of his office is dedicated to what he calls the “Wall of Narcissism,” which includes most of the articles that have been written about him. On Oct. 15, The New York Times featured him in a Q&A that focused on his unorthodox approach to employee discipline: telling the perpetrators of major gaffes to buy ice cream for the entire office.
Schneider moved the company to its third-floor downtown location about eight months ago. Visitors are often greeted by Webster, a Yorkshire terrier who gets more or less free rein. Webster belongs to employee Kelley Bogdan, who started her job in May, just before the bonus announcement. She says she took the job because she liked Schneider and his company and because it was hard to find a more exciting job in Charleston. SIB does not have many job titles, so employees have taken the office signs from the previous tenant (the City of Charleston) and arbitrarily stuck them on the walls outside their offices. Like many employees, Bogdan has an advanced degree — in her case a Juris Doctor from Charleston School of Law — and wears a lot of different hats, whether interacting with clients, writing editorial content, or ordering office supplies. People have specific jobs, Schneider insists, but he sees no need for job-title inflation.
Five years from now, Schneider still sees himself as CEO of SIB. But before too long, he intends to start backing off on some of his responsibilities. The hours are long, but not as long as they were in Philadelphia.
“When I first moved here, I would go to Folly three or four times a week to kiteboard. That’s why I came here. But now, by the time I’m done with work at 5:30 or 6:00 … it’s like work for me.”