God, Car Batteries, and Concern for the Family: Interstate Battery

The modern workforce is a stressful place. What has traditionally been considered “work” and what is considered “living” is becoming difficult to distinguish. Here’s how one company built a more family-like work environment.

In my mind, a good boss is someone who acknowledges important life-changing events such as a death in the family, a birth of a child, or an illness. In one of my scrapbooks is a note from my father’s boss congratulating him on my birth. Today some might call this intrusive or outside the bounds of normal business, but it meant a lot to my family. And I know that similar gestures I’ve made for people who worked for me made a lasting impression that no bonus check could ever buy.

The modern workforce is a stressful place. What has traditionally considered “work” and what is considered “living” is becoming difficult to distinguish. Lack of job security, fractured marriages, military conflict, office violence, non-stop change–all these issues are making people realize that life is more than just making money. People need an anchor in their life they may have never needed before. A good boss alone may not be enough.

At the Interstate Battery System of America, Inc. (IBSA), employees can turn to their employer for help in the quest for meaning. Founded in 1952 on three traditional values–offer the best-quality product, provide impeccable service, and treat the customer with respect– Interstate Batteries is a $500 million, privately held corporation with more than 5,000 products. Its home office in Dallas, Texas works with more than 300 wholesale distribution centers who service 200,000 dealers in the U.S., Canada, and around the world. Many NASCAR fans also recognize Interstate’s green race car driven by Bobby Labonte.

Interstate takes a unique role and responsibility for its employees and family members. Management tries to make a substantial difference in people’s lives beyond merely providing a place to work and a paycheck at the end of the month. Many organizations talk about caring for its employees, but Interstate demonstrates it in number of ways.

The most notable example is its Chaplain’s department. Its staff of five provides and coordinates opportunities for employees to participate in pizza luncheons, men’s and women’s luncheon, banquets, golf tournaments, Family Life conferences, and summer camps. Employees can borrow books and videos from its library, attend Bible studies, listen to guest speakers, and turn to the department for personal help.

A full-time Chaplain has been on Interstate’s staff for the past nine years. A former Army chaplain who left the service to work at Interstate, he has helped establish many of Interstate’s employee programs. The Chaplain will visit family members in the hospital, attend weddings, and respond to births and deaths. His office will send newly married employees to family life conferences and pick up half the tab. Employees who participate in these programs view it as a valuable aspect of working at Interstate.

Faith plays a key role at Interstate, whose mission statement calls on the company to “glorify God as we supply our customers worldwide with top quality, value-priced batteries, related electrical power-source products, and distribution services.” Norm Miller and other top executives hold regular prayer meetings as part of their management responsibilities, and look to God for guidance in day-to-day business decisions. Employees participate in a variety of volunteer ministries. Every quarter, about 10 spend a weekend in Bill Glass Prison Ministries’ “Weekend of Champions.” Interstate pays for participants’ transportation, food, and lodging. Twice a year, employees donate boxes of food and bags of clothing to the needy at the Union Gospel Mission. At Christmas and Easter, about 17 people participate in a prison fellowship and spend time visiting with inmates in a nearby jail.

Once a year, 100 employees participate in the Angel Tree project, which provides clothing and Christmas presents to children of prisoners. An annual mission trip to Mexico draws about 20 employees. Chairman Miller pays for the trip out of his own pocket.

Interstate recognizes employees who participate in ministry events with a Matthew 25 certificate, based on the Bible verse that says “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you invited Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

It’s hard to objectively measure how these programs and services impact on retention and productivity. But evidence indicates that employees feel that Interstate truly stands for something and cares for them. This environment is not for everyone, but for the 350 home office employees, it’s ideal. As one new employee said, “I can’t get over it, I feel I am a part of a family.”

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