Treating everyone - employees and customers - fairly and respectfully is what our contest winner strives for.

“We’re really honored to be chosen for this award. We have a great group of people who are good at their jobs and enjoy what they do. We recognize that in order to be successful, we have to find the best and most talented people to get the job done. … But we also recognize that we have to provide opportunity, benefits and great pay if we want to bring the best into our organization.”
- Gary Griffin, president, B & I Contractors

When we opened nominations up for the 2007 Best Contractor To Work For contest, we received submissions for quite a few companies; some you’ve read about in the pages of this magazine, some not as well-known.

But the employees at Ft. Myers, Fla.-based B & I Contractors are passionate - and proud - about their company. And they let us know it. Not only did they nominate Gary Griffin, president of the company, and the company as a whole, they singled out many of B & I’s key managers as being worthy of the “Best Contractor” moniker.

Gary Griffin, president, of B & I contractors.

B & I's ESOP Evolution

One of the key points employees made in nomination forms, and Griffin reiterated during our interview, is that B & I Contractors is an ESOP company - the Employee Stock Ownership Plan is an employee benefit plan that makes the employees of the company owners of the company’s stock.

Essentially, the 350+ employees are owners. There is a managing board of directors - comprised of Griffin, Jason Grabowski (vice president) and Brian Kelly (chief financial officer) - which handles the business processes of the company.

The HVAC/plumbing/electrical firm was founded in 1960 by Gordon (Buck) Harbuck and his wife Ira. (Buck and Ira = B & I.) In 1985, Harbuck was seeking an exit strategy and decided to go the ESOP route. By 1993, 95 percent of B & I stock was owned by the ESOP. In that time, the company has contributed more than $13.1 million to the ESOP, and company stock value has increased from $30 per share to $98 per share.

“At B & I, we expect all of our employee-owners to put forth great effort and to contribute to the company’s success,” Griffin explains. “We all benefit through the ESOP when the company does well, so we all try to support one another to the benefit of the ESOP.”

B & I officers and managers (left to right) - Front row: Craig Econopouly, plumbing; Brian F. Mumme, specialized projects; Robert Morrison, electrical. Second row: Melissa A. Leo, PHR, human resources; Brian Kelly, CFO; Gary H. Griffin, P.E., president; Douglas Provost, safety. Third row: John Ziemski, purchasing; David Johnson, service. Back row: Dale Hryniewicki, shipping/receiving; Jeffrey Zenoniani, P.E., senior projects.

Positive reinforcement is critical to the success of the company, Griffin says, and recognizing those who go “above and beyond” for the company or for its customers is a key component. B & I’s “Outstanding Performers” are recognized weekly and monthly, as well as at the annual holiday party. Home Depot gift cards and American Express miles are common prizes.

One of the special awards the company established is the Horizon Award, presented to the employee who has less than one year with B & I and has exceeded his or her manager’s expectations.

The company hosts many events throughout the year for its employees and families, Griffin says, including off-site parties, picnics and a “Dunk the Boss” event.

Training and education is an important part of the contracting trade, and B & I takes that concept to heart. Not only does it provide in-house training programs and opportunities for off-site seminars, it also invests in the future of the industry through its sponsorship of the Tri-County Apprenticeship Academy. This nonprofit provides four-year apprenticeship training for the plumbing, pipefitting, HVAC, fire sprinkling and electrical trades - about 400 apprentices each year. Some B & I employees even teach classes at TCAA.

“Simply put, our goal is to treat all of our employee-owners fairly and with respect,” Griffin notes. “We take great effort to understand the needs of our employees and then to put together a total benefit package that will improve their lives.”

The 350+ employees of B & I Contractors are actually owners of the company through its Employee Stock Ownership Plan.

In Their Own Words

These are just some of the comments we received from B & I employee-owners about why their company is the “Best Contractor To Work For.”

“Before coming to work at B & I Contractors, I owned and operated my own plumbing company for approximately 12 years. The reason I opened my business was simple and I still believe in the concept: If we must work (which most of us need or have to), it should be under the best conditions available while still being able to provide premium service and product. I worked at some very good companies in the 35 years I have been in this business, but seldom thought that the employer did enough for its people. I can say that I have found a company that I plan to finish my career with at B & I Contractors for this very reason.

“I have been employed at B & I Contractors for about seven years. To appreciate what a great firm B & I is, I must first say that a primary difference with our company compared to others is our size, reputation and the fact we are employee-owned.

The annual "Dunk the Boss" event.

“The company also offers a plethora of other benefits including, but not limited to, health insurance, vision, dental, life, AFLAC, sick days, vacation time, holidays, discounts at local merchants and a pleasant working atmosphere. B & I also offers pretty close to unlimited educational opportunities to any worthy employee, as well as incentives to take advantage of these opportunities.”
- Craig Econopouly, plumbing department manager and qualifier

“I have worked for several mechanical companies, and I believe that I have found a company that emulates the same value system I do.”
- Sean Torgerson

“I was hired by this company two years ago, and I cannot think of working for anyone else. … The pay is great and the work is rewarding. B & I Contractors is a well-organized business. Mr. Griffin also seeks out the opinions, views and ideas of those who work out in the field. This collaboration between upper management and well-experienced field personnel is the reason for our low-stress work enviroment.”
- Ryan Racine

“The company is willing to give back to the community and the mechanical engineering/contracting professions by teaching interns such as myself the trade.”
- John Stischok

“I have worked for B & I for about eight months now and believe it is the best contractor. The company allows us to take part in a stock option plan that guarantees all of us a good retirement after three years of employment, with employees being 100 percent vested after seven years of employment. The option for advancement is always there. There is also more stability here than at other contractors in the area.”
- Keith Grandchamp

“The whole company treats you like family. The employees of B & I are the most important part of the company, and if you work hard for the company, it treats you right.”
- Leonard Shields

To nominate a firm or individual for the 2008 Best Contractor To Work For contest, use the submittal form here on our Web site, or e-mail Managing Editor Kelly Faloon at Contest entry deadline is Sept. 1, 2008.