When I was young, my father was laid off from his job working at a mill. There were 9 of us Polacek kids, so you can imagine my father’s unexpected job loss made an immediate and dramatic impact on my family. It was unfortunate moments like these that taught me lessons on how I’d eventually like to run my own business.

Of course my father’s company didn’t like laying him off; come on, no one likes to do that. To me, I see layoffs as my own personal failure. Like in life, your actions in business speak louder than your words. As a business leader, your greatest testament is when times are tough. When your backs are up against the wall.

Some of you may be faced with difficult decisions and immediately think: the right decision is the one that loses the least amount of money. While that decision might be the right one for a profit-focused company, we’re an employee-focused business. We choose to do the right thing and take care of the employees by providing benefits during good and bad times.

When the mill hired my father, they really hired my whole family— yes, all 9 kids! As an employer, how we treat our employees makes a profound impact on their families.

At JWF Industries, we’re really a family. We’ve adopted the belief that you’re not just hiring a person, an employee. You’re hiring their family. They’re integrating into our family. That’s a huge responsibility, and it’s not always an easy one…much like families.

Oddly, one of my proudest moments as a leader occurred during one of the hardest moments: when the recession forced us to lay off employees. We were faced with two options:

  1. Payout over $150,000 in insurance for laid-off employees and when they return to work they receive $1000.00, based on the understanding that they receive far less from unemployment.
  2. Lose a little money in a month.

We chose to payout over $150,000 in insurance and compensate returning employees with $1000.00. Because it was without a doubt the right thing to do.

Without our employees, we wouldn’t be where we are today. If you truly want to grow and you want your customer to grow, focus first on the people making it happen every day: your employees. When you compensate them well, give them good benefits, and help them succeed, all else will grow.