Beyond the Build


Actions Speak Louder than Words: Corporate Philosophy Actualized

Anyone can talk a big game. It seems that in the name of public relations, lots of business leaders are talking up green initiatives, corporate responsibility and the importance of a welcoming in-office environment. It all sounds good, but does it ever really play out in day-to-day operations?

I’ve always thought that corporate culture goes far beyond philosophy. It’s about application and tangible execution when possible. That was top of mind as we made plans for our new campus. We tried to make every detail speak to who we are as a company. The conference table, a focal point of our largest gathering place, was no exception.

Throughout my career, I’ve sat at many a conference table. It seems most are rectangular, a shape requiring someone to sit at the head, “in charge.” A round table would support a “team” atmosphere, but is inefficient for the number of chairs accommodated to its size. This led us to choose a square design—it’s efficient and puts us all on equal footing.

With that decided, I commissioned my friend Tom Church and his wife Susan to design and construct the piece. I requested our table be made from Red Bald Cypress we salvaged from swampland on a project in Florida. The Churches came from Tennessee to collect the wood.

Tom was kind enough to call a few weeks later to let me know he’d come up with a layout for us to discuss. Over the years, I have learned that one should never tell the artist how to paint the painting. I knew Tom had a unique eye for design, a gift of craftsmanship and patience of task. I gave him free reign on the finished product and signed off without seeing a single drawing.

The result was beyond my expectations. The real beauty of the table lies in the way it was put together. The Red Bald Cypress is exceptional, and the craftsmanship equally superb. It was obvious that Tom and Susan devoted a great deal of time to the detail of the design, from the seemingly flawless surface to the curvature of the edges to the solidity of the support. All is in arts and crafts style, hand-assembled with pegs.

While the table is attractive to the eye, the message lies in its components. I found huge significance in Tom’s decision to incorporate two cracked boards. Rather than discard the flawed wood, he reinforced it with burl walnut so that those two boards could be used in the table along with the others. Every time I see the table I am reminded that none of us is perfect and we require a little mending from time to time. With the support of others, we form a solid team.

What are you doing to bolster your team?  If you’re talking the talk, are you walking the walk? I encourage you to live your corporate philosophy. We continue to see the benefits. Mementos around the office—like our table—are reminders not only of who we are, but what we can be.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.