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10 takeaways from an unassuming, award-winning CEO

date posted:

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


Gary Jaffe heads up the GL group—a provider of literature and educational materials and winner of award after award as a “top workplace” or “best place to work.”


Photo by Matt Marcinkowski

This article is part of the Places to Work feature in St. Louis Magazine's January 2018 issue.

A relatively small family-owned, locally based company called GL group—a provider of literature and educational materials—wins award after award as a “top workplace” or “best place to work.” GL stands for Good Luck, but the company doesn’t sit back and wait for it. CEO Gary Jaffe, son of the founder, focuses hard on GL’s 222 employees.

1. Put family first

We’ve had 33 babies in the office over the years—the first one just graduated college. They come until they’re 6 months old. The most we had at one time was five. 

2. Make people feel at home

Before they start, people get a box delivered: a T-shirt, directions, a coupon book, a free wellness event, a coffee mug. I had an exec start, and I included his first two weeks’ schedule. I mean, how scary is that, to walk in the door your first day?

3. Focus on what matters

When you are only concerned about the bottom line, you do stupid things. Have a bad year and start cutting people, instead of thinking, “How can we solve the issue?” As soon as you start cutting, it’s a slope. Your good employees get worried.

4. Be transparent

When we sold one of our divisions, employees weren’t surprised, because they’d seen the numbers. There are so many excuses why people don’t do things like that—and so many benefits to doing them. 

5. Be fair and consistent

I bought somebody a car. That was dumb. Obviously I couldn’t buy everybody a car; so now we have an employee loan policy. And I wanted to give a couple of people scholarships, so now we have a program, to keep it fair.

6. Encourage leadership

I teach a leadership class, and we teach people how to put together professional development plans. Our CFO teaches financial classes—where the company is and how to read the reports. 

7. Fire respectfully

You hear all these stories of someone who was let go and had no idea it was coming. When people leave, I want it to be done respectfully—unless they’ve done something wrong or hurt somebody, and then I want them to get the hell out!

8. Acknowledge good work

We just got a letter from somebody who worked for me nine years ago. He said, “I’ve never since leaving there had a job where I felt so wanted and appreciated, even just doing a line job.”

9. Say thanks

If somebody’s been doing a lot of overtime, we send a handwritten note to the spouse and include a gift certificate.

10. Keep it fun

Three times a year, we draw five names for a free vacation. Some people have never been on a plane before, so I actually blind-tested the travel agency to make sure I could understand what they were saying. People say, “You’re such a small company; how are you able to do this?” We use our American Express points to pay for it.