Last year, I arrived for my interview at C&A Industries 45 minutes early, worried that my car would spontaneously break down or I’d be delayed by Omaha’s bustling mid-afternoon traffic. Aiming for, “Wow, she’s prompt and responsible!” rather than, “Is that girl still sitting in the lobby?” I attempted to calm the butterflies in my stomach and brace myself for entering the corporate world. I realized my worries were futile as I pushed open the massive glass doors outside the elevator and was met by excited and approachable people who wanted to share C&A Industries and develop me as a leader.
Starting my second year in the internship program excited and unafraid, I began working on a project to explore leadership in the company, interviewing the top executives to gain insight on their personal leadership styles and the organization. While my father joked that my time in the C-Suite wouldn’t make me any intern friends, I gratefully accepted this opportunity and enjoyed each minute of the executives’ valuable time. Their combination of success and sincerity struck me and each represented the cyclical relationship between being a leader for clients, the community, and employees at C&A Industries.
It’s apparent throughout the company that the culture guides employees. Cultivating an environment where everyone lives out its mission and values comes from hiring people whose personal goals for success match the company’s core values and approach to teamwork. When I sat down with Bret Williams, Director of Human Resources, he discussed the importance of branding values to the company’s employees, adding that the leadership team has to, “create an expectation that the culture is the most important thing.”
Williams believes that leading by example and demonstrating the culture is a critical part of meeting this expectation and building positive relationships within the organization. President and CEO, Scot Thompson, agrees that this is the best way to encourage others to live out the company’s mission and values. He cites identifying, training, and retaining great people as key elements in the company’s continued development. “We’ve been a good company,” he shared, “but we evolve to be a better employer and to better serve clients…what we’re really striving to be is exceptional.” The executives’ commitment to accomplishing the exceptional is coupled with a desire to empower employees through their leadership.
Liz Hall, Executive Director of Training and Development, embodies this promise in her determined thoughts and actions. “You have to invite people to greatness by allowing them to fail,” Hall tells her employees. Through rewarding positive acts and being consistent in not allowing negativity, she has created an environment where individuals can try new things outside their comfort zones and have support no matter the result. “This encourages self-leadership,” Hall says, a key part of what sets C&A Industries apart as a leader for its employees.
Sitting in each executive’s office, I saw awards, certificates, and mission statements, but was most impressed by the sincerity and approachability present. Every person I spoke with took the time and effort to recognize work I had done in the past, answered my questions thoughtfully, and told me to contact him or her if I need anything. Motivated by a love of seeing others succeed, the actions C&A Industries takes to be a leader and develop leaders are rooted in a genuine care for employees.
Libby Stevenson is a junior at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, majoring in Psychology and Leadership Education. She is working on projects in Training and Development for the second year with the C&A Industries Skills for Success Internship Program before leaving to study in Spain for two months. Libby is passionate about leadership, community service, and travel, and loves spending time with her friends and family.