The First Rule of our Evergreen Business: “Do the Right Thing”
Kirk Aubry, Savage
January 26, 2021
In 1946, Kenneth Savage returned home to Utah from serving in World War II and purchased a KB-5 International stake body truck, the first investment in C.A. Savage & Son. Together with his brothers, Neal and Luke, who joined the company shortly after its founding, Kenneth would drive 75 miles outside of Salt Lake, load the truck with seven tons of coal—by hand—and drive it back to Salt Lake City, where the brothers would deliver the critical fuel to their Customers’ stores and homes.
From that humble beginning, the Savage Family of Companies, which provides service offerings for truck, rail, and marine transportation and logistics, materials handling, and other industrial services, has grown to employ 5,000 Team Members across 220 locations around the world. The driving factor in the success of our Evergreen® company’s Paced Growth for over 70 years has been a deep, abiding commitment, first by the Savage brothers, and now by those of us who are stewards of the business, to their founding principles.
In 1999, Kenneth, Neal, and Luke, drafted a Vision & Legacy document, which serves as our cultural constitution. It lays out the Founders’ expectations regarding how we act with one another and with our stakeholders, and it serves as the bedrock of the Company. As many times as our mission and our strategic direction might change, the Vision & Legacy remains immovable. We lead according to that legacy, and we’re all expected to live it.
The document outlines the Founders’ vision for continued growth through future generations, their sense of stewardship, their commitment to integrity, their desire for Team Members to find fulfillment in their work, and their relentless commitment to continuous improvement. The language is rich and expressive, reflecting the passion and perseverance that formed our Company and how it continues to thrive to this day.
As leaders of the Company today, we recognize that if we want all of our Team Members, across job functions and geographies, to live and lead according to the Vision & Legacy, we need to ensure that the principles and values continue to resonate and are accessible and easy to understand. So, we've spent some time distilling it down to three actionable, clear principles: First, “Do the right thing;” second, “Find a better way;” and, third, “Make a difference.”
The power of presenting the Vision & Legacy in this way is that those three phrases actually also connect to the personalities of our three Founders. “Do the right thing,” very much reflects Kenneth Savage, the oldest brother. His handshake was a contract. Anybody who knew him, knew that if he gave you his word, it was the law. “Find a better way” is Neil, the middle brother, who simply expected that he, and everyone he worked with, would never get comfortable with the way things have been done, and “Make a difference” was Luke, who was always pushing for meaningful value for Customers. Making those personal connections brings the Vision & Legacy to life for our Team Members.
Also significant, especially from the Evergreen perspective, is that the Vision & Legacy reflects the fact that the Founders didn’t just want to preserve what they’d grown; they wanted to perpetuate it. They wanted the Company to continue to grow and thrive for generations to come. That's really the elegance of what they expressed—the desire for continual improvement and for Team Members to continue to embody these principles through that ongoing evolution.
Specific parts of the Vision & Legacy are demonstrated by Team Members every day. Our culture is a reflection of how the document has been operationalized and is continually reinforced. Recently, I met with executives from a large oil and gas corporation that we’re working with on a large project. When I asked their team about any concerns or issues they may have about the project, they said, “We love your culture so much, and our only concern is that we want to make sure that any new people you bring into the project are properly assimilated – we want to make sure they’ve been ‘Savage-ized’." They clearly understood the power of the culture as a driver of our team and the success of the project.
The directive to “make a difference” is also clear and present today through our philanthropic efforts. We involve Team Members in service projects because we understand that we have an obligation to give back and to be stewards not only of our company but of the communities where we work and live.
We also try to create fulfilling work and provide opportunities for Team Members, as our Founders articulated in the Vision & Legacy when they committed to help people “do things that they never dreamed possible.” For that to happen, we have to be seriously interested in finding out for each Team Member, "What do you aspire to do?" Then, whether the answer is to be the best driver in our Company or to be a CFO, we have an obligation to help each person understand the steps that will get them there and then help them chart a course to operationalize this unique part of the Vision & Legacy.
To see the impact of our commitment to Team Members’ growth and development is incredibly fulfilling. We make a point, when we discuss the Vision & Legacy at company events, to ask, "Are you doing something today that you never dreamed possible?" To see the number of hands that shoot up is amazing. And while it’s exciting for me to see, I think it’s even more powerful for more recently hired Team Members who might be wondering whether the principles of the Vision & Legacy are the “real deal.” When they see these other Team Members’ hands go up—a mechanic who’s now a Business Unit Leader or a woman who began in an entry-level role who now leads our IT organization — they see real, live examples of how we live these principles.
There’s no question that there’s challenge in maintaining the power of the Vision & Legacy as we grow. But that document will remain the foundation, our cultural constitution, because it’s so important to us, and people “get” the value of it. We teach it all the time. We reinforce it all the time. We showcase it all the time. We use it when we talk to Customers. We use it when we talk to current Team Members and to future Team Members. We use it when we do exit interviews because we want to make sure we haven't damaged it. It’s embedded, and that’s how it will live on. Our Vision & Legacy is a living, breathing part of our Company, and to keep it alive, we’ll need to continue to nourish it as it sustains our Evergreen Company.
Kirk Aubry is President and CEO of Savage.