The Million Dollar 401(k)

Chrissy Nardini, American Metals Supply

September 24, 2019

Our family-owned, Evergreen® company, American Metals Supply Co., was founded by my grandfather, Al Hassebrock, in Springfield, Illinois in 1962.  My dad, Steve, joined the business in 1971 and continues to serve as Chief Strategy Officer today. 

When I joined the company in 1997, we had two locations, and my dad, who lives and breathes the company, had been continually assuming more responsibilities as the business had expanded through the years. When I stepped in, I saw that if we wanted to grow to continue to create new opportunities for our employees, I would need to implement some infrastructure—the two of us, no matter how devoted, could only take the company so far. 

As I learned about best practices and sought to develop infrastructure, I was guided by the People First approach that my grandfather and my dad had embraced. We had always known that our ability to serve customers as a distributor of sheet and coil steel, prefabricated duct and fittings, and HVAC products was dependent on attracting and retaining great employees. My dad had told me many times that “we've got to get the best people and reward them well—better than is standard in the market—because otherwise we're not going to grow and be successful.”

That idea of offering our people more than is expected, going above and beyond the industry standard in how we recognize and support our team, has shaped our approach from the beginning. With that value as my guide, I have worked—first as CFO and, since 2006, as President—to build and develop benefits and culture that ensure we are able to compete for the best talent. Because let’s face it—we are not the most glamorous of industries. People are not rushing out of college seeking out jobs in buying and selling steel. And yet, we have managed to continually attract employees and create new opportunities for our people as we’ve grown to now eight locations serving ten states. We currently employ 110 people, about evenly split between driver/warehouse positions and sales and administrative roles. 

One of the key ways we have chosen to offer our people more is by partnering with them in their retirement savings in a powerful way. When I joined the company, we had a profit-sharing plan in place, providing employees up to six percent of their compensation annually with no requirement for them to contribute. But as 401(k)s became popular, we wanted our employees to be able to put some of their own money in and to have more accountability and more choice in what the investments were, and how much they wanted to contribute, while still incentivizing them and rewarding them for contributing.

So, we switched to a 401(k). Today, as before, we contribute up to six percent of their compensation annually. However, we have added a dollar-for-dollar match up to the first six percent on the 401(k) side. So, if somebody's putting in six percent, they're getting 12 percent from us for a potential total of 18 percent each year. We have a 92 percent participation rate in the program (versus a 67 percent participation rate among peer companies), and 74 percent of our participants have deferral and company contributions of at least 15 percent a year (versus 15 percent of employees saving at that level in peer companies). 

And while these stats are fun to roll out and share, there’s another number that I like to offer up: $2.1 million. That’s the amount that the person with the largest balance in our 401(k) plan right now has saved for retirement. This is someone without a college degree—not an executive and not an owner, simply someone who has worked at the company for many years and has contributed every year. This money sits in this individual’s personal account, unlike pension or ESOP retirement plans, which are dependent on the company for future payout.

I love to share this example because to be able to positively impact a life and a family by offering security in retirement is an honor. I always knew that good people were the key to running a good business, but the more we do for people, and the more we see the reward in it, the more inspiring it is to continue to go above and beyond. Seeing employees—whether delivery drivers, warehouse workers, or executives—be financially set for retirement is incredibly rewarding.  

As we continue to look ahead at how we can maximize the benefit of this program for our employees, education is key. We work hard to share the impact of this powerful saving opportunity in newsletters, at company meetings, and across other outlets. Because the impact of this type of benefit can take time for an employee to appreciate, it’s important to continually reiterate the transformative potential of this type of consistent saving. 

While our retirement benefit is one of many People First programs we have developed—others range from wellness initiatives to philanthropic programs to an employee hardship fund—it’s certainly one of the most meaningful to me. Going above and beyond for our people is the Purpose that grounds me today.

Chrissy Nardini is President of American Metals Supply Co.

If you enjoyed this article or talk, please share with your friends, colleagues and family.