Collette’s Employees Key to Soaring Profits

Published in Pawtucket Times, July 17, 2014

During one of the most devastating economic downturns since the Great Depression, companies throughout the nation put hiring decisions on hold, even slashing employee benefits and compensation. But, savvy CEOs create employee benefits and compensation, to retain their good workers and grow their businesses. Yes, they know that employees play a key role in positively impacting their bottom-line, even ensuring their organizations financial survival in really bad times.

Just listening to talk radio and you will continually hear how the high cost of doing business in the Ocean State, fueled by taxes and regulation, drives businesses out-of-state in droves. But, business is booming at Pawtucket-based Collette and its CEO and President Dan Sullivan, Jr., can easily tell you why – his 544 employees.

With Rhode Island and Nevada tied for having the highest unemployment rate in the nation, Collette, one of the oldest tour operators in the nation, is looking to fill jobs. “We are doing everything we can to improve the employment statistics in Rhode Island,” said Sullivan. “Right now, Collette is focused on growth and acquiring great talent right in our own backyard and increasing job opportunities.”

Back in 1918, when founder Jack Collette established the travel company, World War I had just ended. The Boston Red Sox had won the World Series and porterhouse steak was 54 cents pre-pound. The company’s first tour left Boston for Florida, taking their customers on a three-week adventure for just $61.50. Today, Collette offers more than 150 tours to destinations across seven continents.

Company Values Employee Longevity

According to Sullivan, Collette, now a third generation family owned company, has been honored seven times as the Best Places to Work in Rhode Island. “It’s not just a job; the people love what they do,” observes Sullivan. Whenever Collette hires someone, the company wants the employee to be there for a long time. “We value longevity. We take care of our employees like family,” touts Sullivan.

Although Collette annually offers a performance-based incentive based on the company’s overall performance to its workforce, just two weeks ago every full-time employee who was hired before a designated date received an additional whopping $1,000 bonus at a company celebration held at the Rhode Island Convention Center.
Not bad when Rhode Island companies are slashing benefits and employee compensation.

At this celebration, most of Collette’s 544 employees including others joining them from the company’s offices near Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and London, England, came to get a big thank you from Dan Sullivan Jr., along with his family and other top corporate executives. At a random drawing held that evening, 10 lucky full-time employees each received a $10,000 prize.

“This is to celebrate the success the team had this year,” says Sullivan. “In 2013, the company experienced a second consecutive year of record-breaking revenue and double-digit growth. With a 95-year track record, this is a major accomplishment. It’s our heartfelt ‘thank you’ to every employee for all they do to drive the company forward.”

The tradition of incentivizing Collette’s employees based on the performance of the company dates back several decades, notes Sullivan, who says that he wants all of Collette’s employees to “act as if they own the business and to reward them based on the performance of the company.”

Sullivan pointed out that the $1,000, which was on top of the company’s annual performance base incentive, was a result (77 percent of the employees received it) of one of the most profitable years in its long history. Collette is currently up over 37% in advanced reservations for 2014, too.

According to Sullivan, 82-year old Betty Sullivan, sister of the late Dan Sullivan, former President and CEO of Collette, was honored for her 50 years of service to the company. In recognizing her years of service, Collette gave her a new car.

To improve the health and quality of its employees’ lives, which in turn will enhance their productivity and competitiveness, last July Collette also built a 4,620 square foot Wellness Center that offers two levels of exercise areas and amenities for use by its employees and their families. It also includes one group exercise room, full facilities for men and women (locker room with showers, bathroom, etc.), towel service and more.

Life Long Learning

“Part of our long-term strategy is to rely on learning and critical skills development for growth and performance [of its employees],” said John Galvin, Chief Financial Officer for Collette. “Our goal is to develop and maintain a culture of learning in the organization – this is from the top down. Even the Executives are required to pursue continued learning. We want our entire team committed to continuous learning because this will make all of us more successful in the long run.”

Galvin says, “We offer classroom training for our in-house employees as well as newly hired members of the sales team. In 2013, we provided over 11,000 combined hours of training. Training will be made even more accessible to our outside offices with the use of our new video conferencing software.”

Tuition assistance is available to full-time employees who have worked here for six months, adds Galvin, noting that courses, up to two courses per semester, must be taken through an accredited program that’s job related. He notes that all courses have to be approved by an employee’s supervisor or manager and also by Human Resources Department. Once a grade is verified the employee’s tuition reimbursement will be processed.

Currently, there are 14 Collette employees enrolled in school for advanced degrees, and 215 employees are participating in multiple online training programs through the company’s innovative Learning Management System. In 2013 alone, Galvin states, “14 of our employees completed the Bryant Certificate program and four others completed degree programs earning a master’s, bachelor’s degree, and two earned associate’s degrees.”

As an employee perk, Collette even offers discounted tours to employees and FAM, or “Familiarization,” time off,” adds Jeni Wilson, Collette’s Vice President of Human Resources. “It gives employees a chance to become familiar with the products Collette sells without them having to tap into vacation time, and it is certainly a nice perk for employees and their families,” she notes.

Giving Back to Your Community

A sense of community even drives its charitable endeavors, says Sullivan, who notes that since 1997, his company has given more than $7 million to local and worldwide projects. Through employee-led initiatives, 20,000 children have received enhanced education; balanced nutrition; and clean water.

Sullivan says that Collette employees have the opportunity to designate four work hours each month to volunteer, too. In 2013, the Collette employee volunteers gave 2,263 hours to its communities.

“I feel like I get so much joy out of life that it is only fitting for me to try and give back,” said Chris Cahill, Collette’s Applications Developer. More specifically, the company allows its employees to travel worldwide and experience new cultures and Collette’s volunteer program gives them an opportunity to “give back to the communities they visit. An 11 year Collette employee, Cahill volunteers at Pawtucket Proud Day, the Rhode Island Food Bank and Tourism Cares event.

Collette has received kudos for its spirit of volunteerism. The company recently won a World Travel Market Global Award in recognition of its global philanthropic work over the past 12 months. Locally, Sullivan noted that his company was one of the local companies honored with The Ernie Marot Humanitarian Award Dinner by the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen. The award honored some of the kitchen’s most committed supporters.

Employees Are Assets

In Rhode Island or across the nation, successful companies view their employees and customers as their most valuable assets, says Edward M. Mazze former Dean of the College of Business Administration (from 1998 to 2006) at the University of Rhode Island. “To remain in business you must have the type of employee who is going to be loyal to your company and at the same time be customer-oriented,” he says.

Compensation and Benefit programs, like Collette, offers, will allow you to both motivate and compensate the best people, keeping them from going over to your competitor, says Mazze.

But it just makes good business sense to retain your employees rather then starting a job search to hire employees to fill vacant positions. “Giving a person a thousand dollar bonus is much cheaper than having to go into the market and fill the position,” adds Mazze.

Collette, like many over savvy companies, puts its dollars in its employees’ pockets, even supporting a myriad of worthy nonprofit causes both locally and globally. Collette is a perfect case study for other CEOs to look at – being penny-wise and pound foolish can be hazardous to your company’s bottom-line. Recognizing the importance of your employees’ role in meeting your business objectives will come back a thousand fold. Just ask Dan Sullivan, Jr.

For more information about Collette, visit http://www.gocollette.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care, medical and even business issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

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