Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.
Bonnie Spencer Swayze politely sidesteps individual accolades when it comes to the growth of the company over which she presides, Hot Springs, Ark.-based Alliance Rubber Co.
Swayze, nevertheless, is credited with guiding the company her father, William Spencer, founded in 1923 in Alliance, Ohio, from manufacturing just rubber bands for local green grocers and newspaper stands into an array of new bands designed for agricultural uses and more than 2,200 individual products.
Alliance workers say Swayze’s employee-first philosophy is a major factor in that success. Nearly all of the firm’s 35 managers began there in entry-level positions.
The company has 176 employees, two-thirds of whom have been there at least five years.
“We’re just extremely loyal to our people. Our people are the No. 1 reason we’ve been able to succeed,” said Swayze, who has been with the company 46 years. “We sometimes have three generations of the same family working in the business.”
Swayze’s employee-first philosophy came directly from her father, she said, who moonlighted with the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. for 16 years in order to meet his payroll.
Spencer opened the Hot Springs plant in 1944, and his company consolidated operations there in 1991. It subsequently opened a plant in Salinas, Calif., to serve customers on the West Coast.
Swayze said she is determined to put her employees first, even in a field in which rivals pay their workers considerably less than Alliance’s “basic factory wage” of about $19.35 per hour, plus fringe benefits.
Alliance supplies 2,000 customers in 55 countries, and 95% of its products are made in the U.S., Swayze said.
Swayze also said she believes fervently that “diversity is a strength” of her company, and 27% of its employees are minorities — all of whom are “extremely dedicated to our business.”
Swayze said she also believes strongly in hiring military veterans.
“Vets make excellent associates because they are great under pressure, endorse teamwork and have a strong work ethic,” she said.
It all adds up to a company roster that has “less than 10% turnover,” Swayze said.
There’s a strong sense of family across the company, thanks to the Spencers, said Joan Dennis, sales and marketing director and 27-year employee.
“I think the environment that the family has given to this company and, specifically, Bonnie, has been one of sharing,” Dennis said. “She has an open-door policy. She makes time for people, talks to people, listens to their ideas and pursues them where she feels they’re amenable to the business.”