Take a stroll down one side of one of the main hallways near the entrance of Gateway CDI in St. Louis and you can't help but notice the 75 or so framed photographs – each of one of the company's employees with his or her name clearly labeled underneath. On the other side, you'll find the company newsletter and photographs of employees who have won recent company awards, ranging from "best laugh" to "most caffeinated" (the latter of which features two smiling young women each holding a can of Red Bull).
The hallway serves an important purpose, says the company's chief marketing officer, Conrad Franey, who is striding around on this fall morning in a St. Louis Cardinals T-shirt, baggy white pants and a pair of day-glo orange Chuck Taylors. "You're never gonna walk by anybody in this place without saying 'hello' and using their first name," Franey says. "That's how we operate here."
Franey said the company, which was founded 25 years ago by Chuck Fandos and his wife Susie, takes its personal approach very seriously – to the extent that company employees go out of their way to help each other. Just recently, an employee lost her home to a fire, and her co-workers mobilized immediately, donating cash, TV, clothing, a bed, and toys for the woman's two children. Another employee's apartment was destroyed when her landlord drove his car through it, and employees again came to the rescue with cash and anything else that the woman needed. "That type of caring is what brings me to work every day," says Cindy Kinner, who heads up the embroidery department.
Gateway's chiefs want employees to care about the company, too, so they share the company's financials every month, talk to employees one-on-one about their career paths with the company, and have monthly food events (today happens to be chili cook-off day) where everybody gets together and talks about what's going on in their departments.
Perhaps this culture is what makes Gateway's employees go the extra mile for its clients—typically major corporations who plan large programs of $500,000 or more. That type of client can be demanding, Franey says, citing an example of a new client that's developing a special, solar-powered branded vehicle (think the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile), and is looking for Gateway to create mobile cash registers and staff the vehicle as it drives around the country. "This isn't something we've done before but our employees were like, ‘Hey, we're up for it,' so we're doing it," he says.
Another client, a luxury car company, had Gateway create a 32-page marketing piece that required the company's employees to conduct a $90,000 photo shoot on location in St. Louis. But no matter what the project is, or how long it takes, Franey says, employees rally behind it. "Our people are overachievers, he says. "They don't want to live a Dilbert-type of lifestyle."