100 Best: Columbia Printing nurtures a growing family

| Print |  Email
Archives - March 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007

NO. 2 SMALL COMPANY: COLUMBIA PRINTING

Best07ColumbiaPrinting.jpg

Nurija Tuka, left, and Esmeralda Zepeda assemble notebooks in Columbia’s clean room.

Photo by Leah Nash

Scott Treadwell has been working for Columbia Printing and Graphics for nearly five years, but he’s still a relative newcomer. In fact, the 45-year-old production manager will be closing in on retirement by the time he reaches the average employee tenure of 13 years.

With so few employees going anywhere, brothers Rob and Tim Wehrley talk about staff turnover unlike other business managers. They don’t talk about the number of workers lost and gained in a year, they talk about generational turnover. For instance, about half of the generation of people hired in the 1980s still work at the company today.

What’s the source of that staying power? Accountant John Sherlock took Columbia on as a client in 1980 when the printing company was 2 years old. When he retired in 1997, Sherlock joined the company part time, and has continued to do their books to this day. “Clearly, they feel everyone is family,” he says.

The word “family” is nearly a cliché when it comes to describing work environments. But at Columbia, employees — the number ranges from 29-39 depending on the amount of work — deeply see themselves as part of a family created by the Wehrleys.

Part of that comes from their upbringing. Raised in a Catholic family in Northeast Portland, they describe their parents the same way their employees describe their bosses: honest, hard-working, caring.

The brothers modestly attribute the family-like environment to the practice of hiring people who’re imbued with those qualities. But it’s clear that they also play a major, if quiet, role. Along with heaping devoted praise on the management for the family-like feel, staffers regularly mention how much the company cares about them.

Working for business owners who are that devoted to their employees can be surprising. Treadwell says that if someone is having family issues, the Wehrleys virtually will walk them to the door and kick them out so that they can go deal with it.

“It’s how they are deep inside. In their eyes, this is the only way to do it,” he says.

Columbia’s headquarters — they also have a production facility in Portland and a sales office in San Jose, Calif. — is in Southeast Portland in a nondescript building off Hawthorne Boulevard. There are a few modest offices, including Rob’s and Tim’s. Whirring presses and the smell of hot metal fill one large room; computers and desks occupy another. Around a corner and through a doorway is a clean room, part of the company’s high-tech future.

WINNING PROFILES

No. 1 large: U.S. Cellular leads the pack — again...

No. 1 small: River City Travel, freedom isn't just a concept...

No. 6 large: Evanta gives employees "everything"...

No. 2 small: Columbia Printing nurtures a growing
family...


No. 7 large: Walsh builds success on
shared values...


No. 10 small: Quango, a place for
hard work — ­­and naps...


THE LIST

The top 50 large companies to work for in Oregon

The top 50 small companies to work for in Oregon

THE INDEX

Alphabetical index

Category winners (Top 10s)

Methodology

Companies that use clean rooms to make microprocessors or semiconductors need printed materials that won’t leave microscopic bits of particulate matter in the hyper-clean environments. That’s where Columbia comes in. In its own clean room, masked and gloved workers in all-white full-body suits create spiral-bound notebooks, notepads, labels, forms, and even custom instruction manuals.

It wasn’t cheap to build: Tim estimates that clean rooms cost about $2,500 a square foot. It’s been a good investment. Rob declines to talk about the company’s sales figures, but in the next two years, he estimates the company’s print and digital output will grow 20% and 50%, respectively. Business from Columbia’s U.S. and European clean-room customers, on the other hand, will grow by 300%.

Standing in front of the clear plastic walls of the room, the brothers — Rob is 56 and Tim is 46 — talk about how excited some of their employees are about the future.

Then Rob speaks up, and as he does, his bro-ther nods in agreement.

“But if you took away this values-driven culture,” Rob says, “they’d probably just as soon work anywhere else.”

— Abraham Hyatt


Have an opinion?
E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Streetfight

News
Sunday, December 07, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

On Friday, Uber switched on an app — and with one push of the button torpedoed Portland’s famed public process.


Read more...

Reimagining education to solve Oregon's student debt and underemployment problems

News
Thursday, November 13, 2014
carsonstudentdept-thumbBY RYAN CARSON | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

How do we skill up our future technology workforce in a smart way to take advantage of these high-paying jobs? The answer shouldn’t focus only on helping people get a bachelor’s degree.


Read more...

Leading with the right brain

News
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
120914-manderson-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

On the eve of the Portland Ad Federation's Rosey Awards, Matt Anderson, CEO of Struck, talks about the transition from creative director to CEO, the Portland talent pool and whether data is the new black in the creative services sector.


Read more...

The short list: 4 companies engaged in a battle of the paddles

The Latest
Thursday, December 04, 2014
pingpongthumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Nothing says startup culture like a ping pong table in the office, lounge or lobby.


Read more...

Tackling the CEO-worker pay gap

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY OREGON BUSINESS STAFF

An SEC rule targets the disparity between executive and employee compensation, reigniting a long-standing debate about corporate social responsibility.


Read more...

Corner Office: Timothy Mitchell

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

A look-in on the life of Norris & Stevens' president, plus an abridged Powerlist for the best commercial real estate firms.


Read more...

Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS