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Profiles of the 2011 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon

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Articles - March 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Steve Smith, president of Tec Labs, says he’s glad to be back on the 100 Best List after a two-year absence. “It’s such an important piece of how my brain works when it comes to running this company,” he says.
Jessica Smith is one of 30 employees at Tec Labs, many of whom are in better spirits these days than during the tough times of 2008-09.
Tec Labs employees Dustin Patterson, Kyle Knudtson, T.J. Weekly and Mike Hutchinson grab a game on the company's  basketball court.
Among the benefits that Tec Labs employees like Mark Christensen enjoy: yearly profit-sharing bonuses, bagel meetings, and travel to tradeshows and conferences so employees can see how Tec Labs’ products are sold.
Amy Byler leaves a comment about a colleague at the Tec Labs Appreciation Station. Employees post positive feedback about their co-workers at the station; monthly drawings award prizes to those nominated. // Photos by Eric Näslund
Like many companies, TEC LABS (NO. 21 BEST SMALL COMPANY) had a tough 2008 and 2009.

First came the recession, followed by the coldest, wettest summer in 15 years — meteorology that’s not very kind to a company whose flagship product is a salve for poison oak and ivy. Next, president and CEO Steve Smith lost his mother and went through a divorce.

Topping it all off, despite making the 100 Best list at least eight times before, Tec Labs failed to make the cut either year.

“I was very concerned,” says Smith, who founded Tec Labs in Albany with his father in 1977.  “When you’re already down, it was just one more kick.”

But at the beginning of 2010, Smith and his 30 employees decided the trench mentality had run its course. Realizing that the company’s strong culture needed to be unhooked from the owner, Smith set up a culture team. Small perks like monthly lunches that had been cut to save money were reinstated. And in the first quarter of 2010, the company paid employees back for an earlier 5% payroll cut.
Partly as a result, Tec Labs had a record 2010.

“You’ve got to take care of your horses first,” says Smith, alluding to his grandfather’s practice of always taking extra special care of his draft horses in the field.

The tribulations of the past couple years have underscored for Smith the important role that Tec Labs plays in the lives of its employees, not only as an employer, but as a place to develop lifelong friendships and become part of an extended family. When you create an environment like that, he says, employees enjoy their work and will go the extra mile — or 10 — in good times or bad.

“It’s like refining gold or silver,” Smith says. “You heat it up and that’s when all the impurities come out. But skim it off and what’s left is pure gold.”



Gern Blenston
+1 #1 Great Photos!Gern Blenston 2011-03-12 10:23:03
Whoever this Eric Naslund guy is, his work just rocks! The one of Matt Lonsbury is just epic.
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