A Personal Journey: For Rich’s Associates, You Can Go Home Again

“Every company has its own culture.  The culture at Rich Products Corporation might not be for everyone, but, for me, it’s the perfect place to work,” says Dwight Gram, Vice President of Global Corporate Communications.  “Every day I remind myself how lucky I am to work at a place like Rich’s, because of how well this culture fits me.  I can’t think of a better work and life experience all tied into one.”

Gram_ Dwight_2008_5x7 However, Dwight didn’t come to this conclusion as easily as it sounds.  His professional journey led him  away from Rich’s in 2000, when, after serving nine years in a succession of communications roles with  increasing responsibility, he handed in his resignation and headed for supposedly greener pastures.

Like any successful, long-established company, Rich Products Corporation has seen its share of “boomerang associates” – personnel who leave the organization for one reason or another, only to be drawn  back to the same workplace at a later date.

“It was tough when I left Rich’s, because I knew how special a place it was,” he recalls.  “I got my start in communications at Rich’s and had the tremendous fortune of having some outstanding mentors here.  They taught me important writing fundamentals and how to be a business professional, while also showing how the PR function can be more strategically oriented.

“But, eventually, I felt I’d learned everything I could from my Rich’s experience, and I believed if I was ever going to evolve and have a senior career in public relations, I needed to go out and get some other work and life experiences.  I was born and raised in Buffalo and had never lived anywhere else.  By this point, I had a young family of my own, and my wife and I were feeling the itch to move outside Western New York.  By every indication, it was time for a change.”

So Dwight started out in search of the additional exposure, skills and tools he knew he needed for scaling to new heights on the corporate PR ladder.  He first migrated from Rich’s genial, innovation-driven environment in Buffalo to an eclectic, creatively jazzed climate inside the Chicago office of one of the world’s leading PR agencies.  Three years later, he moved himself to even-more-unfamiliar territory, learning the ropes about communications and crisis management inside a goliath, publicly traded, $10 billion Fortune 500 company in greater Cleveland.

Fast-forward another two years, and Dwight became teamed up with some old PR chums in an entrepreneurial consultancy in Houston.  Maybe not by coincidence, the small firm picked up a big client, Rich Products, where he had started his career as an intern while at the University of Buffalo.  After a while, he realized Rich’s leadership team was looking for someone to take their corporate communications function to the next level, and that the door was open for him to assume the PR helm.

Dwight reminisced about the Rich’s culture he’d long been without – its warm family character, its collaborative work atmosphere and the good friends left behind.  Now a decidedly more-experienced, more-well-rounded professional, he also took stock of where he stood in his career development, after his hopscotch tour of the American business landscape.  “Those other places I worked helped crystallize what I really wanted, and also what I didn’t want – what would be best for me and where I believed I could thrive,” he reveals.  He quickly seized the Rich’s opportunity.  He was back.  Boomerang.

But one question remained:  How would his second coming at Rich’s be received by his former brethren in Buffalo?

The simple answer lies within a company culture that has defined Rich’s since its founding in 1945 – a culture underpinned by “The Rich Promise,” which declares, “We will treat our customers, our associates and our communities the same way: like family.”  Rich’s five core family values (including the one that unreservedly states, “Cherish Our Culture”) pervade the organization and its workforce, fostering an associate atmosphere that is astonishingly conducive for working, learning and celebrating together.  That includes those occasions when one of their own comes home again.

For Dwight, who returned to Rich’s in 2007 – now as its overall communications leader – the demonstrative greeting from his new old co-workers made him feel almost like he’d never been gone.  “Rich’s is a culture that welcomes people back, because you’re always part of the family,” he says.  “When I first left the company, nobody was angry with me.  The people here understood my personal and professional needs and were very supportive of my decision.  They knew I was leaving for the right reasons.  And when there was an opportunity to come back to Rich’s in a high-level job that I knew I was now ready for, they welcomed me with open arms.  How many other companies do that?

Bill Gisel, Rich’s President and CEO, jokingly refers to Dwight’s outside quest for career enrichment as “the seven-year training program we didn’t have to pay for.”  But it’s also the ongoing support from Gisel, company Chairman Robert E. (Bob) Rich Jr. and the others in Rich’s leadership that convinces Dwight his decision to return was clearly the right one.

“I’m at a point in my career where I could work at a lot of different places, but I choose Rich’s both because of the culture and because my field – the communications discipline – in this company is highly valued,” Dwight explains.  “Communications here is not secondary.  Our executives set the tone here by communicating through many different channels, and they invest heavily in internal communications as a strong vehicle for associate engagement.  There are a lot of other organizations where that’s not the case, but the leaders at Rich’s respect the communications discipline and view it as a critical enabler to our success both internally, by driving alignment and engagement with associates, and externally, by protecting and enhancing our reputation across the globe.

“Our executives look to the expertise of our communications staff for input and guidance in virtually any decision-making situation, and it’s very gratifying when you have that ability to be heard,” he adds.

Dwight points out how Rich’s associates are afforded great access to the information, coaching and guidance they might need to do their jobs and further their careers.  “There’s also a certain freedom and flexibility – a kind of empowerment – you have to manage your individual job, as well as your career,” he notes.

“And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way,” he continues.  “There are others who also have left Rich’s and then come back.  Maybe we all originally thought the grass would be greener elsewhere, but we eventually realized that Rich’s is actually the place to be, because of how special it is.  So when we saw the opportunity to come back, we grabbed it without hesitation. … Bob Rich says you never leave the same place twice, because the first time you come back, you know this is really where you belong.  That’s what I realized after being gone from Rich’s for nearly seven years.  And now, we’ve all experienced the feeling that the second time is better than the first.”