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Electronics business banks on charity; enjoying the payoff

Electronics manufacturer Genesis pays employees to volunteer in the community. The company says the payoff has been enormous.

By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

OLDSMAR -- When executives at Genesis Electronics Manufacturing discussed company goals for 2002, one was more philanthropic than economic.

They decided to get employees involved with charity work and community service programs. Moreover, the Oldsmar company felt so strongly about the concept that it decided to hold four volunteer activities a year and to pay employees to come out.

"The bottom line is important," said Scott Mauldin, Genesis vice president of operations. "That is what we are in business for. But there are things other than the bottom line that make it a better place to work."

The first volunteer event on March 2 drew 17 employees. They spent four hours clearing two brushy, trash-filled lots in the High Point area near the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for Pinellas Habitat for Humanity.

The two lots will be used for affordable homes for needy families.

"The self-satisfaction after that day was insurmountable," said Linda Taylor, Genesis human resources manager. "We ached from all the physical work, but it felt so good."

After the volunteer activity, the company's 96 employees were abuzz about it, said Taylor.

"Our folks have always been real eager to help each other when there is a crisis in their lives," Taylor said. "So we wanted to expand that to the community. They say there is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer and our

employees have great hearts.'

Hard times and corporate citizenshi

Founded in 1993, the contract electronics company makes circuit boards for low- to medium-volume manufacturers. Genesis expects more than $18-million in revenue this year, Mauldin said.

In October 2000, however, the company was squeezed into bankruptcy after one of its largest customers could not pay what it owed Genesis. In April 2001, the company was purchased by private investor Mike Galinski, who owns America II Electronics.

In addition to saving Genesis, Galinski has been recognized for his corporate citizenship. On Friday, President Bush visited American II Electronics' operations in St. Petersburg, in part to promote new corporate responsibility proposals he announced last week in the wake of the collapse of Enron Corp.

During his speech, the president praised Galinski for creating "a culture that recognizes the worth of the people who work for the company."

"I'm here because this is a company led by a man who understands corporate responsibility," Bush said. "Mike is a good corporate citizen, because he understands the responsibility that comes with leadership."

A month after Galinski bought Genesis, Mauldin said, the company climbed out of the red.

"The lesson that we learned in that is not to have too many eggs in one single basket," Mauldin said.

Volunteering helps to build teamwork

During the company's difficult times, all of Genesis' customers stuck with the company, Mauldin said. He credits that to the company's employees and its "really good service reputation."

"When we looked at our assets, the greatest asset of our company is our people," Mauldin said.

Some of the employees probably have wanted to volunteer their time, but just didn't know enough about local charities to decide where to go, Mauldin said. With the company organizing the activities and having an office signup sheet, it was creating the "infrastructure" for the work.

"Generally, it's easier to volunteer with people you already know," he said.

Employees who volunteer get paid their hourly wage for the time they put in.

Carol Piekarz, who has worked at Genesis for about three years, attended the volunteer cleanup with her husband and most likely will continue to volunteer, she said.

"It's just a good feeling that you did something for someone else," Piekarz said. "Yes. You got paid for it, but money didn't even come to mind when you were out there."

It's rare, but other companies have decided to pay employees to volunteer their time at Pinellas Habitat for Humanity, said Nancy Jahr, a previous president of the charity and a member of its board of directors. Sometimes companies will sponsor a house with money or by sending employees as volunteers.

"Everyone likes to do something that makes them feel like they are doing something good," Jahr said.

The charity, which recently broke ground on its 100th home since 1985, offers needy families interest-free mortgages for houses built by volunteers. The families have to make a down payment on the homes and volunteer 400 hours of "sweat equity" for the charity, Jahr said.

Families aren't the only ones who benefit from the volunteer work. Companies also find that working for the charity builds teamwork and helps improve the workplace atmosphere, Jahr said.

Genesis executives agree.

"The payback to the company is just enormous, in the morale and the team-building it provides," Taylor said.

Genesis has not yet scheduled the other charity activities for the year, but it is considering something in environmental cleanup or toys for needy children, Taylor said. Employees can be paid for up to eight hours of volunteer work during those events.

When asked how much this program would cost the company and whether Genesis could write off the expenses as tax-deductible, Mauldin said, "That wasn't the driving factor."

"The benefit is actually beyond the bottom line," Mauldin said. "There may be tax benefits, but we aren't aware of any."

Company officials hope the program persuades employees to continue volunteering their time and also persuade more companies to offer the same incentive.

"This is where we live and this is where we work," Mauldin said. "If we can spend hours in a positive way and convince other businesses to do the same, that can't be bad. All of that has to amount to something good."

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