How Lithko uses wellness initiatives to improve company culture and relationships

When BuiltWorlds added Careers to its mix late 2016, talent retention, company culture, jobs, and employee wellness all became part of our broader initiative. Here’s the story of one company who puts health and wellness first.

Rob Strobel square
Rob Strobel, Lithko CEO: “Our goal is to be the dominant middle-market concrete contractor in each of our communities.” (BuiltWorlds)

They bicycle, run, and swim together — whether in preparation of marathons, triathlons or simply for the sport of it.

Health and wellness activities like these are essential to what Lithko Contracting, a middle-market, full-service concrete contractor based in West Chester, OH, has come to regard as a “work-life balance” in which both coworkers and the organization thrive.

And it’s a big reason why coworkers stay put.

“We recognize our internal customers are as important as our external ones,” said Lithko CEO Rob Strobel. “Fitness programs provide opportunities for coworkers to bond and develop camaraderie that enhance collaboration in the workplace while promoting lifestyles that reduce our health care costs.”

Strobel, a cycling enthusiast, recognizes the importance of leading by example. At least three times per week, he and a group of fellow Lithko bicyclists meet at 5:45 a.m. to pedal 20 to 25 miles prior to beginning a work day.

Team Lithko Cincinnati Race
Winning Cause: In June, several Lithko bicyclists, known participated in the 11th annual Ride Cincinnati, an event that raised $300,000 for city’s Barrett Cancer Center. (Lithko Contracting)

On June 11th, a group of coworkers traveled to nearby Cincinnati to participate in the 11th annual Ride Cincinnati, an event that raised $300,000 for city’s Barrett Cancer Center, Strobel stated.

In mid-July, members of Team Lithko, as company cyclists have come to be known, will participate in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana), a one-day, 160-mile trek across the state that will draw participants from the organization’s 15+ locations.

“We are a non-hierarchical organization – with 30 riders tasked with cycling across Indiana, it doesn’t matter what your title is. If you’re a strong rider you can lead the group and help pull them across the state,” Strobel said.

The thinking is much the same in the workplace. “Organizationally, we’re flat. We work together to develop common standards, processes and best practices and then implement them across all our locations. Everyone contributes.”

Embedded in Lithko’s DNA is a work life balance, with the organization founded in the 1990s by group of concrete construction professionals who had wearied of the rigors of travel and the strain it put on their family life.

See how Lithko has structured their organization to improve their company culture in the following episode of BW Sessions.

A unique business model percolated: create an organization that establishes a semi-autonomous Business Units – or BURGs (short for Business Units Running Great) – in key geographic markets that keep workers close to home while promoting community involvement, career development and exceptional customer service.

At present, Lithko’s 15+ BURGs extend from the Northeast to Southeast and West to Midwest, with locations ranging from Allentown, PA and Birmingham, AL, to Cincinnati and Columbus, OH, Indianapolis, Denver, and Tulsa, OK. In all, the BURGs serve 35 states. The sectors Lithko serves are similarly diverse, including distribution centers, health care, manufacturing, retail, office and mixed use, among others. “Our goal is to be the dominant middle market concrete contractor in each of our communities,” Strobel said.

Jason Boyd bicycle selfie
Jason Boyd, business unit leader for the Indianapolis BURG, takes a selfie while on a Team Lithko ride. (Lithko Contracting)

The BURG concept has proved pivotal in achieving that goal, attracting top talent with the promise of promoting career development while immersing coworkers in their communities, with initiatives including sponsorships of kids’ soccer and baseball teams to the formation of adult teams that compete within Lithko or against enterprises outside it.

“There was a point in my career in the 2000s when I spent a lot of time on the road, engulfed in my job and at home only on weekends,” recalls Jason Boyd, Business Unit Leader for Lithko’s Indianapolis BURG. “During that period, I would hear a lot of regrets among colleagues who, like me, missed time spent away from home and a lack of community involvement. Then I met members of Lithko management, including Rob Strobel, and began to learn more about the firm’s team oriented culture and unique business model, and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’” Boyd joined the firm in 2008.

Lithko’s culture and business models also have proven powerful in recruiting and developing talent from universities, technical schools and other institutions with curricula devoted to construction management. “We’ll take 100 or so recruits, assign them to BURGs where we can promote growth and development and, depending on their performance, dispatch them to work on developing a new town or BURG,” said Strobel. “It’s not unusual to have colleagues six to eight years out of school leading an operating unit.”

Members of Team Lithko participating in Ride Cincinnati (Lithko Contracting)

Among other initiatives, it is up to Business Unit Leaders to promote a healthy work-life balance in their BURGS, both as a matter or job performance and recreation. It isn’t as difficult as it sounds, according to Boyd. “We’re competitive by nature, whether in sports and fitness or in the workplace, when we’re vying for jobs against other contractors,” he said. “For some reason, we tend to be built that way – self motivated, policing, and starting.”

Among other activities, the Indianapolis contingent of Team Lithko, who participated in Ride Cincinnati, will have a sizable presence in July’s RAIN bicycling event. In April, Boyd organized a clay shooting event involving 16 to 18 Indianapolis colleagues.

Lithko’s Kyle Fordham, Will Zeren, Jayeson Babic, and Shane Lisk hold their trophy from the annual Raleigh triathalon (Lithko Contracting)

Other BURGs take health and wellness to the limit, with a unit in Raleigh-Durham, NC, having inaugurated a triathlon last year involving cycling, swimming and running. Participants currently are preparing for the BURG’s second annual event, due to occur in August, with Will Zeren, Business Unit Leader, Kyle Fordham, operations manager, and Shane Lisk, project lead, orchestrating efforts.

The event originated with some friendly, if not competitive, banter between Fordham and Lisk about competing in triathlons, with Zeren chiming in that he could beat all comers. “It’s partially a team-building event,” said Fordham. “We also have soccer events that speak to our competitive nature and desire to win.”

“That spirit of competitiveness is almost universal among Lithko leadership,” Zeren added. “However, the primary goal of outings and events is to promote friendship among colleagues, the thinking being that if you like the person you work with, you’re more likely to look after them on the job, mentor them and bring them along.”

Events are even open to non-Lithko coworkers such as biking enthusiast John Rodgers, director, advanced manufacturing and project management with Hill-Rom. A friend of Strobel, it was Rodgers who first conceived of the formation of Team Lithko, as well as smaller core team of more dedicated athletes – runners, triathletes and bicyclists – named Team Lithko/VO2, formed in March 2016.

Team Lithko
New Heights: Team Lithko participated in an expedition in mountainous Blue Ridge, N.C., where they ascended 17,000 feet as they cycled 240 miles over a period of three days. (Lithko Contracting)

“Emphasis on health and wellness is becoming more common as companies attempt to reduce health care costs,” Rodgers said. “My own company is doing just that. But Rob Strobel is taking it to a whole new level.”

Literally. Last spring, Strobel organized a bicycling expedition in mountainous Blue Ridge, N.C., that found coworkers ascending 17,000 feet as they cycled 240 miles over a period of three days. Which goes to show that Lithko coworkers don’t stop until they reach the summit, both in their personal and professional lives.

Interested in how to cultivate and retain an empowered workforce? Learn more here