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Cianbro Corporation Named ABC Contractor of the Year

Wed August 02, 2006 - National Edition
Jennifer Spillane

When Ralph Cianchette came to the United States in 1946 from Naples, Italy, he had no idea his four sons — Carl, Ken, Bud and Chuck — would build a construction empire based on the merit shop philosophy, one with a strong safety program and a progressive wellness program — and one that would become Associated Builders and Contractors’ (ABC) Contractor of the Year.

Cianbro Corporation, Pittsfield, ME, now an employee-owned company, is one of the East Coast’s largest civil and heavy industrial construction companies, with gross annual sales exceeding $360 million and more than 2,000 employees.

And, according to Alan Burton, vice president of human resources and safety, the company would not be where it is today without the people who work for Cianbro.

“We’re family-owned and employee-owned,” Burton said. “We always try to keep the people as an important aspect of what we do. Family values are important and with that comes the initiative to protect that asset.”

Along with valuing employees, Cianbro also believes strongly in the merit shop philosophy. The company states that, “a project that is merit shop built is best built.”

Cianbro was honored as ABC’s Contractor of the Year in March at the organization’s national convention in Las Vegas.

Cianbro’s commitment to ABC increases each year with team members actively serving on the association’s national board of directors and many committees, as well as participating in leadership roles at the chapter level. The company is a member of the Maine, New Hampshire/Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Empire State, Baltimore and Metro Washington chapters.

Cianbro recognizes the importance of attracting and retaining the best people, strengthening the financial position of the company and retaining control. To achieve these goals, Cianbro became an employee-owned company, completing the transfer to its employees just a few years ago.

But, more than 25 years ago, the four brothers began the journey to transfer ownership to employees. The company became 100-percent employee-owned through an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, preventing the company from being purchased or controlled by outside parties.

Each member of the company begins to receive ownership within the first year of working for Cianbro and full ownership benefits after seven years. Employee owners better understand the direct impact each employee’s personal decisions and behaviors at work have on the company and its future, Burton explained.

Impacting Health Over Time

A framed document on the wall of Cianbro’s conference room features another mission of the company, “No one in this room is smarter than all of us,” and this theme is carried out throughout the company, promoting teamwork and information sharing, Tim Walton of Cianbro said.

In fact, one of Cianbro’s more successful programs is far from a company secret. The ins and outs of its wellness program, which focuses on claims prevention rather than claims payment, is shared with competitors in the industry.

“Many companies call us, not just construction companies, and ask about how to [implement a similar program],” Burton said. “We are open to sharing it. If we can help improve the industry, it’s our job.”

The company applies the same philosophy to workers’ compensation claims and found many were behavior-based. The company’s leaders then asked: How can we have an impact on behaviors over time?

The Healthy LifeStyle Program, the center of the wellness program, was designed to link a health educator with each team member and identify areas to work on, such as exercising, eating right, losing and controlling weight, being tobacco-free, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, controlling alcohol use and managing stress.

The health educator works with team members on their plans and then follows up regularly. Team members who participate receive a discount on their medical premium costs.

“This program helps change behaviors over time and keeps employees healthy,” Burton said. “It’s a model not too many companies are following. But it affects the bottom line and those core costs can help grow the stock, which helps employees.”

Cianbro’s core values, such as valuing people, keeping workers safe and healthy, working together as a team and promoting the merit shop philosophy, all exemplify what many construction companies strive for today — and demonstrate the company’s integrity in all the projects it completes.

“If you don’t have integrity you don’t have anything,” Burton said. “Your word is your bond.”

(Jennifer Spillane is senior writer of “Construction Executive.” This article is reprinted with permission from “Construction Executive,” May 2006, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors Services Corp. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.)

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