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Putting "People First" Helps GL group Reach Lofty Goals

date posted:

Monday, November 19, 2018


When Sandy Jaffe had the chance to purchase Paperback Supply, a book distribution company selling to retail bookstores throughout the Midwest, in 1974, he decided to rely on his passion for books and make the most of the opportunity. “My dad loved to read,” says Gary Jaffe, Sandy’s son and CEO of the company. “He was motivated to do something different.”

     That “something different” has meant not only pivoting the focus of the company, which today is known as the GL group, but also creating a company built on its own very intentional set of standards. Well-known for its employee-focused culture, the GL group today has two divisions, the Booksource, which is 90% of its business, and Turtleback Books, collectively centralizing its efforts on the education sector. “By 2000 we saw the writing on the wall with retail and decided to move everything into the education business,” says Jaffe. “We closed our division of retail stores and began solely focusing on education by 2005.”

     “It was around 2002 when we saw the writing on the wall with selling to retail bookstores. The strategy became a focus on our education side of the business,” says Jaffe. “2005 was the year we no longer sold to retail bookstores, focusing 100% on the school side of the business. At that time, our sales were $13 million in revenue. Over the next several years saw nice growth.”

     In 2012, Jaffe decided to lay out his five-year vision for the then $60 million company. His goal was to lofty – to reach $100 million in revenue by 2017. “In 2017 we made $104 million in revenue, reaching our target,” says Jaffe.

     This year, the company projects that it will hit $113 million. The three co-owners, Gary Jaffe along with his brother Neil and his father Sandy, have met these goals not by placing sales as No. 1 but by putting people first. “No. 1 for me is treating people the right way,” says Jaffe. “And, I steal this from my dad, but by doing the right thing over and over, good things happen. We go above and beyond, whether it’s for our staff, our customers, or our vendor partners.”

     For the GL group, its culture, core values and philosophy on how to run a business have remained in tact and only improved over the years, maintaining the focus on doing right by its team members and clients alike. One part of this culture is another milestone the company meets this year. “We’re in our 25th year of our Bring-Your-Baby-to-Work policy,” says Jaffe. “For the first six months, employees can bring their babies to work and it has been an extremely successful program. Currently we have two babies in the office and soon that number will be five.”

     GL group’s Bring-Your-Baby-to-Work Benefit started when an employee asked the company founder, Sandy Jaffe, if she could bring her baby to work after maternity leave. “He replied with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’,” says Jennifer Patterson, director of HR for GL group. “A few parameters were set in place and the policy was launched.”

     Today the Bring-Your-Baby-to-Work Benefit policy provides employees with use of a nursing room and equipment such as swings, bottles, and Pack-n-Plays. “We host a ‘retirement party’ for each baby when they reach six months,” says Patterson. “We also support employees as their families grow, with newborn/adoption leave and a child-care program where parents are reimbursed for the baby’s first year of day care.”

     With 30 babies having come to work as part of the policy, the hope of the leadership at GL group is they positively impact new moms and dads by making the transition back to work easier. “We hope to support parents as they transition back to work after parental leave,” says Patterson. “I was lucky enough to take advantage of this benefit when I brought my daughter into work. It was difficult for me to imagine not having quality time with her while I was at work. In fact, I got to see her sit up and hear her laugh for the first time while she was with me at work. I would have missed these milestones if she wasn’t with me. My Celebrating 44 Years 1-877-687-9530 co-workers, whether they were fellow parents or not, jumped right into help. They would offer to hold her when I was in meetings or on the phone.”

     While Jaffe keeps long-running practices like the baby policy in place he has added new benefits to the company to show his gratitude to his employees. “We try and create a new ‘Wow Benefits’ for the staff every year,” he says. “Three years ago, we implemented a program where employees can win a paid vacation. We’re giving away five or six vacations every trimester. Right now, we have someone in Greece and someone else in Florida. They pick the destination and we plan it out with a travel agent. It’s nice to be able to provide people with what we think is an experience of a lifetime.”

     Other standout parts of the GL group culture include full transparency of financials with open-book management and leadership training programs, some that are even led by the ownership. “We have a program called ELP, the emergent leader program, where employees receive training and come up with their own business plans, along with sending them to a week-long Disney training to see how others create success in their organizations,” says Jaffe. “I too teach a series of five classes centered around business process done the GL group way.”

     At GL group, investing back into its people is not only a way to propel the careers and futures of its employees but to do the same for the company on a whole. Looking to the future, Jaffe says they will keep doing what they are doing as they have for the past 44 years.