They say one can’t teach old dogs new tricks. But seventy-year-young Southern Elevator Company mocks the cliché with an exclamation mark.
At this venerable age, this leading independent service company–with branches throughout Virginia and the Carolinas– is revamping almost everything within the company. This spry and bold move is part of the remarkable vision for his company that industry-leader, Rodney Pitts, is putting into action with the Southern Elevator team. “By nature, our company has avoided unnecessary risk in building our debt-free business.
Rodney and his team made the decision after acquiring the company in 1991 to move away from new installations, and have worked hard to create a balanced approach to managing their portfolio of services. “When I purchased Southern Elevator it was a manufacturer and installer, as well as a service company. Today we are the regional leaders in the Maintenance, Repair and Modernization areas, and have thrived as a serious alternative to the large international players.” This strategy has not changed since then. Nevertheless, as a student of the latest management techniques he wanted to bring a new level of expertise to his excellent team .
For this, Rodney teamed up with Ben Dominitz founder CEO GURU, a Charlotte-area consultancy firm. Together — and with the full and enthusiastic participation of Southern Elevator’s president, Christopher Short, they have embarked on an adventure of change, designed, as Ben Dominitz says, “to transform a very good company into a great one.”
“I felt we were just a little bit stale, doing things the old ways,” said president Short. “I have come from the ranks of the company and have a strong sales and operations background. However, I felt that we could benefit from someone who can look back at where we are now and pull us up with his experience. With Ben, we have someone who had built a 100-million-dollar company and who has clients whom he consults who are listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He can see a bit further out. And as we have hoped, he has brought a new understanding of the extraordinary opportunities for growth ahead of us. I have never been more excited about our future as I am now.”
At the forefront of the changes at Southern Elevator is a new software platform. Rodney Pitts shares his enthusiasm with the potential of this platform to help the company control every aspect of the business. “Yes, we are excited,” He says. “We are still in the implementation stage. If things continue as we believe they will, I will be more comfortable sharing more.”
Dominitz is reluctant to take too much credit for the revitalization of the company. “The most important element of a company is its people. Over the years, Southern Elevator has curated a wonderful group of capable, down-to-earth employees who are a pleasure to work with. Having this caliber of employees makes other changes much easier than otherwise.” Adds Christopher Short, ”The beautiful thing about our team is how happy they are to embrace the kind of changes we are implementing. They are ‘all-in’ in their desire for us to achieve great things.”
At the heart of the change in employee engagement is CEO Guru’s proprietary cultural-change process called Total Cultural Alignment that Southern Elevator is implementing throughout each layer of the company, including its unionized mechanic team. “The essence of that approach is to create trust, total accountability and group problem-solving skills that makes it safe for individual contributors to both offer ideas and also ask for help“, Says Rodney Pitts. “What we commit to has become so important, that each of us knows that for every commitment we make, we have to be accountable for a date-certain to accomplish it.”
While this transformation is exciting, Dominitz points out that the company has built a strong reputation long before the current initiatives. It counts among its clients both small private facilities and world-class operations like Duke Health, Duke University, International Paper and a national contract with First Citizens Bank. The company is currently modernizing the Charlotte building of the Federal Reserve and has many other clients of high prestige to its name. “We are known for being trustworthy”, Christopher Short says, “But we are not close to being satisfied with our performance. Plainly, we are interested in developing an ever-wider gap between our level of client satisfaction and the rest of the field. This is what our new initiative is all about, to be the best solution provider for our elevator services.”
Rodney Pitts agrees. “Southern Elevator has done some remarkable things over its last 70 years and .especially since the acquisition in 1991. But frankly, it’s just a foundation to what we are about to do in our next 70 years,” he said, with a twinkle in his eyes.