You might expect a Utah-based company founded by Greek immigrants and owned and run by members of the same family for three generations to be a little old-fashioned.
There are ways Salt Lake City-based food wholesaler and distributor Nicholas and Co. harks to a different time. The company's ubiquitous delivery trucks feature pictures of "Nicco" a friendly black-and-white cartoon chef with a European air, a big smile, billowing hat and mustache. Employees abide by an ancient Greek word "philotimo," which roughly translates to "love of honor."
But Nicholas and Co. takes a decidedly progressive approach to keeping its workers happy, fulfilled and productive. During the past two decades, the firm, founded in 1939, repeatedly has ranked among Utah's best workplaces. In fact, a recent in-depth study conducted by WorkplaceDynamics, a Philadelphia firm that surveys employee satisfaction, put it at the top of large Wasatch Front companies.
Zorica Vladic, 21, worked as a receptionist for several years before being promoted to Nicholas' customer-solutions department.
"It's a great place to work,'' Vladic said. "It feels like it's a family. There are smiling faces all over the place."
Nicholas and Co. is among the region's largest independent privately owned food distributors, with operations in seven Western states and customers ranging from small sandwich shops to large institutional food-service providers. The company has about $510 million in revenues and is expanding its workforce. It recently opened a new distribution center in North Las Vegas, in addition to its extensive facilities along the Wasatch Front.
So how does a company succeed and still keep the human touch as a top priority?
If you believe top officials, Nicholas and Co. has succeeded because it takes a personal approach.
"It all comes from the family and their philosophies about life and how they want to do business," said George Adondakis, the company's attorney and executive vice president for human resources.
Headed by two co-CEOs, husband and wife Peter and Nicole Mouskondis, the company offers a simple explanation for what it sees as the strong web of mutual loyalty that binds workers, managers, vendors and customers.
They point to a clearly stated mission, easy-to-understand cultural values and a passionate approach to their business.
Managers work hard to ensure everyone involved with Nicholas and Co. feels personally valued — all departments, all stations and walks of life, Nicole Mouskondis said.
"We're humbled by a tremendous responsibility and sense of obligation to our people," she said. "It's an effort that never goes away, because, at the end of the day, our people are the most important asset we have."
Just a partial list of employee benefits underscores that approach: fully paid life and disability insurance, tuition reimbursement, staff discounts on food, on-site pantry and child care facilities, twice-monthly massages, even dry-cleaning pickup and delivery at work.
Much of the Nicholas and Co. philosophy, Mouskondis said, is conveyed in "philotimo," which also carries connotations of hospitality, joy, a sense of right and wrong and the notion of a duty to improve the world.
Passed down from the days of founder and company namesake Nicholas Mouskondis, the word survived a lengthy period of soul-searching and self-definition the firm went through when family management passed to a third generation.
"Even I was skeptical when I went through it. I thought, 'Oh, this just sounds fluffy,' " Adondakis said. "It ended up being a code by which we make our decisions."