If you walked through the offices or manufacturing areas of Stone Construction Equipment at just the right time, you might see something different. Each day, groups of employees huddle together to discuss the workload, problems, and successes.

More than just gossip, the huddles are a tangible sign that this successful employee-owned manufacturer of construction equipment has a culture that values participation.

The American Psychological Association recently recognized this unique approach to building team-work by honoring Stone with a National Best Practices Award. Stone was one of only 10 U.S. companies to receive the award this year.

Building a participatory culture can be difficult. But it's vital for Stone, because the manufacturer instituted an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Everyone is an owner.

Helping the employees feel like champions takes a special person. Lynne Woodworth, president and CEO of the company in Honeoye, N.Y., feels that being part of an ESOP is what makes them better.

Lynne Woodworth finds it easier being a woman in business today than when she started at Stone Construction Equipment 27 years ago.
Lynne Woodworth finds it easier being a woman in business today than when she started at Stone Construction Equipment 27 years ago.

And that's what makes Woodworth and her co-owners special. They thrive on teamwork, respect and trust each other, communicate regularly, and work toward company and individual development.

“Our employees are more willing than ever to make the changes we need to make us competitive,” says Woodworth. “That's where managing an ESOP is so rewarding. It is not an adversary relationship between management and employees. We all have different jobs, but we all know what we must do to make it work.”

Building reinforcement

Woodworth was part of the management team that was involved in the employee purchase of the company. She oversaw the change from a traditional work environment to a team-based, positive reinforcement company.

She's proud of their accomplishments. Since she became president in 1999, there has been a recession, the challenges of post-9/11, increased global competition, and rising steel costs, all while steering the company into an ESOP way of thinking.

During this transition, Stone evolved into using manufacturing “cells” to produce its equipment. Employees now are crossed-trained so they can be moved to where they are most needed if the demand for a particular product is high. Working in this environment takes a special person: Employees must be team-orientated, willing to learn, and flexible to move from one job to another.

The system benefits the company as well as the individual. “The most satisfying part of my job is the people I work with,” she says. “People grow and develop within the organization. If I have any part in helping someone rise within the organization, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction.”

An employee for 27 years, Woodworth started as an executive assistant and continued to move up the ladder. Her bottom-to-top experience contributes to her leadership style. She understands the fundamentals that make Stone successful.

She also finds it easier to be a woman in business today than when she started. The industry is more accepting and understanding of female executives. “I find this industry incredibly nurturing and friendly,” the CEO says.

Woodworth advises women starting out in the industry to “just be you.” She believes in a positive outlook, a desire to work, doing your best, and being cooperative. “Hopefully, along with that, you also like what you are doing,” she says. “Being president of Stone Construction is one of the most rewarding positions anyone could hold.”