In 1978, Jim Keller and John Schroeder formed JK and Associates. A few years later in 1982, Dan Arens joined the duo and transitioned the company into Keller Schroeder, the Evansville-based company that is known today for helping businesses improve performance through technology. Now a multi-million-dollar business, the company’s tenure and success partly stem from a unique employee-ownership operation.
When it came time for retirement, Keller and Arens made the decision to sell a majority interest in their treasured business to the very people that had built it from the ground up — the employees. Since 2004, Keller Schroeder has been a majority employee-owned business with around 97 current employee-owners.
“The best part of leading an employee-owned company is the shared feeling of success within the company,” says President Jeff Gorman. “We all feel like we’re winning together. It’s really rewarding from a leadership perspective.”
Gorman, who joined as a network engineer 15 years ago and was named president in 2017, says all full-time employees who work a minimum of 1,000 hours are eligible to become owners. He expects to reach more than 100 employee-owners at the beginning of 2021.
While operating the employee-owned business model has benefited clients and company culture, Gorman says the culture is the driving force of their success.
“The culture has been around well before we became employee-owned and is focused on empowering employee-owners,” he says. “Shared accountability, shared knowledge, and shared growth are the three key elements that define our ownership culture.”
So far, those key elements have been beneficial as the company — which offers four main divisions (infrastructure, applications, staffing, and data strategy) that are curated to support all their clients’ needs — has undergone several positive developments in recent years.
Keller Schroeder was named one of the 2017 Best Small & Medium Workplaces in the U.S. by FORTUNE Magazine and Great Place to Work. They also opened a location in Nashville, Tennessee, to meet the needs of several long-time clients in 2018, launched the data strategy group in 2019, and have had record sales numbers for three of the past five years.
Despite the success and recent expansions, Gorman says the focus will remain on employee empowerment, client satisfaction, and maintaining their culture.
“We are most proud that the longevity of the company is a direct result of the culture and employees of the company,” says Gorman. “We’ve always had the stated objective that we want to grow our company but not grow it to the point where we tear our culture at the seams.”
Keller Schroeder is able to focus on multiple goals, while also giving back to the community, because of their in-depth customer service and client relationships. The company generates donations to nonprofits at client appreciation events, has about 100-percent employee participation in their United Way campaign partnership, and makes a monthly $400 donation to an employee-picked charity through a user drawing on their exercise minutes tracking application, “Step It Up.”
“Our purpose as an organization is to make positive, personal impacts on our employee-owners, our clients, and in our communities,” says Gorman. “We owe it to ourselves to find ways to consistently pursue that purpose.”