VIDEO: Company Culture - Was it Worth it?

By Sean Abbas on February 13, 2014

Have you thought about your last day? How will it feel when your office is empty and your boxes are packed? 

I spent 22 years and over 50,000 hours of my life building a business. It was a great run. I started in maintenance as the 9th employee and spent my last 10 years as the company president.

When I left in 2009 to pursue a new opportunity with my brother, I had a rare moment to stop and ask myself “Was it worth it?”

My mind didn’t go to the things you could see – the building expansions, the 200 people we had hired or the financial results.  The things that mattered came from the company culture we had built together.


“Company Culture – Was it Worth it?” Video Transcript

Hi.  My name is Sean Abbas and I’m the co-founder of Threads, Inc.  And today I want to talk to you a little bit about what culture has meant to me and how Threads actually came to be.

Several years ago, I was meeting a friend in the hospital, a guy that I had looked up to.  Kind of a mentor and he was facing surgery for cancer.  As I was at the hospital and we were visiting, the visitation pastor from his church came in.  And we all sat and talked for a little bit.  The nurse came in and our visit had to be over.  He had to have some additional tests done.

And as we left the hospital, you know, it takes forever to walk out of a hospital.  As we left, I felt uncomfortable at the silence, so I made the comment to this pastor.  I said, “It must be tough to do what you do every day, to be with people at the end of their lives, or facing surgery or the loss of a loved one.”

And what he said to me was actually kind of surprising.  He said, “You know, it’s actually been a gift to me.  I have learned a lot about people.  I’ve learned that maybe I judge people for who I thought they were until I actually sat down and talked to them.  Until you’re in those moments and you talk to people, you really don’t understand what they are all about.  And what I’ve heard from them causes me to view my life differently.”

I was, I was really kind of taken back by that and then he asked me if I’d like a piece of advice.  I said, “Yeah, I would love a piece of advice.”  And he said, “I’ve been with a lot of people like you.  A lot of people who’ve had very successful careers, doing very well, managed people, run successful companies.  At the end of their lives, at the end of their careers, and in every single instance, what they talk about in those moments are things that you wouldn’t expect.”

“They are stories about people.  They are stories about individuals accomplishing great things or people who have worked for them and gone on to start their own business and employed people.  And my advice to you today is to invest in those things when you’re young, so that when you face a moment like this in the future, a significant change, or the loss of a loved one, or a surgery, or maybe even the end of your life – you’ll have those things to draw on.  It will be very important to you.”

And I thought about it at the time, but it sort of escapes you because you get busy with the day-to-day stuff.

And 15 years later I was sitting in a space pretty much like this.  I had resigned from a company that I’d worked at for 22 years and people I’d cared about very deeply to pursue a brand new opportunity for myself.

I worked there for 22 years and I loved the people I worked with.  I loved the company and I loved what we did.  And I was walking away from it.  It was my last day and I was on my way out the door.  I was going to use the side door and not the front door.  I had said my goodbyes and I had a half of a box of just stuff that you collect over 22 years.  It’s stuff you can’t throw away.  It’s a tape measure or a cigarette lighter or a picture, some memento that a salesman dropped off to you one day.

I looked at this box that was left.  One box.  And it had things in it that were at some point in your career meaningful to you, but on that day it didn’t seem very meaningful at all.  I found myself asking this question, “You know, did it matter? What did you do?  What did you get for this investment?”

And I looked at that box and it just didn’t seem to satisfy me.  It was at that moment when I, you kind of feel the hair stand up on the back of your neck.  You, you feel almost a little short of breath because this is ending.  And I looked at that box and asked myself “Was it worth it?”  I looked at the contents of that box and something didn’t feel right.  Then everything that that pastor told me 15 years earlier came true.  Every single thing that he mentioned to me that day was exactly what happened.

The things that I thought about at that moment were stories about people – the kind things that people did for one another, the ways that people developed and grew as people.  And at the end of the day, the one thing that stood out to me, the one thing I thought about for my last thought walking out the door that day was that I recalled this supervisor.

He told me that he really didn’t understand our company, that he didn’t really know what it was like to work for us, until he saw 30 people from our company at his Dad’s funeral.  He had worked for us 3 months.  He didn’t know a lot of people in town and could really use a friend.

I remember that day specifically because when I sat in the pew and looked up at him when he walked in to the church behind his father’s casket, I could see it in his face.  I could see the shock and surprise in his face that we were all there.

To sit there and have him be able to tell you that, in that moment those things were meaningful.  He said, “You know, that made a difference to me.  That was something that made me understand that this can be more than just a job.”

While that is great to hear, probably the best part about it was this.  That, there was no manual consulted, there was no employee handbook consulted, there was no policy or procedure consulted to allow that to happen.  People chose that path and they chose that path because of our culture.  Because of who we are, and who we were as a company.

From my standpoint, when you walk out the door, when I walk away and look at those things, that’s what mattered.  That’s what made it ok because leaving was difficult.  But the thing that made it ok for me that day was to look back on memories like that.

When people talk to me about culture and when I explain what culture means and what Threads is all about – it’s really focusing on those issues.  It’s creating an environment where things like that happen on their own.