September was a month of recognitions for South Mountain.

I’m always of two minds about awards and prizes. 

They feed the perverse (in my view) competitive impulses of our culture and our education system.  The implication is that there are winners and losers – the worthy and the less so – when our attention should focus on each of us doing the best we can.  All deserve to be recognized for their unique accomplishments.

But some awards have special meaning because they embody learning opportunities and inclusiveness at the same time as they hold some achievers out as particular examples.  During the past month SMC has received two of these.

The Great Place to Work Institute named SMC as one of the 50 Best Small and Medium Workplaces.

And the B-Lab named SMC as one of their “Best for the World” companies for 2014.

The processes that led to these two recognitions are worthy of examination.  I will try to do that in a way that is not overly self-congratulatory, with the knowledge that I am likely to fail.

When Great Places to Work first contacted us two years ago and asked us to go through the application process, we looked at it and went “Whoa.  This is hard.  A ton of work.”  And we declined.

This year we looked at it again.  Two things occurred to us.  The first is that we felt that the work to assemble the information they require would be a useful exercise for us – the introspection demanded would point to new and better ways we can improve who we are and what we do.  A learning opportunity.

The second was our appreciation for the heart of the process –  an anonymous survey they conduct with each of our employees. Submissions go directly to them; we do not see them.  We thought it would be interesting for our employees to have that opportunity to express themselves freely about the company.   We liked that everyone has a voice; it’s inclusive.

So we decided to do it.

The work was useful, and it was nice to be named, but the most rewarding part of the process was that the Institute provided us with a selection of anonymous quotes from the employee survey.

Here are just a few:

“I have never before worked at a place where it seems that 100 percent of the people love their job. Turnover is almost nonexistent, and I felt so lucky when there was an opening for a position. I truly like to spend time with the people I work with every day. “

“The goal is to get your job done the best you can, but family comes first. “

“This company has a great reputation because we give back to the community. It makes it a place where everyone is proud to work.”

“There is a very strong sense of all-for-one and one-for-all. 

“The people that work for the company are what makes it so unusual. When I first started working for the company, everyone was so nice, helpful, genuine and laid back that I thought something must be wrong. After a couple of weeks, I realized that’s just the way everyone is.”

“We have extraordinarily good and generous mental and health benefits, and outstanding opportunities are given to employees to shape and change their job descriptions and roles within the company. “

“We are an employee-owned company. Personally, this makes a big difference! Having worked in ‘corporate America,’ I know that the difference is real and profound. It is so great to have a say in everything, from the big decisions to the small.”

“It is a ‘choose your own adventure’ experience. Dream it and make it happen.”

Here is the full write-up that Great Places did about South Mountain.

B-Lab is very different from Great Places.

 It is a non-profit  that certifies companies as “B Corporations” based on a variety of factors including corporate accountability and transparency, treatment of workers, community practices and environmental practices. Their rigorous process includes in-depth examinations of company practices and documents. SMC received B Corp certification in 2008.  We have been re-certified twice since then, and over 1100 other companies have been certified to date in the U.S. and 34 other countries.

Until now, we have had no real standards to differentiate good work from good marketing.  B-Lab provides exactly that.   B-Corp designation is like LEED Certification among developers and the Fair Trade designation among product suppliers.

The “Best for the World” designation is applied to the highest scoring of the companies that have gone through the certification process.

One of those is SMC.

So there they are.  Two nice recognitions.  Two pats on the back.  We all need them from time to time, whether we like it or not (which we do!).




Pete D’Angelo came to work at SMC in 1987.  Five years later, he became an owner.  For the past decade or so, he has had the complex job of planning and managing all of our small jobs and maintenance work.  In any given year we do repair work and small improvements/additions to roughly 50 different houses that we previously built or renovated.  It’s an important service. Co-owner Peg McKenzie manages the office end.  Pete manages the field.  Two carpenters and a collection of subcontractors support their efforts.

For 18 years he has also managed our indescribable annual Chappy golf tournaments.

When Pete came in recently and told me he had decided to retire, my heart sank.  He’d be hard to do without.  All that institutional knowledge, all that can-do problem-solving, all that relentless dedication to improvement . . .  and those pithy, irreverent hilarious e-mails and comments – just gone?  Just like that?  Are you kidding?

Yes, just kidding.  He’s not retiring.  But it was close.  It’s hard to express how pleased I am that he’s staying on half time, continuing to do all the most important stuff that he does, continuing to care for all the houses and clients we’ve put heart and soul into and continuing to add his always-entertaining offbeat commentary.

For many years, during discussions of upcoming company events, Pete said that we should all go to a Red Sox game together.  Here’s one note he sent when we asked people in the company for suggestions for company events:  “What the fuck? Trip to Fenway. We rent a bus. Stop at Jordan’s and load up on furniture cause it’s gonna be free, stay too long at the Cask and Flagon, catch a game, tattoos on the way home. Now that’s an event!!” Nobody ever listens to his pleas, but this time, as we contemplated his upcoming end of ownership and shift to half time, it seemed like a good time to listen. Continue reading »


We do not have a new Production Manager. We do not have one at all, but we intend to. We need a new Production Manager, and we have embarked on a quest to find the right person for a big job.  The responsibility:  to translate design intent into cost-effective, efficient construction and to further systematize design integration and construction processes company-wide.

What does that mean?

It means making certain that our designs are thorough, that our buildings get built as designed, that we maximize quality and efficiency and minimize errors, that the right amounts of the right materials arrive at our jobs, that scheduling is right on the money and people have sufficient time to do the job they are assigned, that we stay on budget, that the detailing is impeccable, that our buildings work the way buildings are supposed to work, that we exceed our clients expectations time after time, and that our estimating, scheduling, tracking, and building systems are capable of supporting and encouraging all the good things in this very long sentence.

It means we are hiring someone to spend 100% of his/her time doing exceptionally well some essential aspects of our work that I now spend less than 20% of my time doing adequately at best (some might say that even that is an embellishment!).

This is not the first time we have made this attempt; during the past five years we have tried and failed three times.  That’s a lot of times to screw something up.  We have learned from our failures; this time we plan to succeed.

The qualifications are rigorous:

• College degree (Construction management or related degree preferred)

• Five years experience in a similar position in the construction industry

• A leave-the-ego-at-the-door, company first, deeply collaborative spirit

• Excellence in the use of office and project management software such as Excel and Filemaker

• Love of numbers

• Great written and verbal communication skills

• If not a Martha’s Vineyard resident, willingness to re-locate here.

We are engaging in a thorough and deliberate process.  We will leave no avenue un-explored as we seek the right person.  We have even hired a recruiter – something we’ve never done before – because we think there’s a possibility he will help us to reach some people we may not otherwise have reached.  It’s an experiment; there’s nothing to lose (except some money).

If you know anyone who might be interested, and suitable, let them know about this opportunity, or let me know who you have in mind.  The full job description is on our website at


The piece below was written for and posted on the Green Building Advisor.  I thought I’d share it here too.

We like to measure how we’re doing in as many ways as possible.  Like other businesses, we have a collection of metrics for financial tracking: profit and loss, budget projections and actuals, job costing of each project, value of our several funds (pension, equity, and reserves) and more.

We also measure social factors:  employee education costs, compensation ratio top to bottom, length of employee tenure, average employee age, charitable contributions, and community service.

We consistently track (measure) our work backlog to help us plan for our immediate future.

We try to predict our longer-term future, too – through strategic planning, creating five year plans, projecting organizational charts, and making succession plans.

In design and project planning, we do extensive measuring (space planning, engineering) to ensure good building performance, structure, and utility.  On our completed projects, we monitor energy use and other factors (like relative humidity) to help us learn what works and what doesn’t.

Continue reading »