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Constructing a foundation for success through company culture at Champion, Inc.

Bill Verrette, Keeper of the Culture, Champion, Inc.

On a sunny summer afternoon, Bill Verrette is sitting at his desk at Champion, Inc.’s headquarters in Iron Mountain, Michigan with an eye on the real-time feed of a current construction project being streamed on his computer screen. Although Bill is no longer the President of Champion, Inc., following a long and successful tenure, and is proud to share the fact that his son, Steve, has succeeded him and is continuing to ensure the company’s success; he is still fast to deliver the fundamental stats of the organization, including current employee count. While clear that he maintains an interest in the company’s happenings and events, it also appears that his new position has him equally well poised to apply the lessons and stories of his career and life in a meaningful and impactful manner.

A visit to Champion, Inc. headquarters includes a photo with Donk, and the honor of being added to the company’s album.

At 80 years old, Verrette, has assumed the role of the Keeper of the Culture, a position that affords him the opportunity to focus on priorities that support a nearly 100-year-old organization. In this position, which is active and not merely honorary, Bill connects the past to ensure that a solid foundation has been laid for the future. He is quick to explain that culture is circular in nature, tying the past to the future and highlighting that the Upper Peninsula’s culture is based on natural resources such as mining, timber, and water. While the area was founded on these resources which in turn shaped its economy and lifestyle, he identifies equally valuable nontangible assets like a strong work ethic, sense of community, and family values that make Upper Michigan a great place to live, work, and play.

A conversation with Bill about culture easily connects the virtues of the U.P. to those of Champion, Inc. He is willing to share not only lessons learned from successes but challenges and to always find a takeaway that can be applied. With a stack of books sitting behind him, Verrette continuously tosses out literary references ranging from a recent read about Marines in World War II to favorites such as the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling and even sprinkling in some Winnie the Pooh. But when he explains the concept of the book Tree-Ring Management, quoting “profit is the result of positive interaction,” his impact on the company’s culture is crystal clear. Verrette lauds the author’s philosophy echoing the importance of building a company with long-term focus that gives employees the opportunity to be successful., which in turn results in positive contributions to society.

GCI Graymont — Gundlach Champion, Inc. project at Graymont in Brevort, Michigan. The company was awarded the AGC of Michigan Build Michigan Award 2018 for this project.

This ideology might best be exemplified by his advice to take risks and step off the ledge, which is a viewpoint shared by many business leaders. But in another example of what sets Bill apart from his peers, he adds equal importance to ensuring there are individuals in the company who can and will make it work. Valuing both customers and employees who will take a giant step with you and do everything to ensure the landing is successful can define an organization’s culture. He adds with simplicity “do it right, not just in how you do business, but in how you treat people.” With nearly seven decades of experience and insight, it is very apparent that William C. Verrette has constructed a foundation at Champion, Inc. with a culture not easily replicated, but worthy of study by every U.P. business.

About Champion Inc.

In almost 100 years of business, Champion, Inc. continues to strive for and attain the ideals first set forth by its founders.  With careful guardianship, the little company that started out with only gravel to sell has developed into a multi-divisional company with close to $110 million in revenue.

About InvestUP

InvestUP is a private sector-led economic development organization keenly focused on driving economic growth across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Founded by the region’s leading private sector businesses and the region’s universities, its mission is to deliver business and job growth across the peninsula.

As a part of our commitment to the Upper Peninsula, we collaborate with partners to share some of the most compelling stories about business and job growth across the region. Our goal through these stories is to get at the heart of what makes the U.P. unique — and to ensure these stories travel beyond our peninsula and broadly illustrate why the UP is the place to live and work.

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