Rene Veilleux Shares Why Values are Never Aspirational

Meherrin Agricultural's VP of HR explains why a culture built on family values has made all the difference in the way the company does business

Rene Veilleux, Meherrin Agricultural and Chemical Company
Rene Veilleux, Meherrin Agriculture and Chemical Company

Meherrin Agricultural and Chemical Company‘s values are less a desired outcome than an outright fact. And Rene Veilleux says it’s what happens after recognizing this fact that truly sets the company’s culture apart from others.

“It’s one thing to put values on posters, signs, and brochures,” says the vice president of human resources. “It’s totally different to live those and to lead by example. That’s what counts.”

Veilleux came to Meherrin in 2016 following a successive line of roles in industries requiring the strictest of regulatory oversight and no room for error: aerospace, nuclear energy, shipbuilding, and pharmaceuticals, among others. Along the way, Veilleux says he took away just as much from companies where the culture didn’t walk the walk as those that did.

“People are always watching—especially the leadership team. If you say one thing and you behave differently, then you lose your credibility and you lose your effectiveness as a leader,” Veilleux says. “Some companies really get that and some don’t.”

Meherrin’s commitment to what Veilleux considers a family culture was evident not only in his early days at the company, but also during the job interview. “We spent close to half the time talking about values, culture, and mission,” Veilleux recalls. “I found it refreshing and drove away feeling really good about the interview.” Veilleux emphasizes the importance of using an interview not only to highlight potential contributions to an employer, but also for gauging whether or not the company culture fits with the applicant’s own values.

And committing to a family culture is in Meherrin’s DNA. The company spans four generations of George Dallas Barnes’s family, and Veilleux attributes that continuity of culture to CEO Dallas Barnes and the leadership team. “Dallas loves the business and the employees. He’s probably the hardest working employee we have,” Veilleux says.

The company’s family focus is evident in ways both concrete and less definable. Employees are encouraged not only to take care of their families first, but also themselves. That could mean being a spectator at your child’s afternoon sporting event or spending weeks looking after a parent in the hospital. “We are very flexible with employees when it comes to family matters and personal matters regardless of the level,” Veilleux says.

The Five Values of Meherrin Agricultural and Chemical Company

  1. Environment: Promote a work environment that encourages and nourishes creativity
  2. Quality: All products and services must reflect quality. Find ways to improve products and services to meet customer’s needs and expectations.
  3. Understanding: Understand that the pressures facing employees and their families are never-ending
  4. Integrity: Honesty and truth are absolutes in the way business is conducted with customers, vendors, and employees
  5. People: They are the company’s greatest hidden asset, which is not reflected in the balance sheet, yet people drive the health of financial results

More specifically, Meherrin has installed regional “Caring Teams,” who are made of up 8–11 employees. The Caring Teams are able to provide help to Meherrin employees in need. Fires, medical emergencies, fundraisers, and overall employee well-being are overseen and tended to as each team sees fit. Veilleux says it’s the autonomous operation of the group that makes their efforts even more inspirational. “I’ve come close to seeing that type of family culture at one other place, but not to this extent,” Veilleux says.

The independent operation of the Caring Team means Meherrin has allocated money to efforts that even Veilleux was initially wary about. When the group dedicated money to marriage retreats for Meherrin employees, Veilleux wasn’t positive that the funds couldn’t have been more widely distributed across a wider variety of projects. That was until he started hearing the success stories of Meherrin employees whose marriages may have been saved by the retreats.

But Veilleux says driving culture isn’t an overnight success story. It’s a process that requires constant oversight and self-checking. “You have to live it every day,” Veilleux says. “People will call you on it. I call people on it.” When faced with a difficult and potentially emotionally reactive decision, Veilleux adds that it’s desperately important to consider whether that decision is in line with Meherrin values not only from a compliance standpoint, but also from an ethical one. “If we are not aligned with our values, then I have to question our decision,” he continues.

Veilleux’s diverse and extensive résumé is underpinned by a frankness and commitment to continuous learning that he believes is essential to the ever-evolving HR work environment. He received his doctorate in human resources development from George Washington University in 1995, but his commitment to continuing education didn’t stop there. Veilleux explains that Peter Senge, Ken Blanchard, and S. Chris Edmonds’s The Culture Engine have all been inspirational, and he is clearly well versed in those entrenched in progressive thinking in his field.

The HR leader also believes that his experience and emphasis on cultivating culture has provided Meherrin with a unique perspective. “I get to bring all those past experiences together in one place,” Veilleux says. “The biggest enjoyment I get is out of consulting with managers and supervisors that call or stop by on a regular basis from all over the place to talk about employee relations or compliance issues. It’s very rewarding to be able to help them and sense the appreciation.”

Veilleux says that Meherrin is doubling down on its commitment to training and development as it looks to provide future managers, supervisors, and potential leaders at the company a step up on the leadership ladder. Meherrin’s small HR team partners with local universities and nonprofit leadership training teams to ensure the future of Meherrin is in secure hands.

“We’ve partnered with really good folks that understand our culture and really believe in it,” Veilleux says. Meherrin’s commitment to the continuing education isn’t just in line with Veilleux’s own values. It’s emblematic of how a family culture can continue to push and elevate those who buy in.