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“You can’t handle the truth!”
Many companies emulate Col. Nathan R. Jessup when it comes to sharing financial information with employees. There might be generalized claims of doing well (or poorly) but not a lot of detail. Things are different at Goodway Group, a global digital media and marketing services firm with an emphasis on financial transparency that has contributed mightily to its employee loyalty, award-winning culture, and bottom line.
Founded in 1929, Goodway started as a printing company that expanded its marketing services over time into channels such as direct mail, newspaper inserts, and the like. Things changed in 2006, when a Goodway client who was interested in digital marketing, something still in its infancy at the time, joined the company.
“We experimented in it with our existing client base, and it worked so well that Goodway’s last printing job came off the presses in 2011. We’re exclusively digital now,” says Mark Meade, Goodway’s chief financial officer.
Meade has seen other changes since joining the company in 2008. Employment has exploded from just 35 people then to nearly 550 today. And that’s been driven by two major engines.
“When I came to Goodway, about 90 percent of our business was in the automotive industry; in 2009, that automotive market wasn’t doing so well,” he says. “We concentrated on bringing our strengths to additional clients across other growing industries, such as retail, healthcare, B2B, and more.
“We’ve also been a 100 percent remote work company since 2010,” Meade continues. “And that lets us tap into significant talent, no matter where they’re located. If anyone moves, they can still work for us.”
Every employee is treated like a meaningful stakeholder in the company, and that sense of belonging translates to better business. “It’s a sort of infinity loop,” Meade explains. “Our staff strives to solve business problems for clients, not simply take their orders. And they tend to treat the clients’ advertising budgets as their own, making sure funds are spent wisely. Their active stance drives more business through the door.”
But one of Goodway’s most distinguishing characteristics is its level of financial transparency. In good times and bad, the company pulls no punches.
“We laid the groundwork in 2018,” Meade says, “with a year of webinars and other training for our employees so they could understand financial reports and other documents. In 2019, we took it live.
“Every month, we present a ten-minute video, including a PowerPoint presentation that walks everyone through our financial standings; the clients’ contributions to our revenues; a review of our billings; and how we are tracking for the year,” Meade continues. “And the response has been terrific. Everyone knows what is happening, and staffers are eager to show how they’ve contributed to our success. As with anything else, you have to remain authentic. We’ve taken a serious topic and infused fun by having a blooper reel at the end. It seems to drive more organic engagement.”
The approach paid off handsomely during the COVID-19 pandemic. Goodway’s revenues plummeted in April 2020 when many clients were forced to significantly pull back on spending. In May, the company gambled that its financial openness could pay off.
“Rather than engage in layoffs, we kept the entire team together,” Meade recalls. “We cut everyone’s salaries by 20 percent to free up operating capital. But we also promised to pay everyone back at the end of the year if we had generated a profit by then.”
Goodway’s monthly video reports gave employees a clear view of the company’s status as business picked up during the following months. “By the end of November, we were able to reimburse everyone’s pay shortfall. Everyone pulled together because they weren’t kept in the dark—they felt like they were actively dealing with this unknown situation,” he says. Not only was every penny paid back, but that year, employees earned bonuses as part of their profit sharing.
Financial clarity also drives Meade’s current initiative: subdividing the business lines. “We grew so quickly that all of our clients were being run by the same teams,” the CFO says. “Because the internal financial data was mixed together, it was hard to tell how each line of business was independently performing. In 2022, we realigned our internal teams into lines of business based on the type of client being serviced which aligned our talent to which also benefited our clients.
“It’s made the finance teams job more complex,” Meade adds, “because each line is treated as a distinct business. But the benefits of gauging the financial health of each segment outweigh the additional work.” To add to the complexity, the team also handles the financial aspects of Goodway’s UK entity CvE and was part of a cross-functional team responsible for two acquisitions in 2022.
Meade guides his team of eighteen in collaborative and empathetic ways. “Years ago, you had a personal side and a business side. Today, it’s harder to separate the two, and people often bring their personal lives to work,” he says. “When we acknowledge that, our staff is more fulfilled. And if someone’s distracted by a personal issue, the rest of the team can help them get over the rough patch.”
The CFO also conducts monthly “on track” meetings, in which he discusses employees’ goals and performance, development plans, progress, or even a desire to move to another department. “We’ve done away with annual reviews because with this system, everyone knows where they stand all the time.”
Apart from the obvious benefit of continued corporate growth, Meade says these management practices pay off for staff, too. “We care about their well-being, and their professional and personal development. And as Goodway gets bigger, more opportunities for growth—whether in my department or in another—will emerge,” he says confidently.
Meade offers some advice for other managers: “Treat your employees as stakeholders. Take an interest in them and their growth, and that becomes a win/win situation. Employees will be more engaged, and clients will know that. And trust your staff with good information; they’ll reward you for it.”
CliftonLarsonAllen LLP is honored to be a financial partner of Mark Meade and the Goodway team. CLA exists to create opportunities for our clients, our people, and our communities through industry-focused wealth advisory, digital, audit, tax, consulting, and outsourcing services.