Shepard Culture

Why Building a Positive Employee Culture Is an Intentional Act

If you spend enough time talking business with Shepard’s CEO, Kevin Bird, and COO, Steve Margos, you’ll likely hear them uttering a similar humble refrain: The company’s success is about hiring good people, giving them a space to thrive, and then getting out of their way to let them do what they do best.

However, building this type of positive employee culture—one that emphasizes passion, hard work, and mutual respect—doesn’t happen by accident. At Shepard, there’s a strong emphasis on intentionally appreciating those who contribute to the company’s success and acknowledging that every team member plays a vital role in shaping the corporate culture.

And that extends far beyond this month’s Employee Appreciation Day. Kevin and Steve believe in the power of taking conscious, regular steps throughout the year to emphasize this type of people-centric culture. We recently sat down with the duo to pick their brains on the secrets to year-round employee appreciation.

A Culture of Mutual Respect and Admiration

“The essence of our company culture lies in the appreciation our team members have for each other,” Kevin says. “We may have associates spread across the country, but we work hard to make them care about making their colleagues’ lives easier. This mutual respect and admiration drive an employee’s desire to excel not just individually, but as a part of Shepard as a whole,” he explains.

Steve adds that on a sales team appreciation call last week, the team discussed how the difference between what Shepard sells and what its competitors sell is razor thin—but the true difference lies in how Shepard goes about executing it.

“Creating an environment where our employees feel valued and understood helps improve the customer experience from start to finish,” Steve notes. “Customers often tell us that even when challenges inevitably arise, they trust Shepard because of our exceptional team. That’s a credit to everyone who works here, from the warehouse to our senior leadership and everyone in between.”

Empowerment Through Ownership

As an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership) company, Kevin and Steve point out that each of the 500 plan members has a stake in Shepard’s direction and success. This inclusivity fosters a culture of listening and valuing each other’s ideas and understanding that innovation and progress are collective efforts.

“Peter Schutz, the former CEO of Porsche, once said, ‘If you listen closely enough, your customers will explain your business to you.’ The same idea applies to your employees,” Kevin explains. “Sure, there’s an eight-person executive committee—but if they’re the only ones making decisions, that leaves out 492 other associates who are on the front lines every day, whose ideas deserve to be heard.”

The Power of Recognition 

Recognition at Shepard is not a one-off event but a continuous process. From award programs like AwardCo and the quarterly awards, to employee spotlights on the blog, the team ensures that achievements, both big and small, are celebrated. This type of peer-to-peer recognition, coupled with leadership’s acknowledgment of top performers, underscores Shepard’s belief in the importance of every individual’s contribution.

“All anybody wants is to contribute and play a role in the success of the company—and feel valued,” Steve says. “Our associates want to contribute, they want to feel like they were part of the success, they want to be recognized for a win that they contributed to. If people know they’re an important part of the company’s success, they’re going to continue to work even harder, to feel like they’re a valuable part of something bigger.”

Leading With Heart

“We’ve always believed that you can win or lose as a leader based on people’s belief that you have their best interests in mind,” Steve says. “It’s about creating an environment where everyone feels they have the support and resources to succeed. If an associate isn’t performing at their standard level, it’s important to show compassion, communicate clearly, and try to find the underlying cause of it.”

By showing that leadership has their best interests at heart, Shepard is able to foster a team that’s eager to contribute and share in the company’s victories. “We’ve always said that Shepard should be the service provider that customers want to work with, the workplace that people want to work for, and to be partners that others want to work alongside,” Kevin says. “And that only happens by fostering a strong company culture from within—and none of it happens by accident.”

Kevin and Steve note that Shepard has quadrupled in size in the decade-plus that they’ve both been here. “It’s easy when you’re a small company to scale that kind of standout service and personal intention for both customers and associates,” Kevin points out. “But keeping it going as you grow is the real challenge. It’s about hiring practices. It’s about training. It’s about positive recognition and mutual respect. And it’s about making sure the culture is as important as you say it is.”

Shepard is a full-service event production company. We design, develop and manage trade shows, corporate and other events throughout the U.S.