Rapidly Growing Better World Books Hopes New HR Department Will Make it Choice Employer

Jul 13, 2012
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

A hot and growing bookseller is building its HR department to make sure employees fit the corporate goals of being socially responsible, eco-friendly, and profitable.

Better World Books is 10 years old, and has grown from about a million dollars in revenue in 2004 to about $55 million in the fiscal year of 2011 (it’s still finalizing 2012 numbers). It has 350 employees, many in a large distribution center near South Bend, Indiana, in a town called Mishawaka, where they receive, ship, track, and otherwise handle books.

It’s a complex business. Better World is known as a textbook company, but that’s really just a part of what it does (including its big push now, drop boxes). It sells all kinds of books, and has to follow a book as a unique item as it travels to different locations. An example would be a Very Hungry Caterpillar book that was sent in by a public library because the book got old, frayed, and it was time to make room for something new.

Better World can’t just open up that box with Caterpillar in it and put it on the shelves to resell. It needs to follow what happens with it and correlate that to where it came from; part of the proceeds of its re-sale will go back to that library the book came from.

That donation is part of a philanthropic effort representing one leg of the company’s “triple bottom line.” It wants to create jobs, promote literacy, and help the environment by keeping as many books from landfills as possible.

Erin Woodyard Davis has been brought on as the VP of HR and Chief People Officer. She’d been with Emory Healthcare. Adrielle Lewinski is the new director of human resources, a boomerang hire who’d spent time in manufacturing at two companies, sandwiched between this new spot at Better World and her previous employment there. She’s at the Indiana location, and is in the process of getting an MBA at Indiana Wesleyan. The company (like another growing company, FootSmart, recently mentioned) has an Atlanta headquarters in the U.S.. It’s handling European operations out of Scotland.

Davis and Lewinski will oversee workforce planning, talent acquisition, retention, succession planning, and compensation. Really, they and the whole human resources department (whole being four people) are taking a fresh look at the company’s human resources. HR reported to finance, but now to the CEO. The company has won multiple awards, but less so for its workplace, something the new HR team wants to change. Davis and Lewinsky want to make sure employees have enough input in company decisions, and feel a part of the rapid change. They’re re-looking at benefits: for example, maybe, they feel, employees should pay less for their healthcare. They want to create a new, better onboarding process, particularly for seasonal employees.

Most of all, they’re task is to figure out how to find and assess people who fit the company’s social responsible mission, but still have the hard skills. The sense now is that while some employees have both 1) the passion for the mission and 2) the hard stuff, many are heavily weighted to one or the other. As it fills jobs, Lewinsky says, it wants to keep in mind that “people like to feel like they’re doing something good outside of just earning a paycheck.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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