Badger Mining Corporation
Product/service: Provider of premium northern-white industrial raw and coated silica sand
Year founded: 1949
Founder: Clifford A. Chier
Current family leaders: Lori Phillippi and Mark Hess, advisory team
Whether it’s the management structure, leadership programs or how family members learn about the company, Badger Mining Corporation doesn’t do things the usual way.
For example, high school-aged members of the two families who own the provider of industrial raw and coated silica sand can spend some of their summer vacation learning more about Badger Mining and possible job opportunities.
Mark Hess, a member of Badger Mining’s advisory team and a third-generation family member to work at the company, developed the idea while talking to younger members of the two families.
“We expose them to the company and they learn about the different jobs we have here,” he said. “We hope it can help them choose a possible focus area for their career.”
After gaining either education or experience in their area of interest, family members are welcome to apply for any job they’re qualified for. The family member goes through the same hiring process as other candidates for the position, and will only be offered the job if all things are equal with another non-family candidate.
“We don’t create jobs here for family members,” said Lori Phillippi, another member of the advisory team and third-generation family member. “(They) need to do the work necessary to earn their jobs.”
No CEOs allowed
Badger Mining’s hiring process is representative of the company’s philosophy of collective management. Unlike most businesses, it does not have a CEO or president, but rather is led by a four-member advisory team, which currently consists of two family members and two non-family members. Advisory team members hold power equally.
“We have a unique management style. It’s a participatory, network structure,” Phillippi said. “We’re not a top-down company and we’ve taken away the silos between the different departments. We don’t have a rigid hierarchy at all.”
Clifford A. Chier founded C.A. Chier Sand Company in 1949 with a single sand mining operation near Fairwater in Fond du Lac County. When Chier retired in 1979, his son, Russell Chier, and son-in-law, George Hess, formed a new partnership and incorporated the business as Badger Mining Corporation. The two families retain ownership of the company, which has about 265 employees. Currently, 12 family members work for Badger Mining.
From that initial Fairwater operation, the company has grown to include offices in Berlin and Taylor, sand processing facilities in Fairwater, Taylor and Alma Center and three coating facilities in Taylor and Merrillan. The company also has 28 transload facilities across the United States and Canada. In 2015, Atlas Resin Proppants merged with Badger Mining, bringing resin coated sand into the company’s product portfolio.
Phillippi said the company’s leadership style harkens back to when her grandfather, Clifford Chier, ran the company. On Friday nights, employees would go out together for fish fry and talk about the past week and what was coming up the next. But in the early 1980s, Badger Mining experienced tremendous growth, and as outside business professionals came in, that connection deteriorated.
“It led to a hierarchical strategy, and silos started going up,” Phillippi said. “That wasn’t our culture or who we are.”
In 1985, Badger Mining leaders changed course and adopted its network management style. The approach has worked well for them as the company continues to grow.
“We’re not your typical company. We even changed our bylaws so we can’t have a CEO,” Phillippi said. “That’s something that rarely happens.”
Badger Mining’s coaching program is another unique part of its culture. Every employee is assigned a coach. This coach, who is similar to a manager in other businesses, is a go-to person workers can talk to when they have a problem or question. The coach also provides feedback on how the employee is doing.
For example, Brandon Hess, a fourth-generation family member who is a leader at Badger’s Fairwater Plant, is coaching one of his cousins. Although they are family, Hess said that connection hasn’t made a difference.
“People here work really well together, whether you’re a family member or not,” he said.
Phillippi said Badger Mining’s coach/employee concept really appeals to Millennials.
“They enjoy that kind of interaction, and it’s great for attracting and retaining employees,” she said.
In addition to the coaches, there’s also a leadership team from different departments within the company made up of family and non-family members. Of the 16 people on the leadership council, only four are family members.
“We work well together,” said Hess, who also serves on the leadership council. “The team gets together regularly to work on different projects. It helps break down those silos.”
The company’s flat organizational structure, along with a quality benefits package, has landed Badger Mining on multiple best places to work lists. It also received a Gold Level WELCOA Well Workplace Award in 2015.
The next generation
Family members are encouraged to work elsewhere before joining Badger Mining – Crystal Abendroth knows that firsthand. The daughter of Mark Hess, she worked at Badger Mining over the summer while in college. After graduation, she found a job at another company until a position opened up at Badger Mining in her area of interest.
“I finally got in at Badger on a third shift position,” said Abendroth, who now works first shift in the information systems department.
And if a family member wants to do something completely unrelated to Badger Mining, that’s okay, too, Phillippi said.
“We want family members to pursue what their passions are,” she said. “If that’s not here, that’s fine.”
To keep all Badger Mining shareholders informed about the business – even those who don’t work there – the company holds an annual meeting to share the past year’s performance and coming year’s goals and initiatives. Family members who work at Badger Mining attend quarterly meetings to stay connected throughout the year.
While some family-owned businesses struggle to get family members interested in working at the company, that hasn’t been a problem for Badger Mining.
The summer learning opportunities program for high school family members has helped.
“We definitely want to stay family-owned, so it’s vital to have family members involved,” Hess said.
But while it is important to keep family involved at Badger Mining, Phillippi said there’s no real difference between an employee who’s a family member and one who’s not.
“We consider our family to be our entire workforce,” she said. “We pay for education programs and have developed leadership programs that benefit everyone.”
The Hess and Chier families aren’t the only employees with relatives working at Badger. Several local families have multiple members working at the company as well.
“We post all jobs internally first, so if a worker knows someone qualified he’ll tell that person to apply,” Hess said. “We get a lot of referrals.”
Phillippi said empowering employees is good for the company, which is committed to making Badger Mining a rewarding and fun place to work by focusing on teamwork, safety, health, wellness, integrity, personal growth and community involvement.
“Through the support of our employees, Badger Mining has the best outcomes when it comes to quality, innovation and continual improvement,” she said. “All of that together allows us to provide superior value to our customers, shareholders and communities.”