Learning from the past shaped managers selected as this year's top leaders


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Even the very best of bosses make mistakes.

By Pittsburgh's accounting, those best bosses are Chuck Hammel of Pitt Ohio trucking, Charlotte Zuschlag of ESB Bank and Donald Albensi of Albensi Dental Laboratory Inc.

Those three were identified as top leaders in the Post-Gazette's annual Top Workplaces survey, which this year polled 19,000 employees at 133 Pittsburgh-area businesses and companies, asking workers about their employers and their top executives.

Our survey, conducted by WorkplaceDynamics, then identified the top boss among small (fewer than 150 employees), medium (150 to 399) and large businesses (400 employees or more).

According to those polled, confidence in the CEO's leadership and vision is a key driver of workplace satisfaction - employees place more importance on confidence in leadership than on their own pay and benefits, the company's values and ethics, or how they are treated by mid-level managers.

Last month, all three leaders fielded leadership-related questions from the Post-Gazette.

Q: About those mistakes ...

Albensi: Some of the mistakes I've made in the past - I recall a half-dozen employees that I've had that I wish were still with our company, and I handled it improperly. [I] graduated as a dental technician here in Pittsburgh in 1976 ... they didn't put anything in there about how to treat people.

Zuschlag: I'm able to manage my temperament much, much better today than I was two decades ago.

Hammel: Early in my career, I was a very excitable person. I wore my emotions on my sleeve and would get upset easily. After one rather nasty argument with an employee, I sat back and reflected on my behavior and how this employee must have felt. This was not the kind of person I wanted to be.

Q: You've all been bosses for a long time. How did that happen?

Zuschlag: When I started at ESB Bank 25 years ago, I came in as the No. 2 person. And the board terminated the guy who hired me. And so within five months, I became the No. 1 person. ... I was fairly young for a [job] like that. ... I wondered at the time if I had made a huge mistake, but as it turned out, it was really good for me.

Albensi: At the time, my wife was expecting our first. The job I had was not sufficient to support three of us. So I came home one day and said, "Well, I think I can probably do this on my own." ... Looking back at it now, I didn't know enough to be frightened.

Hammel: When I started in the family business, I started at the bottom. My father was a firm believer that you learn the business from the ground up. As a kid, I would work on weekends washing trucks in the summer and working in the mechanical garage in the winter. Once I was old enough to drive a truck - which happened to be 16 at the time - I drove a truck. I would learn the business that way, and it served me well.

Q: Running a family business - did employees expect you to live up to your father and grandfather?

Hammel: Absolutely. Both my father and my grandfather had great reputations. Both were known as hard workers, honest and fair men, and exceptionally good business men. Every employee knew my father and most knew my grandfather as well. So they were looking to see if I was anything like them.

Q: How has your role changed over the years? What have you learned?

Albensi: [We] started with three to five employees. Now we're somewhere around 94. ... I became the CEO through the fact that we grew. ... The technician that I was back 33 years ago is still in here somewhere, but you have to leave that, go to grow as a manager and also as a boss.

Zuschlag: We've done five acquisitions over the last two decades. Every time we've bought another bank, I've learned an awful lot from the employees of that other bank.

Q: Is it hard to merge cultures?

Zuschlag: Very difficult. ... I think it would be a lot easier to go out and hire new employees. But there's something to be lost by not keeping the old employees.

Q: How does a boss make employees feel valued and respected?

Hammel: You have to manage the company with their best interests in mind. [You] need to be there for them during tough times. And lastly, you need to recognize exceptional performance and effort, and make sure they know you appreciate them.

Zuschlag: I think consistency - whether it's rewarding somebody for extra effort or disciplining somebody for a mistake.

Albensi: When you're sitting sometimes in the fire, you [don't] always do the right thing ... [but] when you make mistakes, tell your employees you're sorry. [To] gain their respect, respect them, and they should in turn respect you.

Q: Employees also want to trust their leaders. How do you build up that trust?

Hammel: By staying true to your word over a long period of time. It takes a long time to build up trust, and a split second to lose it.

Q: Best part of the job?

Albensi: I probably have as much enthusiasm, if not more, today than I did 33 years ago. And that comes across.

Zuschlag: My best days are people-related. My worst days are people-related.


MORE ABOUT THE WINNERS:

TOP EXECUTIVE MID-SIZE COMPANY:

Chuck Hammel
Job: Owner and CEO of Pitt Ohio
Company founded: 1979
Sector: transportation and logistics
Headquarters: Pittsburgh
Greater Pittsburgh locations: 3
Greater Pittsburgh employees: 489
Employees said: "Everyone here sincerely cares about each other and wants the company to be successful and strong. ... Charles Hammel gives us free health care and lavishes us with a Christmas bonus and gift card (which really helps me out each year). ... Chuck is very in touch with the employees and day-to-day operations of this company."

TOP EXECUTIVE MID-SIZE COMPANY:

Charlotte Zuschlag
Job: CEO of ESB Bank
Company founded: 1915
Sector: banking and finance
Headquarters: Ellwood City
Greater Pittsburgh locations: 23
Greater Pittsburgh employees: 283
Employees said: "Working at ESB Bank makes you feel like you are part of a family that really cares. ... There is an open line of communication with senior management. ... Our CEO is a remarkable woman. She does an amazing job of running our company and sincerely cares about the people who work here."

TOP EXECUTIVE SMALL COMPANY:

Donald Albensi
Job: Owner and CEO of Albensi Dental Laboratory Inc.
Company founded: 1979
Sector: manufacturing dental implants, crowns, bridges and other prosthetics
Headquarters: Irwin
Greater Pittsburgh locations: 1
Greater Pittsburgh employees: 95
Employees said: "The 'family values' run deep throughout the company, and make it an enjoyable atmosphere. ... The management team appreciates my work and is very supportive and great to work for. ... [Mr. Albensi] is very good at motivation and listening when an employee voices a concern. He is very good at keeping the open door policy true to its meaning."

topworkplaces2013

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625. First Published September 12, 2013 4:00 AM


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