Schwartz & Benjamin Milestone: Fostering the Corporate Culture

Schwartz & Benjamin’s employees jokingly call the firm’s Manhattan headquarters “home.” It’s as much a reference to its comfort and camaraderie as to the many hours they spend there. So when product development manager Melissa Wilson left to work for another company, she said she felt pangs of homesickness.

“[The new job] was a much more corporate environment and the position was at a more junior level,” recalled Wilson, who after just three months returned to Schwartz & Benjamin and has been there now for seven years total. “Schwartz & Benjamin is more [like a] family, and it is small. When you’re here, sometimes you forget it’s work.”

That fits with the productive but jovial tone that CEO Danny Schwartz and President Steve Shapiro strive to set for the entire team. “I like to call this environment low-key high intensity,” Shapiro said, noting the firm’s family-owned status is a boon in that area. “There are advantages to being private and it has to do with our core values. It has to do with our DNA here, with our lifestyle and our work environment. If we were a public company or owned by another company, that would change.”

Added Schwartz, “We [look to maintain] a place where we, and our employees, all want to come to work every day, where it’s fun. That doesn’t mean we don’t have stress or that we’re not serious about what we do, but we like to have a place where the morale is high and where people like to come to work.”

They aim to do that through gestures both large and small, such as keeping a fully stocked kitchen that employees can access at all times, as well as other endeavors like providing employees with opportunities to participate in charity events. Most recently, Shapiro and Schwartz volunteered alongside the staff at a food bank with Two Ten Footwear Foundation during the nonprofit’s Footwear Cares community service week. And the executives encourage employees to strike a fair work-life balance. “We’re really big on that,” Shapiro said. “If someone is a mother and has a soccer game or a yearbook meeting, [we tell her to] go to that [event] and we’ll figure it out. She can do some extra work later.”

Next on the cultural agenda, according to Schwartz, are plans to establish a regular weekly schedule of extracurricular activities, such as bowling and happy hour.

But that’s not to say the executives don’t demand a strong work ethic. “Our building closes at 7 p.m. and it amazes me that a lot of these kids are here until 7,” Shapiro said, noting that Schwartz & Benjamin often pays to keep its headquarters open later to accommodate employees who want to work into the night. “They stay here to get the work done because they know it’s a nice environment and they want to please.”

“We work hard and we play hard,” said Michele Prandi, VP of sales for the Kate Spade New York division at Schwartz & Benjamin. “We always have something happening, we are always doing something together and we laugh a lot, at ourselves. I love coming to work and being inspired by my coworkers.”

Shapiro and Schwartz also make themselves accessible to employees. “I mentor our division heads a lot,” Shapiro said. “We both have open-door policies and anyone here, I think, feels very comfortable coming into our offices, and they do.”

That sense of openness is key to maintaining high morale, said Prandi. “We feel a sense of true hospitality,” she added.