My Three Years w/ Wheelhouse
Leading up to the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Best Places to Work event, we’ve been sharing what it means to work at Wheelhouse. Today we hear from Director of Client Services Casey Curtis, in honor of her three-year anniversary with the company.When I joined Wheelhouse three years ago, we barely had enough folks for a pick-up game of basketball, not that I would’ve had the athletic acumen for it anyway. Let’s be fair, this white girl cannot jump… and dribbling? I’ve barely gotten the walking + chewing gum thing down. I was the sixth member of the group, counting our President, Aaron, and an intern. The entire office was a very small 1,200 square feet and we didn’t even have a phone system, just a single cordless phone camped out in the center of the office.
I was brought into the company by Paul, our VP of Operations. Back in the day, he was the VP of everything that needed to be done, from HR, invoicing and taxes to client services, sometimes paid search, and hell, even ordering office supplies. Paul and I had worked together at a children’s apparel company, where I was Director of the B2C consumer division. There, I sat in the middle of a room full of loud, sometimes eccentric women. Phones rang in constant intervals of customer service and sales calls. In between calls, someone was always laughing or yelling, telling stories and just generally being raucous. It was a constant stream of chaos and estrogen. So to say that Wheelhouse was a culture shift would be… appropriate.
That first week I don’t think I heard a phone ring once. No one talked. We were so small that if someone so much as coughed, the whole office took notice. I had never known silence to feel so consuming. I remember calling home after the third or fourth day, whispering into my cell phone from the hallway outside, “Nobody talks. It’s so quiet. This is just unnatural.”
Three years later, things have changed. These days, I’m known to dive into any available conference room just to catch a moment of calm.
We’re a group of 23 now, our most recent two joining the team within the last month. “A bunch of weirdos” is how I lovingly refer to them, but in truth they’re a diverse group of some of the most talented and kind individuals I’ve ever worked with.
One of our company values is “joy”, which can sound incredibly corny to anyone who doesn’t know us, but it’s a value that we’ve worked hard on over the years. Now there’s a constant stream of voices, laughter and excitement resonating through our (much larger) office. Someone is usually at the ping-pong table or downstairs playing foosball in the SEM office. Undoubtedly, there’s an accompanying bet for each game. We hang out on the deck, work in the hammock, and just spend time enjoying each other’s company and a nice glass of wine.
For me, joy is the value we had to work the hardest on. It’s easy for a group of intrinsically motivated individuals to over-deliver, to treat our clients with kindness and empathy, and produce fantastic results—because we care for the people we work with. Clients often call us “an extension of our team” during our yearly sentiment analysis. It’s a testament to the effort we put into making our clients feel at home with us. But joy is trickier.
With joy there’s a level of investment that, with highly motivated people, is much more difficult. It’s a prioritization of happiness and of laughter, an investment in time together that doesn’t drive the bottom line. It’s also one of the most important things that we can do on a daily basis. Aaron generously provides us with a “joy fund” that we are required to use every month to bring joy to each other. I say required because joy is something we truly work at. And because I feel joy in the everyday, I welcome the opportunity to continue my work at Wheelhouse, even during the stressful times. I know that I’m supported by a group of amazing people who do so much to lift me up on a daily basis. Their support is vital to my own success, and to the success of my clients.
Sitting in that tiny, quiet office three years ago, I could never have imagined the company we’ve built today. It’s easy to grow too big, too fast. It’s easy to destroy a culture. It’s a lot harder to build one. But it’s been such a rewarding experience. I’m proud of the company we’ve become and of the people we are. And I’m truly proud to say that I’m w/ Wheelhouse.