Turnover is expensive. One solution? Create a company your employees won’t want to leave

Kerry Kloiber (right) has worked as an electrical designer at TSP for nearly 30 years. He believes people who work together over longer periods of time create value for clients through efficiencies and shared experiences.

Nov. 19, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by TSP Inc.

In his younger years, Kerry Kloiber never imagined he’d be a “lifer” in his job. Colleague Tony Dwire likes to joke about himself: Maybe he got lazy and just kept coming to work at the same place. Another co-worker, Bernie Olsen, sums it up this way: “It takes years to build the kind of togetherness we have here.”

That togetherness is the result of a team approach to everything from problem-solving a client’s biggest challenge to supporting one another through life transitions. And “here” is TSP Inc., where nearly half of employees have been with the firm for at least a decade — and double-digits of workers have hit the 30-year mark. One of them soon will celebrate a half-century of work for the integrated architecture, engineering and planning group. The key, he said, is continually making the most of opportunities, even if they look like obstacles.

Ron Mielke

“I’ve been here 49 years and then some, but I haven’t been doing anything close to the same job for 49 years,” said Ron Mielke, a principal and former CEO who now focuses on project management and client relationships. He realizes it’s unusual in any industry for a former top executive to remain as a day-to-day staff member, but he’s enjoying himself too much to retire now.

“I’m getting to do what I believe is the fun part of this business,” he said.

TSP prides itself on designing legacy buildings that create lasting value for present and future generations. All the while, its employees have cultivated a sense of belonging through one another and the clients they serve. The nearly 90-year-old firm has become the backdrop for marriages, births of children and then grandchildren, military deployments and deaths of parents or other loved ones. It’s an uncommon dedication to shared values. And it’s all the more striking in an age when the typical worker spends 4.2 years with a company before moving on.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the median number of years workers have been with their current organizations. The median represents the midpoint — half of all workers fall above that number, and half fall below. A higher median means more employees are choosing to stay with the same company for a longer period of time.

  • 4.2 years = median for workers across all industries
  • 5.7 years = median for architecture and engineering field
  • 8.5 years = median for TSP employees

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics Biennial Report (2018), TSP personnel records

A ‘second family’

“It really does feel like your second family after awhile,” principal Sean Ervin said. The architect started 31 years ago at a predecessor company in Marshalltown, Iowa, that retained its office when it merged with TSP. “One thing I’ve always enjoyed is taking my wife or our kids or parents on tours of the buildings we design within this second family. It’s not just a great company to work for or a great group of people to work with but a legacy we co-create with our clients.”

“It really does feel like your second family after a while,” Sean Ervin said of TSP Inc. Now a principal and senior architect, Ervin started 31 years ago at a predecessor company in Marshalltown, Iowa, that retained its office when it merged with TSP.

Those first and second families overlap in multiple ways. Dwire, a principal and electrical engineer hired within months of Ervin, had a drafting table in his living room while his children were young. He’d redline blueprints at home while his wife worked overnight shifts as a nurse. Their daughter, Brenna Wiertzema, now has started her own career with the firm: She has been an interior designer at TSP for the past four years.

One firm, many perspectives

Each team member’s explanation of how his or her role has grown with them — and why the firm still fits as the place to continue doing good work — is deeply personal.

Bernie Olsen

“I spent many years in the Marshall (Minn.) office, and I got to know all of our clients there on a very one-to-one basis,” said 30-year employee Olsen, a drafting and modeling technician who now splits her time between Sioux Falls and an office in her home. “They gave me purpose because I was serving them and really owning that role. I think that connection means more to some people than others. For me, walking away from that would be very, very hard.”

Maybe that’s why a significant number of TSP team members have spent the majority of their working years at TSP. Principal Mike Jamison will retire this month after nearly 38 years with the firm, a career that puts him fourth in terms of tenure among staff. Jamison started as a summer intern in the architecture department. He returned over holiday break from college and stayed for good. Mentors encouraged him to consider engineering and created an opportunity for him to pursue that path.

You’re invited

What: Community open house for Mike Jamison

Why: He’s retiring after nearly 38 years with TSP, Inc.

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19

Where: TSP office, 1112 N. West Ave. in Sioux Falls

Mike Jamison

“When I came here, I could see myself in the people who were my bosses,” Jamison said. “I could envision myself moving into those roles. I think we look for people in our lives who make us think, ‘I wouldn’t mind being like that person someday.’ It’s not just because of the position. It’s also that personality and how he or she approaches things.”

Coming back home

Jamison and “lifer” Kloiber have seen working relationships come full circle in their time at TSP.

“People are here to set the example, and then the role reverses. You can see it happening,” said Kloiber, an electrical designer who will celebrate 30 years with TSP shortly after the new year. “The longer you work with people, the easier it is to do a better job. … In some ways, it’s like being married. After awhile, you know how the other person thinks and what they’re going to say before they say it.”

Other colleagues have left TSP but later returned, feeling as if something lacked in other company cultures. CEO Jared Nesje and marketing director Jeff Bowar are among them. So is Jason Nelson, who — after a year and a half at another local firm — came back to TSP earlier this month as the design technology director. He’d been with TSP for 19 years before leaving to explore the other opportunity.

Jason Nelson

“I missed working with all of you here,” he told team members who gathered for his welcome-back announcement on his second first day of work. “I missed the professionalism and the respect you have for each other. I got to a point when I was gone that I missed being a part of this family, and that’s what brought me back.”

Changing and growing together

TSP has been a constant in its people’s lives, but the firm’s longest-running employee can attest to the design field’s ever-evolving nature. A mechanical engineer by trade, Mielke believes he lucked into landing the job with TSP. He has been grateful ever since for the opportunity and all those that grew from it.

“Individually and as a firm, we’ve had to adapt to all the changes in our industry and their impact on how we do our work,” he said. “We’ve done that together, and that’s a big part of what’s kept us and TSP here all these years.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was first published to correct the median number of years employees have been at TSP and at other companies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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Turnover is expensive. One solution? Create a company your employees won’t want to leave

“It really does feel like your second family after awhile.” At TSP, a team approach to everything from problem-solving a client’s biggest challenge to supporting one another through life transitions has created a sense of togetherness that defines the workplace.

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