Craig Mathes

Director of Human Resources and Safety, Team Fishel

From age 14, Craig Mathes has always held one job or another, whether busing tables or serving as director of human resources and safety at Team Fishel. Perhaps the hardest and most influential work was as a roadie for the Toll during the band’s 1989 worldwide tour.

“I feel like I’ve been in human resources all my life because I think I’ve worked almost every job imaginable. … I did get my work ethic from working with a rock ‘n’ roll band,” Mathes, 44, says. “I’m certainly not the brightest or most intelligent guy on the team, but I’m a pretty resourceful guy and have a really good sense of intuition on how to get things done in a practical way.”

Mathes earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University in 1991 and taught high school for three years in Columbus Public Schools before being laid off with 100 others teachers in 1995. That summer, he worked as a laborer for Corna & DeCesare Construction Company. The leadership team recognized his work ethic and asked him to design training programs. Before he departed in 2000, the company had been acquired by Kokosing, and Mathes had been promoted to director of human resources and safety.

He joined Team Fishel, a utility construction and network installation company, as director of HR; he acquired safety responsibilities in 2005 when that director retired. “We added that to his plate and he’s helped us get a lot better than we’ve ever been from a safety standpoint,” says John Phillips, president and CEO of Team Fishel. “For years, we never had a human resources department. We started one and the first person did an OK job. Since we’ve had Craig, he’s just amped it up several notches.”

In the past five years, Team Fishel has made progress toward the goal of being an accident-free workplace, decreasing both its Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable injury rate and number of auto accidents. “I think a lot of construction companies struggle with the concept of being accident-free. I truly believe that we’re in the pursuit of perfection in maintaining a risk-free environment for our teammates,” Mathes says.

On the HR side, Mathes is most proud of two initiatives: the Jeff Keeler Leadership Academy and the company’s wellness program. The academy, now in its second class, cultivates leaders through coaching, class participation and assignments. “We’re intentional about developing them for other opportunities,” Mathes says. Three former participants have been elevated to a higher level of management.

HealthCheck 360°, the wellness program, requires enrolled employees to undergo a health screening and risk assessment and discuss findings with a health coach. “There are always at least three or four teammates who we identify as being at risk right now, and there’s an intervention that occurs to make sure they get that addressed,” Mathes says. In one case, an employee found a health problem through the screening and underwent open heart surgery a week later.

Before implementing the wellness program, just 18 percent of Team Fishel’s employees got annual physical exams. “If we want, long-term, to control our health-care costs, we need to get healthier as a population. If only 18 percent of our teammates even have a clue of what their health status is, we need to raise the level of awareness,” Mathes says.

Reprinted from the April 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.