Arthur Samet left the room. At a town hall meeting in the spring of 2022, the CEO of Samet Corp., along with other male executives, walked out of the meeting room to let the company’s female employees talk about what they needed to do their job better.
Outside, they waited as female executives stayed to listen in. “It’s kind of like sitting outside the principal’s office; it took about an hour and a half,” Samet said. “They invited us back in, but they got to have authentic conversations, and they got to really lay things out because we really want to know.”
That moment is a snapshot of the people-centric work that Samet has done to build the business his father launched six decades ago. In 22 years since taking the helm, Samet has grown the business from one focused mostly on industrial and commercial projects in the Greensboro, North Carolina, area to a company with six offices across the Southeast and work that ranges from industrial and commercial to health care and education.
That work—to expand Samet’s business and the regions it serves, and to build a culture of “authentic humanity” that welcomes and supports diverse backgrounds among its employees, suppliers and customers—is paying off. In 2021, Samet logged about $700 million in annual revenue.
“I used to be a deal junkie,” Samet said. “I love real estate. I love construction. And I love seeing the deals come together. But as the company has scaled and grown and people have taken responsibility and leadership roles, I get most excited when I see deals that are completed, put together and run by folks within the organization. It is really rewarding.”
Leadership and coaching
The Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina covers Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem, and the Samet family has been involved in construction in the region since the 1940s. J.W. Samet, Arthur Samet’s grandfather, founded KS Builders in High Point in 1961; Arthur’s father, Norman Samet, founded what is now called Samet Corp.
As a child, Arthur Samet remembers talking a lot about the business with his dad, but he wasn’t working on jobsites. “Construction is a dangerous sport, and he really didn’t want us out in the field until we were young adults and able to do it safely,” Samet said.
Samet officially joined the business full time in the early 1990s, working in the field in all areas of pre-construction and project management. He later led the company’s real estate arm before becoming CEO in 2000. Today, Samet runs the company with Rick Davenport, Samet’s chief operating officer.
The transition from father to son came naturally, Samet said. About six years before the transition, Norman Samet established an advisory board, which included a turnaround consultant, a one-time CPA who worked in private equity and a business school dean.
“That leadership and coaching within the advisory board really helped the organization understand what it needed to scale and grow,” Samet said. “Most important to him was: is the company in good hands and is it going to operate? And are we taking care of the folks that have invested in us to be our associates—more so than I need to put a family member in the position.”
It took a little time for Samet to get his bearings, but he quickly realized that his goal for the company wasn’t just to grow but build scale. “We were a really big, small company, and I wanted it to be a really small medium-sized company and take it to that level,” he said. “And what that required was putting processes and controls in place that helped people have time to think and do their best.”
A first step was expanding Samet’s product offerings and geography. Adding on to its work in industrial and commercial construction, Samet set up verticals in housing, education and health care. Samet also has recently opened a weatherproofing restoration company and a roofing and siding business.
He then set his sights on serving an expanded area. “I always believed that we would be more successful growing in concentric circles,” Samet said. So from a single office in Greensboro, over several years Samet opened new North Carolina locations in Charlotte, Raleigh and Wilmington, as well as offices in Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia.
Each office is run by regional vice presidents, who are responsible for the profits and losses in those areas but can take advantage of the marketing, safety and financial functions provided by Samet’s home office. Building in more opportunities for career growth helps Samet hold on to top talent.
“It eliminates that glass ceiling where people can’t get past a certain level in a family business,” Samet said. “It gives them the opportunity to run their own business in a new region.”
Being strategic about its people has been another focus for Samet. Cultivating a culture of what it calls “authentic humanity” has been paramount, Samet said, building a workplace where everybody feels comfortable giving honest and true feedback and is willing to help each other.
Culture changes take time, but Samet said he’s accomplished it through actions and behaviors, constant discussions at the leadership level and focusing on culture fits when interviewing job candidates. “You really focus on the match instead of filling the role,” Samet said.
For the past two decades, Samet also has built up its supplier diversity program to ensure the company is providing opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses. To do that, the company breaks down trade packages into smaller chunks—$20,000 worth of electrical work on a $2 million electrical package, for instance—so small businesses can handle them.
It also offers a contractor college and mentor-protege program to provide minority and women-owned businesses with resources and advice, including bonding and banking consultants and lawyers, and other resources required to help them be successful.
“We believe that the diversity within our organization is critical to the success of collaborative thought, and working with our diverse customers and our associate base reflects the community that we work within,” Samet said.
No time to wait
That desire for diversity is another reason why Samet held that meeting for its female employees. With 20% of its workforce female, the company is beating the industry average of about 9%. But that’s not high enough, Samet said.
One main concern during the meeting was that the company had no maternity or paternity leave policy. “We’re working on an answer,” was the response at first, Samet remembered. Then a woman who was in the final stages of her pregnancy raised her hand.
“She said, ‘Well, when are you going to get an answer because I don’t have a lot of time to wait?’” Samet recalled. “We realized we were making them choose between their life and working for us.”
Within two weeks of that meeting, Samet launched a parental leave policy for new moms and dads who have welcomed children through birth, adoption or foster care. “I think you have to be equally strategic in growing your workforce as you do growing your customer base,” Samet said. “And if you’re not doing those things, there’s probably a good fit for you somewhere in the economy, but we believe we need to be doing everything possible for the most valuable limited resource in our business—and that’s our people.”