The VCA Family: Al Berlin

Al_now-0713When I was deciding to make a change in my career path there were so many things wracking my brain and the fear of the unknown can be pretty scary — well at least it was for me. Corporate culture is really important to me and since I was already working with some pretty amazing people… I had to ask the question will it be the same?

I interviewed with VCA in April. I met with Dave Berlin, the president of VCA, Bob Romano, VP of sales and Pat Balestrieri, VP of finance and operations. There was something different about my interview with Pat because he took a completely opposite approach. He didn’t ask me about my marketing skills; he said he saw my resume and industry experience. He spoke to me about why he works at VCA and why I should want to.

It all starts with Al Berlin. Al founded VCA in 1972… What is his secret of success after 41 years of business? Of course the foundation was built on listening to clients and demonstrating innovative emerging technologies but the real secret is he knows how to take care of his people.

Before I met Al, when his name was brought up in the office it is always the same comments… Al is just the best, really the best. It would always made me smile and it still does. I got to meet Al at a VCA happy hour honoring employees’ years of service… I was impressed at the plaques given out for 5, 10, 15, even 20 years at VCA. At this point, I didn’t know too many people yet so I was a bit of fish out of water. Al came in and put me at ease. He sat with me and wanted to know about me and my family and told me about his. He really understands people and how important they are to the success of VCA. He is not taking anyone for granted that was clear from my first encounter.

When you start to have conversations with all the people within this organization and you hear of the admiration, and respect people have for this man and the company he has created, I just needed to write about it. I was inspired.

Al_38-0713“I love Al and have so much respect for him as a boss and more as a person. He is the fairest most understanding person I have worked for. Not to say he isn’t sometimes angry or tough but in the end the word fair always comes to my mind. I have learned more from Al in my ten years at VCA about managing people, processes so many things. When my wife Linda was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, as soon as Al heard, he was in Florida. He called with such a genuine concern and willingness to do whatever he could to help me and my wife. After that he would continue to stay in touch asking about Linda and her progress. It really meant so much to me.“ Pat Balestrieri, 10 years with VCA

“Al Berlin makes it a point to remember spouses and children’s names, asks how they are doing, how their family events of births, weddings, accomplishments and has always has a genuine appreciation for their concerns.  Al has taught me that courtesy is given and respect is earned — that you don’t have to agree with someone, but must comprehend their perspective in order to engage in a rational dialogue. Rules are guidelines & expectations, if you always try to do the right thing, you’ll never have to worry about rules and if you enjoy what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” Charlie Ruban, 26 years with VCA

“Al Berlin is a wonderful man I don’t think there is enough words to describe his kindness and his people skills. I wish he can still be at VCA full time for another 30 years. Al has a way of remembering the little things that make you smile and appreciate him. He notices everything. He makes you want to do more. I was working in the New York office and Al came in and asked me about my wife and I told him It was my anniversary, but I had to work cause we were really busy. He said to me, ‘Sammy, please take you wife out to any restaurant and get some nice wine; also, get a sitter and send me the bill… And thank for all you do for VCA. I would do anything for Al; he’s a wonderful person and I wish there were more people like him out there. If Al calls with a favor we drop everything… He does so much for everyone, it’s our way of saying thank you Al for everything you do for us.” Sammy Raju,14 years with VCA

See related  Striving For Leadership Rather Than Management

“Al Berlin is the patriarch of VCA and treats every employee as family. Just the other day, Al was in the office and personally had gifts for two employees who just became fathers. I heard he has been doing that for as long as the oldest VCA employees have been around. He’s personally attended wakes for close family members of mine and has even checked back with me and how my family has been coping with our recent losses. Instead of just an employee, Al sees a person first and an employee second. He truly cares about the well-being of his employees and makes every effort to help should he be aware something is amiss and is typically the first to offer congratulations at someone’s accomplishments. Al sees the value in taking care of the people who take care of him and his business.  He gives back to his employees and while it is sometimes as simple as a happy birthday email or paying for an employee’s lunch, those little gestures by Al are what make him so special as an employer and what endear people to him. Al’s respect and treatment of employees as people drives employees like myself to work harder and feel good about our work family.” Andrew Golden, 13 years with VCA

Every employee has a touching story to tell, whether he has bought their family dinner to say thank you, helped someone quit smoking, helped someone out who has a problem or just personally thanked them for their hard work and dedication, he makes it clear that his employees do not go un-noticed and certainly not unappreciated.

The end result is people want to work hard for Al; wouldn’t you?

VCA is truly a family business. Al is now semi-retired but he has instilled a corporate culture that now his son Dave has carried on. Pat told me the story in my interview of how his son qualified for wrestling states for the first time his junior year and there is a photo taken of him hugging his son. In the background of the photo is Dave Berlin smiling and clapping in the stands enjoying the and sharing the moment — it truly meant the world to him. While writing this blog and talking to people at VCA you see so many little things that people do for one another — quietly, without fanfare, just because they care. The stories I have heard about Dave, Pat, Craig, Bob and so many others who ensure that the foundation of values Al set will continue for a long time.

This is the type of company I want to work for… a top 10, successful systems integration company that values their people as the key to their success.

Thank you Al and Dave for inviting me to be a part of the VCA family. I am really happy to be here.