Geneva company shocks employees with bonus: $2,500 for every year of service
Joe Slawek talks often about the difference between gratitude and being indebted.
He demonstrated that difference in a shocking way on Thursday.
The CEO and founder of family-owned FONA International in Geneva, along with his wife, Mary, announced to employees that they'll each receive a gift of $2,500 for every year they've been with the company.
For many longtime employees, that means a bonus of more than $50,000.
After making the announcement to their 220 employees over a video feed, Joe and Mary Slawek met individually and with small groups of employees to maintain proper distance. Through tears and laughter as the news sank in, the Slaweks reveled in a stream of appreciation.
It's the Slaweks, though, who are appreciative after closing one of their best years with a surplus of $7.1 million.
"I'm actually grateful and indebted, and indebted means we can't even begin to pay back the people who helped FONA reach all the records we achieved," Joe Slawek said. "When that idea popped into my head, we started to run the numbers. We started with 1,000 and that wasn't enough. Then 2,000 wasn't enough. We kept going until we got close enough to the 7.1 million."
Executives from the company that creates and produces flavor solutions for the confection, grain, beverage and nutrition markets could have done any number of things with the money, but Slawek said he wanted to give it to the employees.
"I'm still digesting it," said Rigo Magana, a manager of industrial performance who's been with the company since 1998. "I got pretty emotional. It was such shocking news. People were hugging and screaming."
Slawek, 70, and a small team divided the surplus based on the combined 1,900 years of experience current employees boast with the company he founded more than 30 years ago. Every employee received at least $2,500.
The toughest part was keeping the secret for more than a month as a handful of people worked out the logistics.
"We wanted to recognize the people who have been so loyal to us," Slawek said. "I just wanted to say thank you in person now and not end up wishing I had done something like this."
Through the decades the Slaweks have shown appreciation for the growth of the company through performance bonuses and an annual Thanksgiving bonus, but employees had no idea what to expect from Thursday's meeting.
Needless to say, it was a pleasant surprise.
"Joe and Mary have always been incredibly generous, but this is above and beyond," said Becky Sells, a senior scientist who's been at FONA International for 21 years. "It's going to take a little time to absorb, but it's a game-changer."