Brushing up the work ethic

Diana Ferrari is a manufacturing company that specialises in women’s shoes, but it is also a company that has made a speciality of keeping its work philosophy, or values statement, in strong focus for its employees. One of the company’s cleaners, Terry Doyle, says: “We are always looking for ways to keep our values alive, to keep them driving along in people’s minds.” Doyle is a member of the ‘values group’, which consists of a dozen people from across the company.

Managing director Michael Murray and owners John and Tony Kirkhope wanted the company’s work values to sink in and make a difference, but they were concerned that these values should be conveyed in a form that was easily understood and easily applied.

“The 12 people from the shop floor were given the task of taking our philosophy statement and re-writing it,” says Murray, “and in language they could better understand.” The resulting values, or ‘How we learn, teach, grow and have fun’, include statements such as ‘Customer service is our first priority’, and ‘We have the authority to stop and fix quality or safety’.

There are 13 statements in all, and they are displayed around the factory. “That was our first step,” says Murray, “and we found that the new values really ended up being personified in the employee of the month.”

Nominations for the employee of the month come straight out of the suggestion box, but it is now the values group, not management, that makes the final selection. It is here that Terry Doyle’s involvement takes a twist.

Doyle’s role is unique. Not only does he clean the toilets, sweep the factory floor and vacuum the carpets, he is also an accomplished artist whose talents are called upon each month to paint the portrait of Diana Ferrari’s employee of the month.

The portraits are rendered in watercolour pencil on paper, and take one or two hours each night for about a fortnight to complete. Doyle has been painting for more than 30 years, and says that he has stuck to it only because, basically, he was “too stupid to give it up”. But he has to clean to support his family. “The fact is I have always made more money by picking up a big brush than a little one,” he says.

Doyle, now known as the resident artist, enjoys a form of patronage through his contributions to the employee-of-the-month awards. He made his skill known quite early. “I even submitted some drawings with my job application,” he says. “My aim was to show that I would be taking exactly the same sort of approach to cleaning as I do to my artwork.”

Murray didn’t know anything about Doyle’s talent until the production manager pointed it out to him, and by that time Doyle had been made a member of the values team.

“We’ve always had what we call ‘shoe-box’ meetings,” Murray says. “We stop work, stop production, get everyone together and talk about financial results, quality, occupational health and safety, the social club. So this was the natural place to make the employee-of-the-month presentation.”

The announcement comes as a complete surprise to the person honoured. Soon after, Doyle takes a photograph of them at their workplace, as a guide for his painting. “But I try to get the personality coming through,” he says, “to make it a portrait in a very real sense.”

Murray says Diana Ferrari has had a growth rate of 20% a year for the past 15 years. “We now have a very modern factory, which we moved into four years ago. And our business has doubled since we moved in.” The Kirkhope brothers work at the factory, and Murray contends that it is their personal values that help drive the whole workplace. “The strong investment in this company is in people, and they have never deviated,” he says. “They’re great people who believe in people.”


This story first appeared in BRW magazine