May 21, 2020

"Yeah, That Sounds Like Larry"

By Rebecca Ryskind Teti

Everyone loves a feel-good story, especially in a storm of bad news. Little wonder then that when Larry Connor, CEO of The Connor Group, announced that he would give a $1.6 million stock windfall to his employees, the news resonated far outside Ohio, where the company is based, and became national news. 

A good deed stands on its own, but two things caught my ears while watching The Connor Group’s video of employees’ joyful reactions.

First, Connor doesn’t present himself as the mighty benefactor bestowing a gift. On the contrary, he tells his people, “In my view, this is not a gift. You’ve earned it.” Strictly speaking, the trades Connor made that earned his company $1.6 million in eight days were his own doing. But he appears to have a keen sense of gratitude to the employees who have continued working through the pandemic -- the people who together contribute to make the company profitable, and who therefore have the right to be proud of its successes and participate in them. Connor wasn’t obligated to give all the money away, but it demonstrates a strong sense of solidarity -- which the Catechism of the Catholic Church articulates as a form of friendship -- the social friendship we are called to have towards everyone in our community. 

Something else that struck me among all the employee reactions was the worker who responded, “Yeah, that sounds like Larry.” The Connor Group’s employees were surprised by this specific gesture, but not by their CEO’s actions, which -- I gather from other employee comments-- appear to be habitual. Person after person expresses not just gratitude for the bonus, which comes at a time when it is particularly needed and appreciated, but also their pride and satisfaction at working for a company where the core values are lived out daily and not just given lip-service. Usually grand gestures don’t spring up from nowhere; they are the fruit of living a virtue in small ways on a daily basis, such that a certain way of thinking and behaving becomes innate. Probably Mr. Connor thought of his team in the big moment because he is used to thinking in solidarity with them and appreciating their contributions all the time. 

Not everyone has the wherewithal to make a million and a half bucks in little more than a week --newer and smaller businesses usually don’t have the initial capital for that. But our Small Business Outreach team here at the Ciocca Center has been moved in the past two months by how deeply the small business owners we work with in our neck of DC care about their employees and have acted to help them with the resources they have. In the movies, business owners are usually cast as selfish, only out for themselves. We have seen nothing but the opposite: owners taking no salary so as to keep workers on as long as possible; gathering weekly via our “virtual happy hours” to share advice and information about how to pivot and stay open; eagerness to serve those in the community who would otherwise go hungry. And where they couldn’t do anything themselves, employers have been quick to act to raise money to help furloughed workers. 

To prove the point, here is just the beginning of a by-no-means-exhaustive list of employer efforts to help their workers near our office in DC. If one of them resonates with you, we encourage you to support it if you can. As our late colleague Michael Novak liked to point out, “No other institution creates new, progress-generating jobs that bring the poor income, the opportunity to develop their talents, and independence for their families, as small business does.” During the pandemic shut-downs, we’ve learned firsthand what a vital role these businesses play in communities as well, and our action to support them now will ensure they are around for the rebuilding effort. 

Not in DC or its suburbs? A quick search will generate similar efforts in your community. Go Fund Me lists more than 5000 employee relief funds, for example. And you can always ask your favorite local business how you can help. Shop online, order take out, send a donation, tip generously, leave positive reviews. There are lots of ways to give these community anchors support -- and to encourage the efforts of so many business owners to show solidarity and friendship for their workers.  

General Lists of Resources

Small Business and Worker Relief Funds

Ciocca Center’s Closest Neighbors & Partners: 

Other Local Relief Funds:

Charitable Efforts

  • Beefsteak Bodega:  Chef Jose Andres shifted some of his restaurants into food pantries selling staple items hard to find in grocery stores during the pandemic. 
  • Cakes for a Cause:  DC Sweet Potato Cake sends free cakes to local health care workers
  • Communi-T: buy a designer t-shirt with art from your favorite local restaurant, make a donation to that restaurant for its workers. 
  • DC Central Kitchen, in partnership with several local restaurants, has expanded its meal offerings for those in need. 
  • Get A Hero, Be A Hero:  Columbia Room opened a sandwich pop-up where for every sandwich sold, one is donated to a hospital health worker. 
  • Meals for the City:  Little Sesame is helping deliver food to several locations. 
  • Off Their Plate:  an initiative in 9 cities to put restaurant staff to work supporting medical personnel.
  • World Central Kitchen: see what Chef Jose Andres’ outfit is doing in DC.

 Rebecca Ryskind Teti is the Operations Director for the Ciocca Center.

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