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How This Founder Built One of the Happiest Companies During the Recession

Samer Khouli, founder and CEO of TargetCW, explains how happy employees ultimately result in more profits.

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Every year, we publish the Entrepreneur 360 — our list of the 360 most well-rounded companies in America, based on an evaluation of impact, innovation, growth, leadership and business valuation. This series spotlights some of this year's honorees. For more 360 content, view our 360 content hub.

Samer Khouli, founder and CEO of TargetCW

TargetCW helps companies keep their employees happy. And while their contingent workforce technology certainly plays a role, their success is credited to their own happy employees, even when the economy was... less than happy. Samer Khouli, founder and CEO of TargetCW, shares how he built a positive company culture during one of the country’s most difficult times. And yes, it required more than free snacks and company getaways.

Why did you decide to start TargetCW during the recession?

It was a rough time to start, maybe not the wisest thing ever. I was working at a family business before and parted ways with my brother. But it started out of need. For me, the vision of the company was having a desire to have a place that’s a great example for other companies to be able to draw inspiration and to mirror a wonderful culture and a wonderful way of employing people. None of my goals have ever been profit-centered.

So what were your goals then?

We look at what the clients need now and what they need in the future. If we are meeting those needs, we are going to generate profit because we are adding value to what the clients want. The second is to have happy employees that are fully engaged. We have a 95% retention rate. One of the big losses that companies have is high turnover. There’s a significant amount of loss there. The third is developing the spirit of giving back to society at large. Not in the sense of giving money, but getting the employees involved.

And how do you keep your employees happy?

It starts out with character. Character always proceeds culture. If you don’t have the character, people will sniff out that inauthenticity and you won’t have a healthy culture. You’re going to have pool tables and food and ping pong and smiles and t-shirts, but you won’t have employees engaged where their hearts feel like there’s a sense of belonging and a genuinely healthy family. Growing up as the youngest kid in a large family, I always was the happy jovial one. But from an early age, I learned I genuinely love people and want them to feel included, and I brought those values to TargetCW. From my dog being at the company running around to us having happy hours every Friday. But those are the shallow things. When people have hard times, we are there for them. We are all about people. We have people go through tragedies, cancers, death, and we are there for them. TargetCW is a place where life is lived, not just work. Froyo machines are fun. Cabo is fun. I can name a million things that make us a fun company. But ultimately it’s our hearts.

How do you maintain this company culture as you grow?

We hired a Director of Cultural Alignment. He’s a strength certified coach. And he’s here to have people be more optimized in their jobs and work better together. I’m actually strength certified coach, and so is our VP of People Happiness. And it’s just being like “Hey here are your strengths. How can we help you be more effective in your job, connect better with your coworkers, and even be a better human in general?”

How does your technology reflect this company culture?

We look at what the customer needs and then position our service and technology offerings in such a way to maximize the effectiveness of TargetCW for those companies. Now our technology allows you to self-serve in these areas. It also infuses culture into the contingent workforce by putting in pictures and friendly language and chat features online, just to create that sense of community and culture for their contingent workers. It’s hard to connect to thousands of people, but if we can use the tools to enable that, that’s a win-win.

Do you see a correlation between company culture and profit?

When people ask me about culture and profit, I just know that happy employees will ultimately result in more profits no matter what. When you have someone fully engaged, they will be more productive. And I’ll be happier because I’ll have less stress. Dealing with turnover is miserable. Dealing with unhappy employees is miserable. To me, it’s a no brainer.

Madison Semarjian

Written By

Madison Semarjian is the founder of Mada, an outfit curation app.