Victoria business owner operates debt-free, gives monthly employee bonuses
BY GABE SEMENZA
July 25, 2010 at 2:25 a.m.
WANT TO BECOME DEBT FREE?For more information about Dave Ramsey and his "Total Money Makeover," visit www.DaveRamsey.com. The Advocate runs his column every Sunday in this section.
A Victoria business owner operates debt free, teaches willing employees to do the same and weathered the recession better because of it.
Lita Pappillion even pays monthly bonuses to her 80 employees when profits exceed expenses. Her financial books remain open to workers.
Pappillion, a 52-year-old entrepreneur, owns Health Force Home Health Care, a Victoria-based health care provider with an office in Corpus Christi.
She manages her staff and the company's money herself - and it appears to work.
Pappillion is not alone. This country's largest debt-free companies, in terms of revenue, include heavyweights such as Microsoft, Walgreens and Cisco Systems.
When the economy tanked, these companies did not.
BECOMING DEBT FREE
Pappillion opened Health Force in 1996. Always fearful of debt, she grew the business methodically and steered clear of steep loans.
By 2000, she paid off all debt linked to her NorthDe Leon Street company - and remained debt free since.
"It doesn't mean you have more money," Pappillion said. "It just means you manage it better. If we can't pay for things with cash, we don't buy them. We haven't been tripping on money, but we don't have to pay for tomorrow."
She became so passionate about smart money management that she tried for years to urge employees to follow suit. She cornered workers in the hallway - "victims of the moment," she joked - chimed in during lunch break conversations and otherwise spread the message whenever she could.
"I feel a responsibility to teach others about controlling debt, especially my employees," she said. "It's my job to take care and use wisely the money they sweat for. I help educate them to take care of themselves."
When Pappillion stumbled into Dave Ramsey - a popular financial author, TV and radio show host - she found a man who could to the talking for her. Ramsey preaches debt-free life and offers a plan to attain it.
Using a staff library filled with dozens of Ramsey's books, CDs and DVDs - and hundreds of other financial resources - many of her employees either became debt free or are well on the way to becoming so.
'YOUR BROKE FRIENDS'
Pappillion has good reason to point her employees down prudent financial paths. Doing so is humane and helpful from a business standpoint, she says.
About 15 percent of U.S. employees are so stressed about poor finances their job productivity suffers, according to GuideSpark, a company that specializes in corporate financial education.
Holly Alonzo, the company's 30-year-old chief operations officer, stressed at work because she was too broke to take a day off when her child was sick. She since began Ramsey's program.
"I was just sick of being broke all the time," Alonzo said. "People all the time say, 'If I just made more money ...' But it doesn't matter how much you make. It's how you manage what you make."
Debbie Oler, a 36-year-old patient care coordinator, is close to becoming debt free. Last year, she bought Christmas presents for the first time without using debt.
"A lot of people think what we do is strange. If your broke friends are laughing at you, you're doing something right," Oler said, paraphrasing an oft-used Ramsey quote. "I tell you what: It was such a reward to finally be able to tithe."
TURNING OFF THE LIGHTS
Pappillion's approach to money and business management seems to have created another benefit for employees: security.
Papillion owes no debt, set aside aside an emergency fund for a rainy day and reports the company's financial standing each month to workers.
Because of this, Heather Uresti-Bacak, a 33-year-old physical therapy assistant, said she worries less about the future. Others agreed.
"It's nice to know this business will be around tomorrow," Uresti-Bacak said. "It's comforting."
This sense of comfort might seem strange considering the national economic turmoil. Pappillion, though, goes one step further and offers monthly bonuses.
"I want them all to make a lot of money, and they do," Pappillion said. "They're the ones who do this, make it work - and employers need to acknowledge it."
While some monthly bonuses are considerable, others can be as little as $12 or none at all, depending on the bottom line.
Offering bonuses based on the bottom line compels many employees to save paperclips, turn off lights and shake the printer's toner cartridge to squeeze out the last drops of ink.
"It makes them bossy," Pappillion said, laughing. "They feel ownership in the business. I want to be clear: We're not bragging here. We're thankful for everything we get."
'SHE HAS DONE IT'
A story in the USA Today details the health of U.S. corporations during stressful economic times.
Debt-free companies such as Microsoft, Walgreens and Cisco Systems don't have ominous interest payments that hurt aggressive rivals, the story notes.
"What kills companies is debt," Peter Andrew, an analyst at A.G. Edwards, told the newspaper. "Without debt, companies have the financial wherewithal to survive."
This ideology fuels Pappillion, and many of her employees.
"As an employee, Lita Pappillion inspires me," Oler said. "I wanted to model myself after someone who has done it. Well, she has done it."