Employee Longevity Thrives at This Chelsea Company


Production Manager Tim Kennard (L) and retired Pressman Tim Hickman

It is rare for a company to have employees of 30 years or more. It’s getting harder even to find companies that have been around that long.

So, when a Chelsea business has a fifth of its workforce staying with them for 30 years or more, it’s an anomaly worth exploring. The Sun Times News visited Sheridan book manufacturing in Chelsea to hear more about it.

Tim Hickman recently retired as a pressman at Sheridan after 48 years. When asked why he stayed on so long, Hickman gave an Occam’s Razor reply.

“There really isn’t a big secret to it,” says Hickman. “It’s just that I enjoyed my job. I enjoyed the people I was around.”

Sheridan is one of the top book manufacturers in the United States, with ten locations. In Chelsea, Sheridan has a whopping 67 employees that have been with them for 30 years or more. Its Chelsea workforce is 340 employees. Just as astounding is that of those 67 employees, 25 have 40 years or more.

So, what’s going on at Sheridan that makes people want to stay?

Hickman is an Ann Arbor native and Pioneer HS graduate. After graduation in 1974, he began with Braun-Brumfield, which merged and evolved into Sheridan.

“I enjoyed what I was doing,” explained Hickman. “Running the press gave me sort of an opportunity to be a little bit of an artist. I had control over what I was printing—how light, dark, or what color it was. And the pay was pretty good, so I just kept showing up and getting a paycheck.”

When asked if he ever considered changing careers or employers, Hickman didn’t hesitate.

“No. I found out from a lot of other people that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side. So, I never really seriously looked at changing careers.”

“I always tried to be the employee my boss didn’t have to worry about,” he said. “I never really felt pressure to meet a goal. I had my way of doing things, and apparently, it was good enough for a long time. I’ve always had a good relationship with all my supervisors.”

Charlotte Vandegrift is Sheridan’s most senior employee. She will celebrate 50 years with the company in September. She echoes Hickman in her uncomplicated reasons for staying.

“I just like it, and I like the people I work with,” she says.

When asked how long she intends to work, Vandegrift laughed, “I don’t know. I don’t think about quitting. I’ll let you know when I get there.”

Of course, for someone to enjoy their job relies heavily upon the work environment. Sheridan Production Manager Tim Kennard stresses the company prioritizes a healthy work atmosphere.

“I think it says a lot for the company as to the culture we try and create for employees,” said Kennard. “Our culture is conducive to personal growth. Tim (Hickman) chose the press room for his entire career because he truly enjoyed it. He continued growing and became one of those people with years of experience that others cling to.”

“We have a business to run, but we stick pretty hard to our core values,” added Kennard.

Kennard listed those core values as having fun, personal growth, and integrity. “As a company, we’re proud of our integrity,” he said.

Ed Blissick is Vice President of Customer Service and is going on 44 years with Sheridan. He began as a “floor boy,” cleaning up and running errands.

Vice President of Customer Relations Ed Blissick

In listing his reasons for staying on, he said, “I’ll echo what Tim and Charlotte said first. It’s the people.”

“We just have a great team of people, your peers, your coworkers, your managers, the leadership here,” added Blissick. “All my career, I’ve enjoyed working with the people, and there’s satisfaction in that. It makes it a fun place to work.”

Blissick also notes the opportunity for personal growth. He also appreciates the financial stability of Sheridan. “This company has always been very financially successful and healthy. There’s a real element of security.”

To help get to the heart of employee longevity, Kennard often asks a somewhat odd but incisive question at interviews. “If we take your salary, benefits, and all the other things you are entitled to as an employee and set those aside for a moment, what do you need every day from an employer to keep coming back?”

“I think understanding the needs of employees beyond being here to make a living is critical to retaining people,” he explained.

It’s difficult for the Sheridan group sitting around the table to pinpoint precisely why they and so many others stick around for so long. Perhaps that is because using a finite language to quantify something so intangible such as contentment, fulfillment, and meaning, is impossible.

Hickman, Blissick, and Vandegrift seemed to have found a sense of belonging and connection, something perhaps for which we all yearn. What none of them mentioned in their reasons, but we should all know, is that to like the people you work with, you have to be one of those likable people. After all, giving is actually a kind of getting.

“You have to be able to enjoy what you’re doing to stick with it and also the people around you,” said Hickman. “You come to work to do a job, but you also make some friends along the way. When you’ve got a group of people around you that you like, and you like your job, the years just go by.”

Photos by Doug Marrin

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