Chris Braccio serves as vice president of human resources at AMERICAN SYSTEMS where she is responsible for the company’s human capital function which includes talent management, compensation and benefits as well as community affairs and charitable programs.
The more than 25-year HR veteran has held leadership roles at World Kitchen, StarBand Communications and Sunrise Assisted Living and is a member of the board at the Washington Area Compensation and Benefits Association.
In her conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Braccio discusses the benefits of AMERICAN SYSTEMS’ employee stock ownership plan, her recruiting techniques and her role in deciding executive compensation.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you find the best people to join AMERICAN SYSTEMS?
Chris Braccio: When we need to fill a new position, the first place that AMERICAN SYSTEMS looks is internally. Promotions from within are a win-win for everyone, and they demonstrate what our career development paths are all about. When we can’t directly fill a position from the inside, we engage our own people to find new candidates. Our employee referral rate for new hires is around 40 percent, a bit higher in some years. So we are always networking through our recruiting team, through our management team, and through all employees. We also have a strong succession plan in place to have our executives developed and ready to take on new opportunities as they come to light. So, the first place and the most likely place that we look is inside the company.
We also host select, invitation only, open‑house networking events, which are designed to introduce key candidates to our organization, giving them a chance to meet with the leaders in our organization, and to find out more about our company in person, and get a general preview of what it’s like to be an employee owner at AMERICAN SYSTEMS. That really helps us secure a high offer acceptance rate for the candidates we want. The personal touch is important to us.
ExecutiveBiz: How has your past work experience been a benefit to AMERICAN SYSTEMS?
Chris Braccio: I’ve had the great opportunity to work for Fortune 500 companies, public companies, private companies, and startups across different industries. When you have experience with different size employers in different industries, whether they be centralized or decentralized, you have the opportunity to really understand best practices across the country. I can take those best practices and really hone them with an employer like AMERICAN SYSTEMS to see how to continuously improve and keep a competitive edge with our employee work force, to really stay ahead of the curve on what we’re doing today and what we will do tomorrow. Having that background is extraordinarily beneficial for me in my role here.
Chris Braccio: Something that’s particularly special about AMERICAN SYSTEMS, something that really sets us apart from other government contractors, is the fact that we are an ESOP company. Yes, we’re employee owned. We have an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and we all share in the values and the success of the company through our ESOP. It really supports our culture, of who we want to be at AMERICAN SYSTEMS. Employees understand that through the ESOP when we do better and we grow, they grow financially, and their careers and professional opportunities grow. Their stability, their enrichment, it all ties together. This is my first ESOP experience. And I’m in. I’m 100 percent in. It really helps put us on a front running, leading edge of our industry.
ExecutiveBiz: Tell us about the roles of veterans within AMERICAN SYSTEMS.
Chris Braccio: Diversity is a core value at AMERICAN SYSTEMS and we work hard to bring diverse teams together, and of course that includes veterans. As you know, our customers primarily reside within the federal government. Our DoD customers, in particular, need professionals who understand them and their experience and their needs. And veterans really know that customer the best.
Not only do they know them the best, but they’re mission driven, they’re focused, they have extraordinary execution, and frankly, we just couldn’t find better professionals. Not all of our workforce has veteran status, but a good amount of our employees do. We’re delighted to bring this talent, along with others, to the table within our government contracting environment to ensure a balanced and thoughtful approach to meeting customer needs.
ExecutiveBiz: How was 2013 for AMERICAN SYSTEMS and what’s your outlook moving forward?
Chris Braccio: The thing that I’m so excited about with AMERICAN SYSTEMS is that we have a wonderful business strategy where we focus on areas that are truly important to our customers, so that we do very well in good times, and we even do well in hard times. As an example, during the recent government shutdown, AMERICAN SYSTEMS was fortunate to only have about 2 percent of our workforce impacted, and that was because our business focus is on national priorities that continued to receive funding. Many of our peers in government contracting didn’t fare as well. That’s an example of how our strategy pays off.
As you know, AMERICAN SYSTEMS is in a growth mode. Over the past year-and-a-half we have grown from 1,200 employees to approximately 1,600 employees. Our growth is through new business as well as acquisition. We are at our highest headcount ever in our history, and we anticipate that trend will continue. Even in these uncertain economic times, we continue to grow and the business strategy that we put in place continues to be very good for all of our employee owners.
ExecutiveBiz: How do your exec compensation efforts support that growth mode?
Chris Braccio: I play a key role in executive compensation as I report to the HR Committee of our Board of Directors, which is charged with overseeing all executive compensation. Part of the role that I play is to ensure that we are not only market competitive, but that we are strategic about how we set our compensation–where we’re setting our base, where we’re setting our variable compensation, what areas that we want to incentivize as far as driving the business toward its future goals. That’s an important part of my day‑to‑day responsibilities.
ExecutiveBiz: What is your role when AMERICAN SYSTEMS closes acquisitions?
Chris Braccio: My team and I play a very active role in acquisitions for the organization. We’re involved at the table, in the analysis stage to review the personnel profiles of the staff coming on board, as well as their compensation levels, their benefits levels, their clearance levels, their areas of expertise, to see how that particular workforce would be complementary and an added value to our individuals that we have on board today.
Then, if the deal goes through, the human resources team is instrumental in the pre-close and post-close communication to individuals on how the acquisition will impact them. We’re all about taking care of the employees. We want them to feel comfortable with our vision of the future. If we have special programs for them or transition information, we’re on the ground doing joint communications with the seller and ourselves. The acquisition that we did just a little over a year ago had tremendously favorable employee feedback and retention. We extended formal offers to every single person that was being acquired and we had something like a 98 percent acceptance rate. It was great. The enthusiasm and the synergies between the two groups, which is what we’re looking for, also just couldn’t be better. We were, and still are, really delighted with the last acquisition.