Ken Pohlman appreciates old-fashioned communication: He still walks department to department and personally passes out paychecks to his employees.
But the co-founder of what has become one of the nation's largest soil testing labs also recognizes the value of staying on top of cutting-edge technology. And he gets a kick out of the element of surprise.
So Thursday, CEO Pohlman and his executive team at Midwest Laboratories Inc. carried out a little scheme in which they called their workforce from seven area buildings to an unexpected meeting most figured was an obligatory update on insurance.
Instead of dry policy details, though, each of the 130 employees got the latest version of the iPad.
“Awesome,” said Blaine Debor as cheers filled the cafeteria of the Midwest headquarters at 13611 B St.
Debor said she'd been wanting a tablet to handle her workload more efficiently and was thrilled to hear she was encouraged to take it home for personal use, too.
Mark Warner, who works in production, said he didn't really know his way around an iPad but would be a quick study.
“Definitely excited about learning something new,” said the 30-year-old father of one. He said the device also will help him and his wife run the family farm near Arlington, Neb.
The underlying goal of the program, “An iPad for an Idea,” is to encourage thoughts that will help Midwest remain a leader in analytical testing, said Brent Pohlman, marketing director. He said the initiative builds on a long tradition of innovation that allowed the company to grow into a state-of-the-art commercial laboratory since its founding in 1975.
Midwest's Omaha campus contains more than 80,000 square feet of lab and support space. It serves clients across the nation by analyzing soil for farmers, food for nutrition content, fuels for chemical makeup and other substances.
A handout to be given to all employees lays out other expectations for the iPad program, including a request to submit ideas aimed at raising efficiency in respective departments or the company. Midwest plans to implement some of the initiatives each year.
“To truly harness technology in the workplace, we want employees who embrace it every day,” Brent Pohlman said.
Even before employees knew they'd each receive an iPad, they were brimming with ideas on how the tablet could improve work performance.
In a tease before the surprise announcement, chief administration officer John DeBoer waved around an iPad and said it would go to the person with the best suggestion on how it could help his or her department. Hands flew up. One man said an iPad would speed up data collection since it could be taken into heated “incubators” where materials are analyzed. Currently he handwrites results and then plugs them into a desk computer.
Once informed they'd each get a tablet, the cafeteria erupted with claps and chatter.
Several said they might have been frightened at the hastily called meeting had they not had a similar happy-ending situation three years ago. In 2009, Midwest owners gave each employee a $1,000 bonus with instructions to use it to help the economy.
DeBoer said the company has been fortunate, being debt-free and enjoying record sales in the last two months. A good health record, he said, also allows company premiums for benefit programs to remain the same in the coming year.
Ken Pohlman said it felt good to motivate the troops, the bulk of whom he said were young and likely paying off student loan debts or getting families started.
“I want this to be a fun place to come to every day,” he told them. “There's enough negative stuff out there, let's emphasize the good.”
Contact the writer: