Maui Jim: The Aloha Culture

Secrets of the Great Workplace
by Jonathan Wright
Photos by Kelli Drake

In the early 1980s, a small company began selling sunglasses on the beaches of Maui, Hawaii. Upon discovering that these sunglasses did not provide adequate protection from the tropical sun, they set out to develop their own. The result? No glare, beautiful colors and a brand-new company: Maui Jim Sunglasses.

After a series of partnerships and acquisitions, Maui Jim, Inc. was established in Peoria, the home of its former mainland distributor, in 1996. From its original line of seven styles, the current collection includes over 275 products, while the company has expanded into a dozen countries around the world. What’s perhaps most striking about Maui Jim is not its product—almost universally regarded as the finest in the industry—but its freewheeling company culture.

Living the Life Aloha!
The “Aloha Spirit” is the backbone of Maui Jim, permeating all aspects of the business. More than a salutation, “Aloha” signifies a mutual warmth and affection extended to all. It begins at the top with owner/CEO Walter Hester and trickles down to each employee—facilitating a workplace in which morale is high, turnover is low, and fun and business go hand in hand.

“From the first time I stepped through the doors, I felt like I was part of the ‘ohana (family),” says Abby Bailey, social digital service rep. “Maui Jim has a culture like no other company I have ever experienced.” From its casual dress code to its many unique amenities, that culture has created an environment well suited for creativity—it’s no wonder Maui Jim was voted “Best Company for Young Professionals” in the 2017 Best of Peoria competition.

The firm’s “Aloha Casual” dress code is probably the most noticeable departure from the average workplace. Prior to joining Maui Jim, Amy Chatterton, senior director of business systems, worked for a large public accounting firm—her closet was full of suits and “Friday” business-casual attire. “It took a bit of time to convert my closet from suits to shorts and flip flops,” she laughs.

“It’s not uncommon to see shorts and flip flops worn every day, even throughout the winter,” adds Sam Berkes, senior graphic designer. “We have fun around here, and try not to take ourselves too seriously. Hard work and dedication to our goals is certainly expected of all of us, but we are not micromanaged.”

So long as their customers are well cared for, Maui Jim employees can perform their duties as they see fit—and when the work gets stressful, the company’s relaxed approach shines through. “My boss is the first one to calm tensions by saying, ‘There is no such thing as a sunglass emergency,’” Berkes notes. “We may not all be in Maui, but we respect the ‘Hawaiian time’ mentality as much as possible.”

Work Hard, Play Hard
Prominent among the employee amenities at Maui Jim is the Maui Gym—an onsite gym complete with personal trainers, a nutritionist and fitness classes—accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “I’ve never worked for a company that offered a gym right on site,” Bailey notes. “It’s fun and a very therapeutic option that most companies don’t offer.” Beautiful, well-maintained landscaping surrounds the building—making Peoria look downright tropical in the spring and summer—and with two patios and a walking trail, it’s easy to get out and enjoy the weather. Inside, a pair of kitchens keep employees charged with free coffee, fountain sodas and an assortment of food and snacks for eating on the go. “Everyone knows the best work is done on a full stomach,” Bailey explains.

During the summer, lunches are catered by a different establishment once a week—and in the winter when it snows, employees may find pizzas already ordered for them, keeping them off dangerous roadways. “It’s little things like this,” says Berkes, “that really show the dedication to the people who work here.”

But Maui Jim may be best known for its year-round get-togethers—a way to show appreciation to its employees, courtesy of a dedicated Human Resources department. “They plan so many amazing parties, impromptu ice cream truck/food truck visits, Super Bowl parties, contests between departments, bags tournaments, etc.,” Berkes explains. “We have a summer luau, a holiday party and a bonus day party where employees are rewarded… with a short workday [and] a bonus check.”

In addition, time off over the holidays allows employees to spend quality time with their own families. “‘Ohana is a true focus here,” says Bailey, “and I’m very thankful to be a part of that.”

Good Fortune & Opportunities
The best part about working at Maui Jim? “Opportunities, opportunities and more opportunities!” declares Amy Chatterton. She was the company’s first expatriate, serving as Director of Dubai Operations before returning to Peoria to co-lead a global software implementation project. “Maui Jim’s continued growth has opened doors to many employees for internal growth opportunities and advancement. It has been an amazing journey for which I will forever be grateful.” “I love the trust and faith that our company has in every employee,” Bailey adds. “Working at Maui Jim is such a confidence booster. You’re never criticized, only guided. It’s refreshing to know your peers and superiors alike want to see you succeed.”

Worldwide success, a product everyone can believe in, and an unparalleled company culture… Maui Jim would seem to have it all. “I feel like I’m a member of a huge family, rather than just a cog in a machine,” Berkes finishes. “I also feel incredibly lucky to work for a company that produces such an amazing product.” iBi

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