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Charlottesville-based Crutchfield says the secret to 50 years of success is 'civility'

Employees, executives and their families had only the highest praise for Crutchfield Corporation at the company’s 50th anniversary celebration Wednesday afternoon — and not because the boss had covered the cost for all of the food trucks at the event.

“It doesn’t seem real that it could be this good a place to work,” Crutchfield training manager Adam “J.R.” Stoffel told The Daily Progress.

The Charlottesville-based electronics retailer, which posted $436 million in sales last year, turned 50 in February, debt free and with its founder and sole stockholder Bill Crutchfield still at the helm. Roughly 400 Crutchfield employees with their families and — in true Crutchfield fashion — dogs came out to the celebrate the milestone outside of the company’s call center near the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport. Dogs are a common sight in Crutchfield offices if employees cannot leave them at home.

Crutchfield, known for his frugal business approach, loosened the purse strings for his company’s golden anniversary. Eight food trucks were parked near a massive canopy allowing people to grab some Filipino noodles from Little Manila, a Jäger Schnitzel from the Bavarian Chef or a cup of cake from Sliced Cake Bar before relaxing with colleagues in the shade. A band composed entirely of Crutchfield employees, all of whom have been playing in the Charlottesville area for decades, covered Grateful Dead hits.

“Bill tries to do these things on a very low-key basis,” Chris Lilley, the company’s chief human resource officer, told The Daily Progress. “He’s run the business frugally for years, so this is a big spend for us, and it’s so worth it. He’s enthusiastic about having folks come out.”

Crutchfield has built a culture at his company based on five key tenets: exceed customers’ expectations, value each and every coworker, respect business partners, maintain a passion for excellence and promote a culture of innovation. And people like Lilley, who could point to random passersby and recall each of their names and personal histories, are a clear sign that employees take those tenets seriously.

Crutchfield places an emphasis on hiring from within, Lilley said, so a majority of those now serving in the C-suite started out in entry-level positions in the call centers or distribution department.

This was true of Lilley, who started out answering phones on March 1, 1994. After moving up through the ranks over the years, Crutchfield eventually approached him about taking charge of the human resources department. Lilley admitted his initial reaction was full of hesitation and doubt, until his CEO said something to convince him, words Lilley carries with him to this day.

“He said, ‘It’s really simple, Chris, you have one objective: It’s to maintain and evolve the culture and to take care of the people here,’” said Lilley. “Then he said, ‘We have 400 families that we’re responsible for, that’s my legacy here, we take care of the people that we work for, because it takes care of our community and they can take care of their families.’”

On that theme, Crutchfield refused to take all of the credit for the company’s prosperity at 50 years.

“The main reason for our extremely unique success is due to you, our wonderful employees,” said Crutchfield to his company at the anniversary celebration. “Crutchfield would not exist today were it not for your efforts and hard work.”

He set aside time to give people a chance to throw some questions at him, “as we do with all these events.” His employees asked for his insight on running a business, the role artificial intelligence might come to play in the corporation — “it is going to be an important part of our future” — and what the next half-century holds.

“We want to keep growing, we want to keep serving our customers, we want to keep being a great community citizen,” Crutchfield answered. “It’s the same path we’ve been on for 50 years. I may be around to see it, I will try. I’ll be 131 when we’re 100 years old.”

Crutchfield was not the only one who addressed employees at Wednesday’s festivities. Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who’s represented the Charlottesville area in Richmond for decades now, stopped by the event to present the CEO with a resolution honoring his “stellar success” from the General Assembly.

“It’s a resolution commending Bill Crutchfield and Crutchfield Corporation for fifty years of life, fifty years of employment, fifty years of vitality for this community and for this commonwealth,” said the Democratic senator. “From my perspective, you all are a part of a unique experience in this world. How many people do one thing for fifty years and do it so well that they grow and grow and grow? That’s on you.”

The resolution received approval from both sides of the aisle, calling attention to the humble origins of Crutchfield Corporation, which Crutchfield launched in his mother’s garage; Crutchfield’s service in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War; as well as his contributions to the commonwealth’s economy, specifically regarding the call center he constructed in Wise County.

Back in February, Crutchfield told The Daily Progress the call center in the far reaches of Southwest Virginia is one of his proudest accomplishments. The branch was able to bring the unemployment rate in Norton, a city of 3,600 people today, from 23% down to 8%.

However, Crutchfield, not one to rest on his laurels, is now looking to extend Crutchfield Corporation’s influence beyond the business realm. After receiving his framed copy of the General Assembly’s resolution from Deeds, Crutchfield took to the podium once again. This time to unveil a personal project he’d been developing, one he had presented to Gov. Glenn Youngkin at a dinner near Keswick the night before.

Crutchfield proudly displayed a sign in the same style as the state’s iconic “Virginia is for lovers” catchphrase. Instead, he’d altered it to read: “Virginia is for civility.”

“Part of Crutchfield’s success is our civil behavior, we have a set of core values that we’ve instilled in our organization,” said Crutchfield. “Much more can be accomplished when people work together in a civil way.”

Crutchfield told The Daily Progress after his announcement that he was “very concerned” by the recent decline in respect that he sees having infiltrated not only the country’s political environment, but business and academic institutions as well. His remedy: the Crutchfield philosophy.

“I would love to see our culture inculcated in greater society,” said Crutchfield, who also mentioned that Youngkin “totally agreed” with the new concept and took a copy to put on his desk in Richmond.

Despite already having a campaign slogan primed, Crutchfield laughed off any questions about dipping his toe in the turbulent waters of politics, saying he just plans to advocate for “a more civil society.”

“All rational people agree that we do more right if we’re civil and polite. It’s the way politics used to be run,” Crutchfield said.

Wednesday’s celebration was the first time the company’s workforce caught wind of Crutchfield’s newest catchphrase, including Stoffel, who thought it was “awesome.”

“It’s taking what I love about Crutchfield and applying it to just life in general, that’s wonderful,” he said. “We would all be so much better off if everybody lived like we live internally here at Crutchfield.”


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