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Miracles Don’t Happen By Accident!
Millwood’s Pillars & People Are the Key to Its Amazing Success

By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 10/1/2003

What many could have viewed as a low point in their career turned out to be a great blessing for Chip Trebilcock, the co-owner of Millwood Inc. in Girard, Ohio. From nothing, Chip and Steve Miller have built one of the largest pallet recycling companies in the country. This partnership made in heaven started when Chip lost his job in the family business, something many might find unthinkable.

            But what led to this amazing turn of events? It all started with a dead end. Chip spent two of his eighteen years working for Litco Intl, (the Trebilcock family business), in West Virginia. Litco was trying to build a high tech facility and to provide low cost pallet stock for the company’s plants. Two years later the sawmill operation was a flop despite the best efforts of Chip and others at the facility. Chip’s father, Corky Trebilcock, promoted his son for sticking in there by giving him a "cushy" sales job at the Litco headquarters.

            Chip’s love and passion had become working in the manufacturing side. He missed his connection with the people on the line. He heard stories about other managers at other plants not treating employees with the same level of care. Having a heart for the workers in the sawmill, Chip went to his dad with tears in his eyes. He asked for his father to do something. Chip wanted to be back in the manufacturing side; he longed to be with the men on the line again. According to Chip, Corky did what he always does when faced with a decision, he prayed.

            Corky spent a while praying about the situation, and he believed that God was leading him to make a tough decision. He believed that God wanted him to release Chip from the family business so that he could start a recycling operation on his own. One Sunday, they met at church and had lunch. And while they were talking, Corky shared the hard news with his son.

            Chip said, "My dad told me, ‘Son, as of today, you no longer have a job.’ That was a real step of faith." Corky gave his son a severance package and bought out his Litco shares. But now he had to get out of the nest and earn his own wings.

            Events turned in Chip’s favor as he pounded the streets looking for customers. He visited the local K-Mart DC and quickly won the business. Now, Chip had a huge supply of cores to move, and he approached an old friend, Steve Miller, who agreed to buy them.

            Steve and Chip had known each other for years. The connection between Steve and Litco dated back to 1987. When Steve first launched Millwood’s recycling operations, his first major deal included business with Litco.

            Steve started Millwood as a pallet manufacturing plant when he was nineteen and struggled for the first couple of years to make the business go. Seeing opportunities in pallet recycling, Steve focused his attention on this relatively new market. Steve jumped into pallet recycling at the right time as it began to boom, providing decent profits. He grew the business to more than $3 million in sales.

            Having grown up in the forest products industry, Steve had seen it all. From a tragic fire which destroyed his father’s sawmill in the early 1980s to the death of his older brother due to a log hauling accident, Steve knew the ups and downs of a family business. At times, he asked, "Where is God now?" But the steady influence of his devout Christian parents helped him see the good in every situation.

            After the fire, which wiped out the sawmill in fifteen minutes, Steve’s family did not have enough insurance money to rebuild. A few years later, Steve’s father and brother started a small portable sawmill business. Steve joined them for a short time before starting his pallet manufacturing operation.

            From 1993 to 1996, Steve sought ways to expand the business to the next level and could not seem to find the right fit. Then Chip came along with his K-mart core supply. The more Chip and Steve worked together the more they believed that God was calling them to become partners in a pallet recycling business. Chip said, "Our accountants and attorneys told us not to do it, but we felt God was calling us to become partners." As they worked together, they saw how much they had in common and shared the same vision. In 1996, Chip and Steve become partners in Millwood Inc. Today, Millwood operates facilities throughout the East Coast and Midwest with more than 700 employees.

            From the beginning, Chip and Steve realized that they had a responsibility to their employees, which they refer to as team members. Chip said, "Our team members were incomplete." Some lacked education, job skills or necessary provisions of life. Millwood management worked to meet employee needs, which made it easier for staff to accept the company’s culture and values. Chip said, "People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care."

            Millwood strives to "complete the whole person." Some managers think if they pay a living wage with good benefits they don’t have to be concerned about the emotional and spiritual well being of their employees. But Millwood believes the whole person – spirit, mind and body – should be a priority for company management.

            Millwood serves its employees by sponsoring camps for children of employees, offering counseling and intervention services, recognizing accomplishments through service awards, celebrating the birthdays of team members, and holding regular family activities for its workforce. Team members receive a newsletter updating them on the latest company news. The company also offers the typical benefits including profit sharing, health insurance and 401K plans.

            Millwood has a full-time chaplain on staff. He travels throughout the facilities to find needs and assist those in trouble. The company even sponsors expense-paid mission trips for employees to serve the poor and the homeless. This year Millwood is taking a team of people to serve widows and the poor in the Dominican Republic.

            Word quickly spread about Millwood’s unique approach and willingness to work with those who would never be considered for employment by other companies. Homeless people would show up on Millwood’s doorstep and say, "I hear that you help people." Millwood connected with a local rescue mission. The company provided jobs to those in need and even helped fund a learning center at the mission for teaching basic skills. The rescue mission would provide and help train workers while Millwood offered jobs for those looking to rebuild their lives.

            Millwood faces the same labor problems impacting other recyclers. Yet its management philosophy has enabled the company to develop talent from within and experience a higher than average employee retention rate.

            Chip said, "We can’t afford high turnover; we have to take what we can get and see if we can teach them what they need to know both mentally and spiritually to become a model employee." Like many pallet recyclers, Millwood hires a lot of people in tough spots including: ex-offenders, recovering addicts, immigrant workers, low skilled laborers, etc. Chip and Steve believe they have been given a divine call to improve the lives of these people in addition to just turning a profit.

            Wayne Moilanen, a forklift driver, in a Wisconsin Millwood plant told about how the company helped him as he recovered from colon surgery. A blood vessel burst in his colon; Wayne was close to death. The next day, the plant manager came and visited him in the hospital. The company paid Wayne for some of the days he missed while recovering.

            Just the fact that Wayne got a job working for Millwood highlights the unique hiring practices of the company. Wayne was 58 years old when Millwood hired him. Other companies never gave Wayne a chance. They claimed he was "overqualified." Beyond just his age, Wayne had a troubled past, which made him less desirable to some companies. "Millwood believes that the past is the past. They give everybody a second chance," said Wayne. "Thank God for the chance to work for this company."

            Not everyone has been appreciative of what Millwood has done. Chip said, "We have a lot of people that abuse us. But all of heaven rejoices when one sinner is saved. My job is not to judge."

            And sometimes you never know how persistence will pay off in the end. Millwood had one employee who struggled with substance abuse. The company fired and re-hired him several times as he kept getting on and off the wagon. This man even stole from the company. Yet Millwood kept giving him more chances. Eventually, something clicked in his life. The man has finally cleaned up for good, has worked for the company for five years without incident and has even become a deacon in his local church.

            Chip’s said, "If we don’t give this man another chance, who will?" As long as a person wants to change, Millwood seems willing to let them try.

            Steve added, "Yeah, we do have many failures, but the successes make the failures worthwhile. Size is not an excuse. We were doing these kind of things when we were small. No matter your size, you can always take care of your people."

            After some guys kept going through the revolving door, Chip started to have second thoughts. He asked himself if he was really doing what God wanted him to do. Then he read the following in the Bible, "Some plant, some harvest, but God gives the increase." Chip said, "My job was to plant. If I had not planted the seed then other people would not be able to reap the harvest later."

            Even for those who do not immediately respond, Chip pointed out that you never know how little seeds will lead to a changed life down the road. "I think  we make an impact in all of their lives," said Chip.

            While visiting different locations, Dave Martinez, the Millwood company chaplain, learns about a variety of needs and concerns within the plants. One day, he found out that a new hire was sleeping in his car parked in the company lot. The man had been a highly paid metal worker, but he lost his job. Millwood hired him for less pay than his previous job. Bad choices and debt had landed him in financial troubles. The plant manager and others from the plant called Chip wanting to know what they should do. Chip said, "I told him, ‘We don’t have a problem here; we have an opportunity.’"

            Millwood helped the man get a place to stay and provided for his basic needs. Various employees jumped in to help the man. When he was offered his old job back, he stayed at Millwood even though the old job paid more money.

            "Others see the rough in them, but I see the diamond in the rough.," said Dave Martinez. "I see so many of our people looking for the reality of a changed life."

            Dave does not go around to push religion; he seeks to share the love of Christ. Once Dave came upon a female employee who housed her daughter and grandchildren. She was struggling to just pay her basic bills. She asked, "Where’s God? I don’t even have groceries at home." Dave quickly met the practical need by purchasing groceries for the woman. He assisted her as she sought to get back on her feet.

            Given its size, Millwood can’t meet every need of its employees. Spiritual discernment is the key to knowing what to do according to Dave. "We can’t meet every need because the devil will use this as a trap to keep us from real ministry," said Dave. But generally, Chip always told Dave, "I would rather be abused than come across someone who had a real need that we did not meet."

            With hundreds of employees in numerous locations, Millwood has many employees who are not Christians. Steve stated that the company does not discriminate. But Millwood does disclose exactly what kind of company they are joining before they ever start working.

            New employees learn about the four Millwood pillars – TSDI: trust, servitude, discipleship and integrity. From posters to formal training, TSDI works its way from the top executives to the workers on the recycling lines. Due to the company’s size, the owners cannot know everybody by name. But the pillars help spread the culture and values throughout the company.

            The mission trips allow employees from the various plants to rub shoulders with company leaders and get to know them. "The mission trips help spread the word and built the culture we want to achieve," said Steve. Millwood pays the cost of the trip. But employees must be willing to donate their time or take vacation days.

            Reaching beyond just its employees, Millwood focuses on their families. It runs summer camps for employees’ children. The company pays the cost. Camp Millwood offers horseback riding, swimming, bb range, fun and games, and food. Each child receives free T-shirts so that nobody feels awkward about clothes. Millwood provides bus transportation so that every kid who wants to go can attend. Millwood staff puts on a (non-mandatory) program in the evenings with music and former pro athlete speakers. These programs focus on teaching the kids virtues and how they can have a better relationship with God, friends and family.

            Chip said, "A majority of peoples’ problems stem from childhood. We decided that we have to impact the kids at an early age." Eighty-five kids came to Millwood’s summer camp last year, and 75 of them made a decision to follow God.

            Not wanting to leave the kids feeling abandoned, Millwood follows up with them after camp through a newsletter called the Millwood Mustard Seed. Kids can write to "Overlook The Owl" for advice on how to deal with peer pressure, bullies, loneliness, etc.

            Millwood’s next plan, including a Web site for Millwood kids, takes the idea of follow-up even further. Besides the camps, Millwood celebrates family with activities for employees at each location. The company will sponsor a family bowling night or rent out a local YMCA.

            Continual training throughout the various levels of the company has allowed Millwood to develop its managers mostly from within. Almost every one of Millwood’s plant managers is home grown. Using internal managers familiar with the corporate culture makes it easier to bring a new facility online in the way the owners desire.

            Currently, all upper level employees are going through the SIR (Significance, Integrity and Respect) training, which uses Biblical concepts to help managers learn how to recognize the value of all employees and foster teamwork. Steve said, "We are all growing together." Training on the pillars starts before anybody goes to work for the company.

            As the company continues to evolve, Steve has turned his focus to uncovering new business while Chip concentrates on managing the company operations and keeping current customers happy.

            Both Chip and Steve are following in their fathers’ footsteps. Their fathers are Christian businessmen who were known for taking care of their employees. Chip and Steve believe they have received a divine call to do even more than their fathers did. They believe they are forerunners to bring the Church beyond its walls and to the people. One of Chip’s goals is to have the highest customer and team member retention rate in the industry.

            Due to shifting customer demand, Millwood had to shut down one plant and open a new one in another part of the country. Steve said, "We had a lot of team members who were willing to move just to stay with the company. And I’m not just talking about managers. We had guys on the line relocate."

            When asked what’s next, Chip and Steve had an answer. Millwood is partnering with a minister to develop safe houses near every plant. Currently, the first safe house is operating near the company’s Girard, Ohio facility. Millwood plans to open a safe house near another Ohio facility very soon.

            Anywhere from 30-100 kids visit the safe house every night. Open to the public, the safe house provides a safe place for kids to go after school. Kids can play games or work on homework. Millwood has provided financial and prayer support to develop the safe house ministry and plans to setup a program in the near future to encourage its staff to volunteer as adult counselors. Kids also learn about God and sound moral teaching through regular services and activities at the safe house.

            Chip said, "The safe house is a way for our people to give back what has been given to them. In order for us to grow, we have to find a way to give to others. If you want more of God, you have to give more of yourself."

            Giving and caring seems to be the key to Millwood’s success. Although the company is in the pallet recycling business to make money, in the process it has left a lasting legacy. By establishing a new way to do business, Millwood blazes a trail of change for other companies to follow.


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