The front lawn of Mill Steel was filled with people last Thursday afternoon: employees tossing bean bags in a leisurely game of cornhole or lavishing affection on dogs Henry and Helga that scampered about as teams played or cheered the competition.

The day was just too beautiful to spend inside, the employees said, so it was time to have a tournament of 16 teams to see who would be crowned cornhole champions of Mill Steel -- all the while on the company’s clock.

Rather than scowling at the scofflaws, Mill Steel CEO David Samrick egged them on. After all, he encouraged this session of hooky, as well as Bring-Your-Dog-To-Work holidays. Sporting steel plate glasses befitting his industry and braided black leather suspenders, Samrick said the activity was good for the employees, good for business and good for the local community. The employees paid $10 per team to raise money for Operation Injured Soldiers. Other charities include the Big Brothers Big Sisters program at D.A. Blodgett-St. John's, Marketing Manager Amanda Allspach said. 

Anyone who is skeptical about the dollars-and-cents benefits of using what may be unorthodox ways to builds teams -- and the true value of internships -- owes it to himself or herself to chat with Samrick. Mill Steel is a leading supplier of flat rolled carbon steel. 

“You can see how young we are,” said Samrick, 72. “They really don’t follow the normal 8-to-5 routine. They work until they accomplish what they need to do. So we’ve got to be flexible and give them a fun place to work.”

Samrick is practical about ideas such as allowing employees to bring their dogs to work: the dogs can’t disrupt operations, create a mess or get into mischief with other dogs. Mill Steel hosts regular get-togethers at its other operations in Detroit; Anderson, Ind.; Jeffersonville, Ind.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Laredo, Texas to transplant some of the family feel from its Grand Rapids headquarters. “We really want to be a family company, so what does a family do together? Eat!” he said. “We bring in meals on a regular basis for employees.”

Mill Steel has forged strong ties with Grand Valley State University by offering internships, and the relationship shows. When Samrick asks the cornhole teams how many attended GVSU, play had to pause with so many arms in the air. The company encourages its other operations to form similar ties with local colleges.

But with all the touchy-feely talk about building relationships, Samrick turns hard-nosed when it comes to competition. “There will be one winner of the cornhole tournament -- we don’t give participation awards,” he says with a smile. “When it comes to competition at Mill Steel, you win or lose.”