The Kindness Culture

The Kindness Culture

Three things: A Quick thought – A Story – A Kindness Culture

A Quick Thought:

We all talk about getting our customers to like and trust us. It all starts with genuinely treating people with kindness because it’s the right thing to do. Believe it or not, sometimes kindness is not a given. To some, it comes naturally all the time. It is part of their being. To others, it depends on what mood they are in. And some even need to be trained that it is the right thing to do.

A Story:

Michelle Hogan from our team shared this true story with me recently, from Kinder Brothers International, that I believe illustrates why it is important to act on kindness, as well as show your gratitude and appreciation when you receive it.

In the fall of 1860, the steamship “Lady Elgin” set out with a total of 393 passengers and crew members to make the trip from Chicago to Milwaukee. Just off the shore of Evanston, she was rammed by a lumber schooner and sank. As a result, 279 of the passengers and crew members died. Of those saved, 17 of them were saved by a student at Northwestern University, Edward W. Spence. He made 16 trips all from the shore to the sinking ship and back again, saving the 17 lives.

Because of physical exertion and the coldness of the water, Spence was in shock at the end of the 16th trip. It was reported that as they carried him to the hospital, he kept asking the question, “Did I do my best?” As a result of the incident, Edward Spence spent the remainder of his life as an invalid in a wheelchair.

Fifty years later, Northwestern granted him a Bachelor of Arts degree, not because he finished the classwork – he didn’t. He was awarded the degree because they decided he deserved it. It was at that time the plaque commemorating his heroism was placed on the wall of the old Coast Guard Station at the southeast corner of the campus. It hangs there today.

When he was 80 years old, Edward Spence was interviewed by Chicago newspaper reporters. They asked him, “What is your most vivid memory of that tragic fall day when the “Lady Elgin” went down off the coast of Evanston?” Mr. Spence’s answer was, “The fact that not one of the 17 people whose lives I saved ever came back to say thank you — not one.”

Amazing! Expressions of kindness, and in this case in a heroic way, should never go unappreciated. I’m sure that Mr. Spence wasn’t thinking of the victims thanking him during this heroic act, yet years later, that’s what bothered him.

This story reminded me of my friends at GEM Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing in Providence, RI. They have built a company culture around kindness, without the expectation of something in return. The difference in comparing their story to the one that Mr. Spence had experienced is that their Random Acts of Kindness® have paid unexpected dividends.     

A Kindness Culture:

I met the GEM Boys, Lenny, Eddie, Larry, and Anthony, owners of GEM Heating, Cooling, and Plumbing, several years ago, and I was always impressed by their passion for their business, their community, and growing their company through good will. I recently caught up with Larry Gemma, who, with passion and excitement, detailed his kindness culture.

Larry relates that their employees are all trained on a culture of helping others, not to expect anything in return, but because it’s the right thing to do. Surprisingly, he said that not everyone hired is comfortable with this culture. It takes about a year for a new hire to internalize this to become second nature. “It is embedded in our culture to the point where they eventually don’t even think about it. It just is what they do!”

It all started with their Random Act of Kindness® Card. Their techs and other employees are expected to help others that they observe in their travels that need help or assistance in some way. Then they hand them a Random Acts of Kindness® Card. They are trained to stop what they are doing when they see someone in need, and they don’t need to request permission to do so.


This has evolved into a company culture of kindness, so much so that Larry heads a division in their company that is entirely dedicated to this cause. GEM has too many outreach and good will programs to detail in this article, but here are some of the highlights of the community programs that they have started or are involved in:

  • GEM is a huge supporter of the Special Olympic
  • Founding Sponsor of the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation
    • Gemma’s mother died from breast cancer
    • They started this foundation to help with the emotional aspect of cancer
    • Works with both men and women
  • Flames of Hope Foundation:
    • They were the first to have the RI statehouse light up in pink
      • This is their main fundraiser for the year with over 100,000 people attending
      • This fundraiser and event started small and has grown into their largest event of the year for the community

  • McAuley House – They help underprivileged kids
  • YMCA – they fundraise to send kids to camp
  • Heat for Heroes
    • Just started this year
    • People nominate a vet to receive a new furnace
  • They also hire veterans and help them with applications for their company and other careers outside their industry as well

All these programs and more, along with the Random Acts of Kindness® culture, have made GEM a beacon in the community and the dominant go-to company for install and service in their markets.

I’d like to close with one more interesting story and unexpected benefit that GEM had experienced through building this culture.

Years ago, the GEM Boys and their team were in a marketing meeting discussing getting a catchy company phone number that would be easy for their community to remember. Half-jokingly and half-serious, someone exclaimed, “how about 867-5309!”, the 1981 – 867-5309/Jenny Tommy Tutone hit. (I know you are singing the song in your head right now.) So, they decided to go on a search to see who owned the rights to it. Coincidentally, it was owned by Brown University in Providence, RI. They made a call there to see if they could purchase the rights to the number. The person they spoke with at Brown University said that they never give up their phone numbers. GEM pressed further and found the person in charge of the phone numbers and basically received the same response, but during the conversation, this person recalled that GEM was heavily involved in promoting the Special Olympics. This person was closely involved in the Special Olympics as well and ended up giving the number to GEM, who now use it as their phone number and own the rights to it!

You never know where kindness and good will lead to, but there is no downside.

Thank you, Larry, for your time and for allowing me to share your story.

Creating a Culture of Kindness within your company will have an exponential positive impact on your company and the community. Start small, think big, and help spread acts of genuine kindness in your community. Maybe together, we can make this contagious and spread this much-needed kindness around the world!


Steve Mores is the Vice President of Training and Sales at Dynamic Air Quality Solutions

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