Thought Leadership

Employees first at AK Material Handling Systems

AK Material Handling Systems, one of Minnesota Business magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, knows the importance of making staff feel like family. The Maple Grove-based equipment supplier has a history of putting employees at the forefront of its operations for the past 30 years. And the company walks the walk: One quick scroll through its Facebook page features seemingly endless posts extolling employee achievements.

The sense of camaraderie goes beyond social media. One survey respondent called AK Material Handling Systems “a true family,” noting that when they were first interviewed they were “taken around and introduced to the team right away. Josh [director of operations and sales] knew something personal about everyone, and it just made me sure that this was the sort of place I wanted to work at and be a part of.”

Another employee reiterated the company’s exceptional corporate environment saying, “AK encourages working hard while still maintaining a fun ‘family’ atmosphere” and that there were “too many stories to tell” about their positive experiences.

Giving back
AK Material Handling Systems employees care for more than just each other. One of the company’s core beliefs is that “part of [its] duty as a local business and as members of the community is to give back to those who need help,” according to one survey respondent.

In order to turn that belief into action, The Give Back Crew (GBC), an employee nonprofit, was born. Since 2011, GBC has helped “neighbors locally and abroad who lack necessities, such as food, housing, and furniture,” according to a description on their website. Organizations GBC has worked with include Matter, Feed My Starving Children, Second Harvest Heartland and Bridging. In 2014, the group became an officially registered 501(c)(3).

I am really proud that the company I work for has created the Give Back Crew, and it’s run by the employees, and it focuses on giving back to the community. It’s so rewarding and makes me feel great coming to work each day,” said an employee in the survey.

So far this year, the Give Back Crew has packed 7,406 meals for Second Harvest Heartland, raced mattresses down Buck Hill for the 20th annual Bedrace for Bridging and participated in the March for Babies and Relay for Life with their team in Pennsylvania. They have plans to take part in the Walk for Alzheimer’s in September and hope to donate their time to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity as well.


Celebrate good times

Another pillar of AK Material Handling Systems is an emphasis on having fun and celebrating each other in order to help the company stand out from the pack. No birthday, special holiday (#NationalPizzaDay, anyone?) or opportunity to recognize stellar employees goes forgotten. The company even has its own internal award for the Outstanding Employee of the Month. But it doesn’t stop there: “We are rewarded with gift cards for winning team challenges and we celebrate every big transaction by a salesperson with an all-office ‘YEAH BUDDY,’” one employee shared.

Furthermore, employee survey respondents gave AK Material Handling Systems high marks when it came to work environment, with “employee-sponsored lunches throughout December” being another celebratory perk to bring coworkers together over the holiday season.

Empowerment through communication

AK Material Handling Systems aims to create an environment where opinions are encouraged. And it appears as if its accomplished its mission: Across the board, the company scored high marks in the 100 Best survey results when it came to communicating. “The open communication we have allows for employees to step up and take on more roles,” said one employee.

Another employee provided an especially poignant example of what this looks like within the company, writing:

“I participated in the selection of our group's health benefit package for the upcoming year. I was able to be the voice for our teams in Minnesota and Pennsylvania and took an active role in selecting the plan’s features. We were able to offer a more robust benefit package and greater access to health care providers of choice. AK encourages the team to use their voice, participate in critical decisions and share accountability.”

What’s next?

The last 30 years have been phenomenal for AK Material Handling Systems. Not only has it been on Minnesota Business magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For for the last seven years, but MHEDA (Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association) also recognized the business as an MVP company every year from 2011 to 2017.

When asked what would make AK Material Handling Systems a better workplace, employees responded with a resounding “nothing.” “I feel the company has and will continue to create a safe, fun and productive workplace for its employees. I wouldn't change a thing,” said one enthusiastic respondent. “Every time I suggest something we do it. Not sure it can be [a better workplace],” said another.

Employee responses were especially positive about the future, with one writing: “I am very excited to watch the growth of our company. As we add more staff, we look forward to onboarding individuals who will bring their unique experience and valuable skills.”