A great place to work is good, but a great place to work in Hawaii must be (really) great.

One architectural and engineering firm, Bowers + Kubota, has earned that extra sugary title more than once. Hawaii Business magazine named Bowers + Kubota its best medium-sized place to work for in 2012 – not the first time B+K has appeared on that list. In addition, the company has been named the best firm to work for nationwide by CE News, a civil engineering and land survey magazine.

So what makes the company so special? We spoke with principal and vice president Dexter Kubota about free health care, retirement plans with succession implications and the Hawaiian word for family.

EBN: What do you think it is that sets you apart?

Kubota: It starts with our culture that we’ve nurtured and developed. We have a kind of family here with 120 staff members. You know, a lot of firms say that they treat themselves as family, but we really walk the talk there. Family and what we call ‘ohana’ – a Hawaiian word for family – is actually one of our core values in our strategic plan. It’s one of the values we live by. The others are quality, taking care in the level of our work; teamwork, working together as a unit; Ohana; integrity and wellness – those are the five core values of our company. And in our culture we try to create a safe and challenging work environment that is conducive to growth for each individual employee. You have to take care of your own people before you can take care of customers and consumers.

EBN: Those philosophies – how do you get that integrated at the very ground level?

Kubota: This family-oriented culture that we have, that’s what, I think, really makes us unique and different, and I think that’s what I would like to expand on because it really talks to our staff and really the quality of people that we have.

Benefits, as you know, is so important to employees – in many cases, more so than salary. And probably the most costly benefit to any firm is medical, and we have been providing and covering 100% of medical, dental and optical for not only the employees but for their families, so they don’t pay a dime for medical or health insurance.

EBN: I’m sure a lot of employers would love to do that; they would just wonder how they could afford it.

Kubota: Right, exactly. How do we afford it? That is a good question. But the reason why we continue to do this, again, is that we’re a family culture. So we’re not only taking care of the employee, we’re taking care of the family. And it is an expense for us, but what we started to do five years ago, we looked at it and we said, ‘what we need to do as an employer is make better choices at taking care of our health.’ I think what happens now in our society is that people tend just to do what they want, eat what they want when they want, and then when something goes wrong they just go to the doctor and get a pill or a shot or a treatment, instead of thinking preventive.

Pick up the October EBN to read more of our interview with Dexter Kubota.

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