Culture and Big Star


By mEnterprise Solutions

You probably don’t spend much time thinking about the culture of your company or organization.  While it may not be at the forefront of your thinking your culture determines much about how you conduct business, treat customers, react to competition and if you do or don’t take advantage of new opportunities.

What exactly is culture?  Visually, form a mental image of an iceberg as it serves as a useful metaphor for describing what culture is.  There is a portion of the iceberg that rises above the surface of the water that we can see and a much larger portion that resides below the surface that is out of sight.  The visible portion of the iceberg contains the structure of your company including everything from your actual building or facility, the artwork on the walls, awards displayed, how people dress, the various processes you use and technology that facilitates work.  All of these items mentioned are tangible reflections of the culture that has been created to execute your business.  These are the mechanisms that have developed over time and represent the levers to get work done.

Below the surface is where the heart and soul of culture dwells.  Down here is where the beliefs about the business reside.   It is made up of the attitudes of your employees in how they feel about the business and contains the stories that are told by employees to each other and to those on the outside.  This area also contains myths that have developed overtime about the business.  By myths it is implied that they may be true or not but in the minds of the employees they are most likely real and then are manifested in the behaviors and attitudes that are displayed and the stories that are told.

The real power of culture then resides below the surface.  Numerous studies have demonstrated that many initiatives from new product launches, M&A’s, technology implementations and new strategies are undermined because in the planning the company’s culture was never taken into account.  We’ve all heard of companies under stress that have developed a toxic environment (culture).  We know they’ve become toxic because it is reflected in the stories being told, the beliefs about the company and in the attitudes and behaviors of the employees.

So what local companies come to mind that have developed strong culture that has translated into success.  One that may not readily leap to the forefront is one that has had spectacular lasting power – Big Star Drive In located on West Main St.

Big Star has been in continuous operation since 1949 which is an enviable run for any business.  The owners and managers over time have developed a culture that has sustained the business through any number of challenges that have occurred over the years.

Visually and structurally Big Star harkens back to an earlier era.  If you’re old enough you are reminded of the 1950s and ‘60s when you could find many similar drive-ins across the country.  What is also striking is the courtesy and friendliness of the employees.  Amazingly, year after year even though the employees themselves change the level of service remains at a very high standard.  You’re almost always greeted by a smiling, eager individual wanting to serve you.  How has this happened?

According to Big Star manager, Pete Hambos, he only hires employees who have never held a previous job.  Mr. Hambos wants this to be the first place a prospective employee has ever worked so he can train them in the manner and style he wants.  “I don’t want to retrain bad habits that may have been picked up by working somewhere else,” says Mr. Hambos.  While this strategy is not a luxury that many other businesses could use, for Big Star it works and it works well.

Every day the young employees are sent out from the working side of the window to the ordering side so that they can see what it looks like form the customer’s perspective.  It’s a daily reminder that they are creating an experience for the customer and to be mindful to make it the best experience possible.

During the interview with Mr. Hambos he stated one of the fundamental beliefs about the business; “We are committed to the long term.”  This was not said just once but four times during the course of the interview.  This belief that is so ingrained is then reflected in virtually every aspect of how the business is run and how decisions are made.

An example of this long term commitment can be seen in the fact that although supplies and other costs have increased prices of Big Star’s various products have not been raised in four years.  Big Star’s brand depends on the loyalty of its customer base and during the recent difficult economic times the company felt it important to provide value by consistency in pricing.  “We don’t skimp on any of our ingredients although there might be less expensive alternatives”, said Mr. Hambos.  “We are committed to providing the very best quality that we can to keep our customers coming back.”  “We want the kids we serve today to someday bring their children in to make it their special place.”

The culture of Big Star is a primary factor in its ongoing success.  Consider the competition that the business has faced over the years and it is apparent that more than luck has been at work in keeping the business going.

Every company develops its own unique culture that can either assist in fulfilling its mission or serve to hold it back.  Because of all the elements that go into culture it is impossible to adopt another company’s although it is possible to adopt certain elements.  Culture is powerful and it is worth reflecting on what is in your culture that you may need to adjust or begin to implement.  If you’re wondering how you begin to do so, just listen to the stories that are told about your business by employees, customers and other folks.

Big Star Drive In was established in 1948 in Stroudsburg, making it one of the Pennsylvania’s original Drive-In Restaurants complete with car hops on roller skates. While the carhop service is no more, there is a great sitting area next to the original building and the quality of the ice cream, food and service is still the best. For more information, call 570.421.0547 or go to:

mES (mEnterprise Solutions, LLC) is strategic consultancy specializing in the transformation of businesses and organizations by effectively managing their continual change. In photo from top center (clockwise) are mES professionals Carole Ann Bowyer, Denise Burdge, Tom Rhiel, and Marianne Chester. To contact mES e-mail or call (570) 460-9599.