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At a big company with 19 locations and more than 1,500 workers, it would be easy for employees to be disconnected from upper management and feel voiceless about the direction of the company.

But according to West Herr employees, that’s not the case at the state’s largest automotive group.

“It’s a large corporation with a small-company feel,” said Beth Hollis, a 13-year employee and general manager at one of the group’s dealerships. “You’re recognized, appreciated and given opportunities to grow.”

While thriving as an industry behemoth, the automotive group has been able to engage workers – from entry-level to higher-ranked employees – by encouraging their input on business strategy, making managers accessible, offering an incentive-base pay, plus recognition and rewards.

“You’re so much more than a number; we have a voice and we’re listened to,” Hollis said. “You feel like you’re a part of the company.”

That appreciation, along with the automotive group’s policy of paying people even when locations are closed due to inclement weather and an all-company-paid family picnic at the Fairgrounds, helped make West Herr the No. 1 workplace among large companies in Western New York.

Scott Bieler, president of the automotive group, attends funerals of employees’ relatives and approves time off for personal matters and family emergencies, but he takes no credit in the company’s top ranking.

“West Herr the company did not win this recognition; our employees collectively have made West Herr a top workplace,” he said.

The company, established in 1950, was the 24th-largest automotive group in the nation in 2013, as measured by total new retail units sold, according to Automotive News.

West Herr has locations in Erie, Niagara and Monroe counties, representing 21 franchises. It sells more than 37,000 new and used vehicles each year, and group revenue for all departments last year was $1.2 billion. The group was recognized as one of the “Best Dealerships to Work For” by Automotive News in 2012.

In the Top Workplaces survey, West Herr employees touted the company’s supportive work environment, where managers are not cooped up in offices, but on the floor with workers, and described it as family-oriented, with flexible scheduling.

“The owners are all incredible people, they are all very approachable and will listen to any concern you might have,” an employee commented on the survey. “They go out of their way to make us feel appreciated and thank us for our efforts.”

Another employee wrote: “I love my job because my co-workers and managers were extremely friendly and accepting from the second I started working here. I have only been here about four months and I already feel like I am part of the West Herr family. They are understanding of family situations and actually care about your family life.”

Bieler said employee satisfaction is at the heart of the group’s operations. While engagement levels of American workers average around 30 percent, it’s about 85 percent at West Herr, he said.

“The key to our company’s success is our management puts employees before anything else, even before the customers,” he said. “If you can have happy, loyal employees, that will take care of customers.”

Employee empowerment is also crucial, plus recognition, Bieler added.

“We celebrate every time a service department reaches a benchmark, a master tech completes a training or someone gets promoted with lunches, trips. Recognizing good performance inspires others to grow themselves. It’s all about personal growth for the employees. As they grow individually, the more the company will grow collectively,” he said.

And before any major business decision is made, its impact on employees is first weighed by management. West Herr also runs an internal website that allows workers to submit ideas to improve the business. Almost 70 percent of the suggestions have been implemented, Bieler said. And employees receive gifts if their submissions are used.