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Finding Fezziwig in the 21st Century

What makes a great workplace? A bit of Old Fezziwig. That's a reference to one of the characters from Dickens' novella, "A Christmas Carol" — the corpulent, jolly man who ran the London business where Ebenezer Scrooge apprenticed. Fezziwig threw the original office party, and he invited everyone to celebrate the holiday.

But that's not why people loved him, and the office party isn't what makes a great workplace.

There was more to Fezziwig than fiddle and ale.

Generous, affable and wise, he was a merchant with compassion, an ethical businessman who cared as much about his community as his profit margins, his workers as much as customers. And he enjoyed the high opinion of his peers in commerce.

By the time Scrooge had become a bitter, old man, all he could do was look through the window of time at his first boss and wonder what had become of the lessons he'd taught him.

Yes, Old Fezziwig: A character of painfully quaint values, crushed by the march of time, corporatism and greed.

But Old Fezziwig lives on in the modern world, minus his foppish wig. He might have been downsized, but he's still out there. You just have to look for him.

The Fezzwig spirit has been transformed into one that informs some 21st century workplaces with those old notions of compassion and community. In fact, there's a company in Baltimore that incorporates five C's into its business ethic — community, cash, control, connections and collective action — and it has been a successful and growing venture for 24 years now.

Campaign Consultation Inc. is an interesting company with diverse services and accomplishments. Owners Steven Rivelis and his wife, Linda Brown Rivelis, call themselves "entrepreneurs for social change."

Their staff of 25 has worked with companies and nonprofits on sustainability and fundraising, resolving conflicts, developing marketing messages, influencing public policy, and generally becoming better corporate citizens. The company also has helped small communities around the world, following that Five C's agenda.

The Five C's might sound hokey, but it has worked in his business practice, says Steven Rivelis. "The Five C's have also served as the bedrock for cultivating a great workplace."

The C's come together in the holiday season. That's when, a la Fezziwig, the Rivelises take their employees out to lunch for the annual "Give Five" ritual. "We close the books and take five percent of our December-to-December profits," Rivelis says, "and everyone gets to make a pitch for a cause. We go around the table and everyone tells us what [cause] they'd like us to support and in what dollar amount."

The Give Five sharing ritual, Rivelis says, pulls his staff together and makes people feel "whole and healthy." The more profitable the company, the more each employee gets to give to a cause or charity of their choice.

The word has gotten around about this. Give Five has helped the Rivelises recruit talented people and keep them. It's part of their company's appeal as a place to work. It appears to be working out well. They're hiring two more employes and moving everyone into a larger office before the end of the year, just in time for Old Fezziwig.

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