The Graves County native spent most of her career working in that county before SEB moved to Murray and came under the ownership of C.A. Jones Management Group in 2008.
Throughout all of the years and management change, Waston said she has been allowed to work in an inspiring environment that gives her chances to add skills and experience while moving up in the company.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything,” Watson said inside her office in Murray. She remembers pounding out invoices for book orders on a typewriter while being one of three employees managing orders for companies.
As director of student buys Watson now oversees a sophisticated computerized ordering system in a deceptively deep office and warehouse building off of U.S. 641 that has shelves upon shelves of textbooks to rival any library collection in the region.
In addition to her professional growth, Watson said it’s been opportunities to grow in the community that have set her employer apart.
For the last three years, Watson has been captain for her company’s team in Calloway County’s Heart Walk to raise money for the American Heart Association. That kind of personal and professional fulfillment is one reason C.A. Jones Management Group qualified for the first time for the eighth annual Best Places to Work competition.
The Kentucky Society for Human Resource Management holds the competition in conjunction with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
Confidential employee surveys, evaluating workplace experience and culture, account for 75 percent of a company’s score. The other 25 percent comes from employer information regarding benefits, policies, practices and other general information.
Winners from across the state were selected in two categories: small/medium-sized employers (companies of 25 to 249 U.S. employees) and large employers (250 or more U.S. employees). C.A. Jones Management Group and Heritage Bank qualified as small to medium-sized employers.
Heritage BankHeadquarters: Hopkinsville
Offices: 10 among Hopkinsville, Cadiz, Elkton, Calvert City, Benton, Murray and Fulton
Kentucky employees: 193
*Source: Company, Best Places to Work as of Dec. 1
Angela Mayes, vice president of human resources at Hopkinsville-based Heritage Bank, can rattle off the long tenures of Heritage employees by county.
“Marshall County has some workers with 10 to 15 years,” Mayes said. “In Calloway (County), there are several over there who had 10 and 15 years, one lady has 25 years. In Fulton they have 30 and 40 years, it’s amazing.”
Mayes said the bank launched an employee service recognition program this year recognizing employees for their years of service so the numbers were fresh in her mind.
So if career longevity is any indication, Heritage Bank was doing something right for its employees even before it made the Best Places to Work this year. This is the second consecutive appearance in the statewide competition.
Community service for Heritage Bank employees is paramount, said Marlene Dade, marketing and business development director, in an email.
“It’s important to each of us at Heritage Bank that we are a viable part of the communities we serve and that we make both personal and financial commitments to the wonderful work that is done on behalf of those who reside in each of our banking center markets,” Dade wrote.
Dade said the bank also sponsors a scholarship banquet each spring that has given more than $195,000 to 390 high school students.
Cadiz employees such as office manager Tina Owen appreciate the investment the company makes in its own locations when possible.
In April, the Cadiz branch at 352 Main Street underwent a renovation, as did two locations in Hopkinsville. And the company’s management showed this year that they know how to toe the line to equally serve customers, and employees, in different markets.
Heritage Bank has locations in Murray and Clarksville, Tenn., home to the Murray State University Racers and Austin Peay State University Governors basketball teams, respectively.
The bank sponsored the heated rivalry game in Murray at the CFSB Center (a Racer victory, for the record) and printed commemorative T-shirts for employees to wear at the game. Employees had their choice of two different shirts, each representing one of the teams.
“Probably the biggest piece that makes Heritage Bank the best place to work is our employees,” Mayes said. “It sounds kind of cliche, but we work with a great group of people who really take notice and pride in serving our customers.”
C.A. Jones Management GroupHeadquarters: Murray
Offices: Parent company of 13 businesses, most based in western Kentucky.
Kentucky employees: 209
*Source: Company, Best Places to Work as of Dec. 1
The Murray-based management team is as unique of business as you’ll find on the Best Places to Work list.
Chuck Jones, founder and CEO, launched Integrated Computer Solutions in 1993 offering a technology company focused on delivering IT solutions to understaffed technology departments in schools throughout southeast Missouri and western Tennessee.
With the profits, Jones, who was not available for an interview, branched out to amass the quirky collection of surprisingly interrelated businesses locals have come to recognize:
- Elements, a gift shop and home store.
- Vintage Rose Emporium, a gift boutique.
- University Book and Bean, an independent bookstore near the MSU campus.
- Innovative Printing & Graphics, print media company.
- Five IT-related companies.
- Four textbook companies, including South Eastern Book Company and Collegebookrenter.com in Murray.
Through the varied interests and projects within the management group, the family atmosphere, consistent growth and wealth of advancement opportunities has tied them all together, said Courtney Hixon, senior vice president of human resources.
Hixon said the textbook side of C.A. Jones business has grown the fastest recently. Collegebookrenter.com, an online college textbook rental company, was founded in 2009. That company’s chief operating officer, Bud Byars, remembers cleaning out the newly-formed business’ warehouse facility when operations were just starting. All that was around the place off of U.S. 641 were dead birds in the old warehouse and three other employees.
During peak business — when students buy and then return books — as many as 165 employees work around the clock, Byars said.
“I’ve seen it grow from nothing,” Byars said in a voice that may sound familiar to Murray State football fans. Byars is a self-described “Get back” coach for the team, making sure the players and coaches not in the game don’t migrate onto the playing field.
Also part of the rental company’s growth has been Jeremy Byars, no relation, who moved up from a customer service position to vice president of order fulfillment in just over a year. Jeremy said the company has allowed him to grow professionally and personally, and he’s proud to be part of a company on the forefront of technology.
Byars emphasized that Collegebookrenter.com is the third largest such company in the nation and works with nationally-known online companies such as eBay and Amazon.
“We’re given the opportunities to show what our worth is,” Jeremy said.
Contact Adam Shull, journal editor, at 270-575-8653 or follow @adamshull on Twitter.