CEO Cody Nath Infuses His Company’s Culture with Mission
“At RTI, we’re offering the opportunity to work toward something beyond a paycheck,” says YPO member Cody Nath, President and CEO of Refined Technologies Inc. (RTI), a family-owned preferred partner to refining and process operators based in Houston, Texas. “I want RTI to be the best place to do work that matters and to make the biggest life-changing difference in people around the world. I want our team to connect directly with that impact and for us to be a growing voice in what’s possible across businesses.”
For Nath, integrating work and life values is part of his DNA. His father set the example of embracing Christian values and fostering generosity as a servant leader of a small family business in Kansas. As a youth, Nath himself sponsored children in Africa through World Vision, a humanitarian aid, development and advocacy organization, and at the age of 14, traveled to Mexico City on his first mission trip. This early exposure instilled in him the importance of missions, faith and giving that guides him today in his work at RTI. As a business leader, Nath wants his team to understand they are part of something bigger, and for company culture to be that of innovation and adding value for clients so they have the capacity to make an impact beyond the company within local communities and on the world.
Partnering with World Vision
RTI’s mission statement leads with “Honor God always,” which affects everything from operating under principles, including honesty, integrity and respect, to reinvesting profits into partners like World Vision in Honduras. As Nath has advanced from a sales job at RTI to President and CEO, he’s increasingly looked for ways to “use business and capitalism, and job creation and value creation to create eternal impact.” This comes to life in many ways – internally through the company culture, in local community projects and globally via a partnership with World Vision.
While on a personal mission trip to Honduras over five years ago, Nath visited a community whose children were at risk of dying from parasites found in their only source of water. “It can’t help but change your view of the world,” says Nath, who as a father empathized with those parents who would have done anything within their power to provide this basic necessity for their children. As an engineer and a problem-solver by nature, he decided to mobilize resources to address the issue.
At about the same time that Nath and his family visited Honduras, (while his wife was eight months pregnant with their daughter) he received a melanoma diagnosis requiring surgery at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“Things got pretty real and immediate when I was sitting in a patient waiting room with my very pregnant wife, uncertain what the life expectancy outcomes would be for me. The experience crystallized values for me that were true before, but now much more urgent. I may or may not have time to make an impact later – the window for me is now. This translated to faith, family and absolutely business impact as well.”
Over the past three years, RTI has partnered with World Vision to bring clean water to approximately 150,000 Hondurans with another 50,000 to be reached by the end of 2020. In addition, over 135 employees sponsor more than 300 Honduran children, and RTI takes 18 to 25 employees on three vision trips each year to see the transformation resulting from water and sanitation projects and to meet their sponsored children.
“We made the intentional choice to match this piece of the giving with the business and our employees,” says Nath. “And we saw tremendous benefit not just to the bottom line but also in the enjoyment and fulfillment of being in business, and the relationships we build with our clients and employees. My now 4-year-old daughter tells me I need to go to work so I can help people get clean water.”
Over the past five years, RTI has broadened its investment in water, sanitation and hygiene projects, and currently donates over USD1 million each year. Nath has worked with World Vision to employ that giving capital to scale from providing for 1,000 Hondurans a year to more than 50,000.
Creating a company culture of mission
“We’re trying to go deep in terms of incorporating the mission, the ‘why’ of our business into what we do. It’s less about chemical cleaning and rental equipment and more about our teams buying into why this matters from a giving perspective.”
Nath began to explore other ways that employees and clients could connect with the work that RTI supports in over 100 communities in Honduras. What he came up with was integrating the mission into company culture – the daily interactions, the physical workplace and community building events.
Three conference rooms are named after communities in Honduras that either already, or soon will receive clean water as a result of RTI’s efforts. The library features vivid imagery of Honduras as well as a commissioned painting. Coffee in the break room is brewed with Café 504 beans, which support World Vision farmers in Honduras, and co-branded water bottles are distributed to clients and partners. In addition, RTI hosts an annual corporate event that features a virtual mission trip that brings the work to life through a simulated water walk and employee stories.
“It drives me on a daily basis to know we’re changing lives through our work,” says Nath.
Finding innovative solutions for re-entry
In addition to investing in community transformation through water projects, Nath has turned his attention toward an issue closer to home and RTI’s headquarters. Each year, 15,000 men and women newly released from Texas prisons arrive in Harris County where Houston is located, with only USD50 in their pockets.
“It felt like a hopeless situation that we could do something about,” says Nath.
As a member of the board of directors of Crosswalk Center, a centralized, safe re-entry hub, Nath helps equip ex-offenders with the social services, housing, coaching, faith-based ministry and employment they need to become productive citizens within the community. Nath admits when he began working with Crosswalk Center, he had no idea what he was getting into. From working with government organizations like the City of Houston, the State of Texas and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to nonprofit services, employment agencies and other third parties, the challenges have been nonstop. And those coming home from prison have significant hurdles to face: emotional baggage, discrimination and criminal records.
“These are people who you love, and they are going to fail and disappoint you, and it’s hard,” says Nath. “There have been many days over the last three years when I wasn’t sure this was going to make it.”
Although Crosswalk is still in its infancy, it now breaks even on operating expenses for two homes for approximately 35 to 50 men a year. Nath says they have created a sustainable housing model they will continue to scale. The biggest challenge remains the overall community: “As much as everybody supports giving these guys a chance in word, they like the idea as long as it’s not in their backyard.” To date, RTI has hired eight re-entering citizens as part of their team and the plan is to add more in 2020.
“The gratitude they express, the work ethic they bring to the job, the humility, energy and smiles have all been a game changer for me,” says Nath.
Encouraging impact in others
For those looking to add more impact to their business, Nath says it’s not about the scale but the attitude. RTI began by providing just one community with clean water and its partnership with World Vision grew from there. His employees are also encouraged to start small by giving to just one person in need. Through a benevolence fund, any full-time employee can give away USD500 to an individual – not an organization, church or nonprofit – who can be directly impacted by the check or cash.
“We are empowering our people to look around and see if there’s a need,” says Nath. “We want them to think generously and meet that need. My family and I have certainly been most blessed by what we’ve given away.”