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Welcome to my blog on company culture! I’m traveling the country visiting companies with great workplace cultures and writing about them. Why? Find out here.

Julia Kortberg


ACE Metal: How to Overcome Language Barriers, Teach Emotional Intelligence, & Create Wellness in the Workplace

ACE Metal: How to Overcome Language Barriers, Teach Emotional Intelligence, & Create Wellness in the Workplace


 Founded: In 1960, sixteen sheet metal workers founded Ace Metal Crafts Company (ACE), to do the fabrication work that they enjoyed. From the beginning, ACE was a pioneer in the industry. They invented techniques to increase safety and efficiency, many of which are standard today. ACE continues to be a leader in the industry of stainless steel fabricators and is led by second generation family owner and CEO, Jean Pitzo. The company is in Bensenville, IL.

Employees: 130 | Revenue: $20 million

Languages Spoken: English, Spanish, Polish, Vietnamese, Serbian

Purpose: To provide an environment that inspires people to unleash their potential.

Values: Trust, Respect, Care, Clarity, Discipline

Community: ACE partners with a variety of STEM education programs, including Gadget Girls Program, the Young Robotics Teams, as well as local community colleges.


I arrived at ACE’s facility in Bensenville, IL on a rainy day in June. As I walked into the door, I was surprised to be greeted by a personalized electronic message on their TV, “Ace Metal welcomes Julia Kortberg.” I spent the majority of my time with Chief Relationship Officer, Deb Benning. Together, we toured their 80,000 sq ft facility, where I learned about fabrication and machining, and how ACE engaged the entire team into designing their new facility. I also learned about how ACE intentionally built a company culture that unites their diverse workforce and how many of their team members have grown personally and professionally over the years. Here were my main takeaways:


Inside ACE’s fabrication facility: “Hot Today”, common language for what’s due today.

Inside ACE’s fabrication facility: “Hot Today”, common language for what’s due today.

1. Overcoming Language Barriers in the Workplace

ACE is especially unique because of their diverse workforce. They have five distinct cultures and languages within their organization: Serbian, Spanish, Vietnamese, Polish, and English, and team members from a diverse range of socio economic statuses, education, and backgrounds. How do they overcome these language barriers?

  1. Define How You Live Your Company Values  

Company values are key in creating company culture, but without defining how you live them, they can only be so effective. This is especially important when you have a diverse mix of cultures and backgrounds.

For example, Chief Relationship Officer, Deb Benning, shared with me that one team member said, that if someone made a mistake, he would never trust that person again. How do you explain to this team member, that it’s ok to make a mistake, so long as you’re living the values? You explain your value of “Trust” and what it means at ACE.  

ACE’s values of “Trust” is defined as “I do what is expected of me. I communicate kindly and truthfully.”

In a conversation with this team member, ACE was able to point to the behaviors of trust and show that making a mistake, is not an issue of trust for them, so long as you communicate truthfully about it and learn from it.  

In addition to providing clarity, defining the behaviors of core values holds team members accountable to living them. For example, in a situation where a team member does not return a tool to their work station, an ACE team member can ask them, “Did you promptly return what you borrowed?” And the person would respond “No.” In other words, the person was not living the value or “Respect” and can be held accountable to it.

ACE’s Company Core Values:

Trust: I do what is expected of me. I communicate kindly and truthfully.

Respect: I promptly return what I borrow. I share my knowledge. I keep my workplace clean and safe.

Care: I listen. I express my gratitude and appreciation of others.

Clarity: I ask for the information I need to do my job well. I provide clear information and expectations.

Discipline: I follow or improve the standardized operating procedures and work instructions. I handle, solve, and/or report problems.

Values can easily be interpreted differently by individuals, which is why defining the behaviors of core values is key to incorporating them into your organization. ACE has taken the guesswork out of their values and holds their team members accountable to living them, helping team members to overcome language barriers and cultural norms. ACE has also translated their values into each language to make them accessible to all.

2. Creating a Visual Workplace

Another way in which ACE overcomes language barriers, is by color coding. For example, to ensure that team members know not to take a piece of steel for another project, they will label the steel with a pink tab, indicating that it is already going to be used. ACE also uses a color coding system to communicate whether or not a team member will hit their production time and if a manager needs to check-in. Similar to Tuthill’s, TBS, red indicates they have missed their production time and need support, yellow indicates they are close to missing the production time and may need support, and green indicates, that the production time was met and that no support is needed. Using colors has created a universal language for ACE and has significantly increased production times and reduced errors.

3. Use a Common Language

 In situations where colors don’t suffice, ACE does their best to communicate using simple words and phrases that are used by their team members. For example, many team members will say “What is hot today?” when referring to what the biggest priority for the day is. Because team members are comfortable using the language “hot today”, ACE refers to top priorities as “What’s hot today?”  Using common language, helps team members to understand and feel included in the process.

A team member in the fabrication facility.

A team member in the fabrication facility.

2. How to Implement Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

  1. Work with a Coach

 As Deb shared with me, “The company can only grow to the development capacity of the leaders.”  For this reason, ACE’s leadership team is very committed to personal development. Most ACE leaders work with a coach to uncover their strengths, weaknesses and obstacles. Furthermore, the executive team comes together to be coached as a group to share what they’ve learned and what they need to work on as a team.

“We have to start with ourselves first. Self-awareness is the first step – understanding your model of the world helps to know your strengths and weaknesses. We have to identify the things we need to work on [personally] and we have to work on them together to get stronger as a company.”  - Deb Benning, Chief Relationship Officer 

Working with a coach has significantly helped the ACE’s leadership team to grow personally and together as a team.

2. Developing and Teaching an Emotional Intelligence Curriculum

 CEO, Jean Pitzo, and Chief Relationship Officer, Deb Benning, dreamed of building a workplace where team members could bring their best selves to work. For this reason, they developed an eight-course emotional intelligence program, where a small group of team members meet together for 90 minute sessions each week, over a two-month period of time. The goal of the program is to help team members to experience happiness and peace in their lives. Here’s how the program works:

1) Team members are encouraged to sign up for the course.

2) Team members start out by taking an assessment to see where they are in their emotional intelligence.

3) Like Tuthill practices in their “Aliveness Retreats”, Jean and Deb set the tone with each class by sharing their vulnerabilities first. This drastically improves participation and open discussion.

4) Each course includes new information, discussion, a homework exercise in what they learned. The program includes courses on:

  • Self-Awareness

  • Triggers

  • Victimhood

  • Story That We Live In

  • Shadow

  • Shame

  • Forgiveness

  • Happiness

The curriculum has had a tremendous impact on their team members lives both personally and professionally. “We’ve had team members forgive loved ones in their life. The program really pushes you to think, what’s really important here?” – Deb Benning.

Bonus – They also offer courses in Spanish and are working on offering them in other languages as well.

Why do you stay safe wall? Includes pictures of family members and friends.

Why do you stay safe wall? Includes pictures of family members and friends.

3. Promoting Workplace Wellness

 ACE has been recognized as a Psychologically Healthy Workplace in the state of Illinois, by the American Psychological Association Center for Organizational Excellence. This award is designed to recognize organizations for their efforts to foster employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance.

ACE views wellness in three areas: emotional, health, and financial. This is how they help team members achieve holistic wellness:

 1. Financial Wellness

ACE is partnering with a firm to coach team members on personal finance. They also practice financial wellness by sharing the operation financial statement with the team.

 2. Physical Wellness

To promote physical wellness in the workplace, ACE holds fitness challenges and rewards team members with wellness bucks for achieving them. Wellness challenges include quitting smoking, getting a yearly physical, flu shot, and joining and maintaining a weight loss program, to name a few. Team members can then purchase select items with their wellness bucks, for example, apparel and gear at Land’s End. ACE also prioritizes safety in the workplace. One example of how they promote safety is by keeping a scoreboard of how many days they’ve gone accident free. The goal is of course, one hundred percent, and when the team meets the record, they are all recognized.

 3. Emotional Wellness

In addition to teaching emotional intelligence, ACE promotes emotional wellness through their Care Program. Members of the Care Program (social workers, chaplains, volunteers), visit ACE a few times a week— including night shifts— to let team members know they are there for them if they would like to talk. To cater to their diverse workforce, many of the Care members speak other languages as well. Deb estimates that approximately 20% of team members participate in the program, but the participation isn’t the only thing that matters. “It’s mostly a program to hold space for individuals and let them know that we care for them,” said Deb.


Beyond their craftsmanship as stainless steel fabricators, is their craftsmanship for company culture. ACE goes above and beyond to include team members of all backgrounds and to unite them through a strong set of values. ACE cares deeply about their team members professionally and personally. They promote wellness through emotional, financial, and physical programs, with the ultimate goal for team members to achieve happiness and peace in their lives.  

Deb Benning and me! Thanks again for the visit!

Deb Benning and me! Thanks again for the visit!

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