SHORELINE, Wash. - Aegis Living is in the business of care giving. More than 2,900 residents live in 36 facilities in four states.
But the heart of the company is its employees, the people who comfort and care for the elderly, many of whom have dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Even in this economy, not one of the 1,900 people who work for aegis lost a job. In fact, this company is expanding.
"We've never wanted to be the biggest company. We've always wanted to be the best. And that starts with our people and the investment we make in our people," said Dwayne Clark, Aegis founder and CEO.
At Epic 2010, the annual company meeting, employees are not allowed to talk about the company. Instead of budgets and profits, the focus is personal development. This year's theme: "How do you want to walk in this world?"
"I think there's this clamoring of people who want to be more real in their life. They want to be more authentic. They want to have more compassion. They want to get down to what's important in life," said Clark.
Clark hopes to inspire his employees with the inspirational stories of others. The surprise guest was Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
"I was finished. No money, no husband, he was away in the navy, but I had two beautiful little girls. The choice was either you give up or you get on," she said.
Now 50, Sarah Ferguson is a fierce advocate for children in crisis around the world. She shared her story of turning self-doubt, adversity, disappointment and insecurity into service for others.
"Every minute of my day is all about giving because I'm serving a purpose and have stopped being so self-introspective and I look out in an entirely new way at a big world and realized I am so blessed," she said.
It's a message Clark hopes resonates with his staff.
"They are the people that are touching the customers every day and making a difference. They are the people that are having that daily customer interaction, and unless those people are delighted, you're going to have a breakdown in your company delivery," he said.
Talita Haywood is has been with the company for 4 1/2 years.
"It just feels good when I wake up every morning to come and do this," she said.
Aegis has one of the lowest turnover rates in the country, one-third the national average for assisted living companies.
Erin Horner has worked at the Shoreline facility for more than three years.
"I love coming to work every day," she said. "I wouldn't want to work anywhere else. These people are like family to me."
It's what Clark calls that "second paycheck of compassion" that keeps his employees happy.
"If I'm 80 years old and I'm looking back on my life, what do I want to stand for? What's really important? And I think the sooner we can get corporate America to understand that phenomena that's going on, the better off we're all going to be, in every way," he said.