From the janitors to the mechanical engineers, Christmas is looking a little merrier for the 113 employees of St. Petersburg-based S.S. White Technologies and Shukla Medical after CEO Rahul Shukla recently surprised each of them with $1,000 bonuses.
On Dec. 16, Shukla instructed Sheryl Nadler, human resources and marketing manager, to send a company-wide email to employees notifying them of a mandatory meeting following their shift. The email provided no details, and in these uncertain economic times following a pandemic, Shukla admitted that he knew his employees were nervous.
Shukla, who said his sense of humor is as big as his heart, began his speech by thanking his employees for their loyalty amid a period of high turnover. Shukla said people have left without good reason during the pandemic. He explained he usually employs 125 people and is now down to 113, yet the companies continue to operate smoothly. After a speech that could have preceded bad news, Shukla told his employees the reason for the meeting.
“Then I said everyone is going to get a $1,000 check,” relayed Shukla excitedly. “And I said, ‘When? Right after this meeting because the checks are made!’”
Shukla said employees were surprised and overjoyed at the gesture.
“I’ve been with S.S. White for four years,” said Brandy Roche, an assembly operator, in a statement. “Mr. Shukla has been good to us, but this was just over the top, and everybody was completely shocked.”
Shukla’s journey to becoming CEO of S.S. White helps explain the level of appreciation he carries for all of his employees, no matter their job title. Shukla, 74, migrated to the U.S. from India in 1971. He enrolled at Rutgers University and completed his master’s degree. He began to pursue his Ph.D. but said he ran out of money.
“So completely – I was full broke,” said Shukla.
Despite his graduate degree Shukla took a job with S.S. White as a factory worker and said the company was very kind to him. Shukla said S.S. White, founded in 1844, is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in the country. He worked his way up to drafter, then became manager of industrial engineering and eventually the director of research and development. Just 15 years after starting with S.S. White in 1973, Shukla bought the company.
“I have never forgotten my roots,” said Shukla. “I’ve managed the company the last 32 years – not just with my mind, but really my heart.”
Shukla said that in 1988 the then 144-year-old company was on its last legs and on the verge of closing its doors. The business was for sale, and the asking price was $6 million. Shukla went home and told his wife they should buy S.S. White.
“She said, ‘we have $6,000,’” relayed Shukla. “I said to my wife, ‘we are almost there … the number six is right.’”
Shukla said he went from bank to bank in New Jersey, and they all laughed at him. Eventually, he found one willing to loan him $6 million. He bought the company and said he immediately made several changes, and the company has done well ever since.
“Even in this tough economic time, we were always profitable,” said Shukla. “So, I always want to make sure we look after our employees.”
Shukla said the company received a PPP loan from the government during the pandemic and wanted to make sure that money made it to his employees. He instituted a temporary $1 an hour raise for employees that continued to work through the difficult time. He said it may not have been a lot of money, but let employees know they are appreciated.
Even though sales dropped by 50% during the height of the pandemic, Shukla said he made sure everyone also received their regularly scheduled raises. Then he decided to do something extra special for the holidays.
“To give such a gift is unprecedented,” said Nadler in a statement. “But my boss has always believed in sharing our successes with our employees.”
Shukla said he told his wife that giving the $113,000 back to his workers was the right thing to do, and she agreed.
“That was my main reason,” said Shukla. “To make sure that I don’t feel bad about accepting this loan from the government and then not doing anything for the employees.
“There were people with tears in their eyes, and many people said, ‘I can’t believe you did this.’”
Shukla is also a fiction novelist in his spare time. He said he is well known as an author in India and would fly from New Jersey to Florida and rent a home on Belleair Beach whenever he needed to finish a book. Shukla said Florida makes him happy and often told his wife of his desire to relocate.
In 2018, Shukla moved his companies, and 40 truckloads of machinery, to St. Petersburg in less than a month. S.S. White manufactures airplane components, and Shukla Medical manufactures orthopedic surgical tools. Both operate in a 90,000 square-foot facility on Sheen Drive. Shukla was 71 when he relocated his family and companies to St. Pete, and only 25 employees moved with the company.
“We had to hire all new people,” said Shukla. “But (it was) one of the best decisions I have made in my life.”
Shukla said that with his age and success, many large corporations reach out to him about buying his companies. He said he repeatedly reminds his employees that he will never sell, and they will always have a home at S.S. White.
“That is my promise to our employees – they will retire from this company,” said Shukla. “In order to get loyalty, you have to give loyalty first.
“And so, my loyalty is to our employees.”