Dickinson , TX
Overall Rank for 2012: 71
This year employees at McRee Ford joined in a top-secret undertaking code-named Project Bismarck to celebrate the dealership's 65th anniversary. Their mission: restore a 1965 Mustang bought in the late 1970s by brothers Mitchell and Michael Dale, co-owners of the dealership. The project got its name from Franklin Bismarck McRee, founder of the store and the brothers' grandfather.
McRee Ford, a fixture on "best places to work for" lists around Houston, has won Ford Motor Co.'s President's Award 20 years straight. The dealership pays 100 percent of health, prescription drug and life insurance premiums for employees. The owners host monthly lunches for all employees celebrating an anniversary with the store.
Employees decided restoring the old Mustang would be a good way to build team spirit and show their gratitude to the brothers. The Mustang had been parked in a storage shed since 1990. President Mitchell Dale says he had not seen the car since that year. He and his brother parked it in the shed, resolved to restore it someday ... and never got around to it.
On March 12, the car was towed surreptitiously from the shed to the McRee Ford body shop. Technicians often worked on the car into the wee hours of the morning.
More than 100 employees kept the secret. Mitchell Dale almost stumbled upon it by accident a couple of times. He noticed a number of employees sending text messages and wondered if they were sending personal texts on company time. In fact, they were sending messages like "He's on the move" and "He's on the way to the collision center."
On June 5, with Ford regional managers in town to present the 2011 President's Award at a luncheon, the employees sprang the surprise. The showroom doors swung open and Mitchell Dale's son Dain Crow, with his three children in the back seat, drove in the restored Mustang.
"I got emotional and started crying," says Mitchell Dale. "It looked like it rolled off the assembly line." The Mustang now sits in the showroom, a trophy to the workers' dedication.
-- Bradford Wernle