She’s Running a $165 Million Company Where Volunteerism Takes Center Stage

Rebecca Thomley has fostered a culture of giving back at her 2,250-employee Minnesota company Orion Associates. Disaster relief has become a valuable tool for developing leaders.

By Christina Kelly

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Rebecca There’s nothing that teaches you better how to lead or to supervise better than disaster work. So there is a direct payback to us as a business. When you create opportunity for people to serve, and to share, and to connect, you create commitment.

TEXT Rebecca Thomley – CEO – Orion Associates – Minneapolis, Minn.

Rebecca Orion Associates is a management organization and we provide management services in the social service field.

SOT When you’re doing CPR, right in the center is where you want the heel of your hand.

Rebecca So whether it’s social workers, residential homes, crisis homes, support for children with disabilities, elderly, anything in social services to the community.

TEXT Orion’s roots go back to Rebecca’s childhood in St. Cloud, Minnesota. In 1980 her mother, Marya Hage, started Meridian Services in the family basement.

SOT Hi, Mom.
-So, we got our second team out to Houston.

Rebecca My mother started her business Meridian Services. She’s an incredibly creative person. It was new, it was innovative, providing services to help people stay in their own homes and remain more independent.

TEXT After a long career working for the state, Rebecca’s father, Orval, joined the business.

TEXT Rebecca attended St. Cloud University.

TEXT She graduated with a degree in psychology and criminal justice in 1983.

TEXT Two years later she qualified as a licensed psychologist.

Rebecca I went to work for the state right out of grad school. And I started to build a practice on the side at the same time.

TEXT By 1992, Rebecca had a thriving therapy practice but no health insurance.

Rebecca My parents said, “Hey, you know, if you come a day a week and work with us, you can sign up on our health insurance plans,” and for that I would start their services up in the Twin Cities area.

TEXT By 1999 Meridian had over $5 million in annual revenue.

TEXT But that year her father died.

TEXT Her mother had health problems and wanted to work less.

Rebecca I had the background, and the training, and the experience and very reluctantly I said, okay, I would step in and take over.

TEXT Rebecca became CEO of Meridian in 2000.

Rebecca I was a little bit overwhelmed with the responsibility. That’s why I went back for the business degrees, because I thought, “What the heck am I doing here?”

TEXT Rebecca went on to oversee a massive corporate expansion.

TEXT Today Meridian is just one of 11 companies under the umbrella of Orion Associates.

TEXT The company has more than 2,500 employees and revenues over $125 million.

SOT We have everything set except for that delivery site.

Rebecca We make our decisions as a team. We have contributed for many years over 25% of our revenues. We all, I think, live very well and I think we live that much better for what we can do for the community at large.

TEXT Employees commit to doing two paid days of volunteer work a year.

Rebecca For me a pivotal point in my work here was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I am a long time volunteer with the Red Cross and I happened to end up getting assigned to the Ninth Ward area.

Rebecca I met a pastor there who was coming back to see the damage for the first time. He walked through his church that had just been demolished, looking at, you know, his books, and...I don’t want to get emotional.
-It’s okay.

Rebecca And, you know, I made a commitment to him. I said, “You know what. I’ll get people, we’ll come back and we’ll help.”

Rebecca That began a grass root movement, which is now Headwaters Relief Organization.

TEXT Since Katrina, Headwaters has worked in disaster relief across America and around
the world.

Rebecca Our first international venture was to the earthquake in Haiti. We responded to the Philippines, to the Nepal earthquake. We got involved with Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

TEXT Employees often bring their family and friends to help on missions.

TEXT Today most volunteers are external to the company.

Rebecca When you experience a connection with someone where it doesn’t matter what their background is, what their education is, the color of their skin, their religion. And you have that moment with that connection, that is so powerful and so meaningful, that to give people that opportunity, that’s, that’s where I want to be.

Posted: February 13, 2018

Christina KellyShe’s Running a $165 Million Company Where Volunteerism Takes Center Stage