Slim works to provide high-quality, finished product

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Elbert “Slim” Harris always goes into any work project with a plan, and part of that plan always is to develop a checklist.

elbert_harris_webLearning to plan comes from the parenting he received from his mother. The checklist was a gift given to him as part of his years in the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War of the 1970s when he was a self-described missile cop at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

“I was a security policeman, and any time there were warheads that needed to be changed or regular maintenance to be done, I had to be there,” Harris says. “We had a checklist we had to follow to ensure we stayed on protocol, and if you followed the checklist, you wouldn’t go wrong. That’s how I do some of these jobs here. I set up a checklist and follow the steps. When you’ve finished the steps, you have a finished product — something you can be proud of.”

Co-workers say Harris consistently produces work that’s worthy of showing. Whether it’s scrubbing the floors of the School of Business building, changing light bulbs, cleaning restrooms or just keeping the building in top working order, Harris always delivers high-quality work — work that is worth of his selection as March’s Employee of the Month.

Harris, a senior group leader in Building Services, says his selection is a reflection of his 12-person crew, whom he says he relies on to ensure that no stone goes unturned.

“The crew I’ve got working with me is top notch,” Harris says. “We work together pretty well as a team. What I can’t catch, they catch for me. They keep me well-informed of everything going on. They’re what makes things work out right for me.”

Jenice Prather-Kinsey, Ph.D., professor and chair of the accounting and finance department in the Business-Engineering Complex, has watched Harris study his work carefully and take great pride in doing a good job.

“I have watched Slim study the stains in my carpet and research fabric content before deciding on how best to clean the carpet,” Prather-Kinsey says. “He then tries to arrange a cleaning time that does not inconvenience you. His attention to detail is evidenced when looking at our stairwells and hall floors. I have heard faculty and students say the floors look so clean you could eat off of them.”

The BEC is a large, heavily traveled building 18 hours a day, seven days a week. During the recent accreditation visit to the School of Business, visiting members of the Peer Review Team all made references to how well-kept and clean the building appears.

“Slim takes great pride in his work, and it shows,” says School of Business Dean David Klock, Ph.D. “We can often see him on his knees with a putty knife scraping marks off the tiled floors. He takes extra care to remove fresh spots and stains from our carpeting and is regularly in touch with our building administrator about the status of projects and work in progress. Slim is responsive, responsible, humble, attentive to detail and always embodies a spirit of gratitude.”

Harris is appreciative of the compliments, but humbly says he’s just doing his job.

“My main function is to make sure that all of our employees have what they need to do their job,” Harris says, “and that includes a nice, clean, pleasant environment to work in.

“I just try to do the best job I can,” he says. “But I try to satisfy myself first. If I can’t satisfy myself, how am I going to satisfy the other employees? It’s got to be right for me first.”

Harris’ discipline — and the nickname Slim — also comes from years of tae-kwon-do training.

He began learning the martial arts in the Air Force in 1973, and his North Carolina friend and fellow soldier Larry Lewis gave him the nickname Slim after watching him throw kicks during their training.

“He said it looked like something off of a Bruce Lee poster,” Harris says. “He took to calling me Dakota Slim, since we were stationed in South Dakota. Slim has managed to stick with me all these years.”

Harris fought competitively for 10 years beginning in 1976. He won the first tournament he entered in South Dakota during the  nation’s bicentennial celebration and instantly was hooked. He continued to compete when he came home to Birmingham before leaving competition in 1986.

The discipline he learned along the way has helped shape him, Harris says. Learning a martial art takes a high amount of discipline. Colleagues say Harris is very meticulous and always has the goal of making his fellow employees feel pride in their surroundings.

“He always is on top of any situation,” says Ayannna Maston, Building Services manager. “When you find a team player like Mr. Harris, he becomes an asset to the department and the management team. I am very appreciative of his hard work.”

Harris is approaching 10 years of employment at UAB and another milestone — his 60th birthday in July. He has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.

“I’m going to work for a few more years because I’m basically healthy, just a little nutty,” Harris jokes. “I enjoy my job and giving everyone a finished product. When you do it well, and it shows, that’s a plus. It makes you feel good.”

You can nominate a co-worker for the Employee of the Month award by sending at least three letters of nomination to