By J.D. Booth
October 1, 2007
It’s a proverbial chicken and egg question: What comes first - a great company to work for or great people who work there? In the minds of many, it might not seem like much of an issue. But after connecting with HR directors and executives at each of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For, we think it’s a bit of both - great companies and the great people in them. And when it comes down to it, nearly all agreed - without good people, an organization will invariably come up short.
Founded in 2000 just ahead of the dot-com bust, Airfoil has succeeded beyond any early expectations. For co-founder Lisa Vallee-Smith, the firm’s “higher thinking” tagline is about people. “We seek out and reward employees who can think creatively and act quickly,” she says. “From the top down and every other angle, all employees have a say and a stake in the agency and its success.” Retention is a top priority. And with a “We have fun” core value to live up to, she’s been known to arrive at the agency’s annual meeting garbed in mask, snorkel and fins-and a backpack full of $100 bills.
Allied Group CEO Michael Nixon says the company, with its ‘promote from within culture,’ is a place where work-life balance is alive and well. Add a great benefits package and flexible work schedules to the mix and Nixon says growth is sure to be on the horizon. In five years, he predicts, Allied Group will be a bigger company, yet not one that’s insensitive to the current culture, which Nixon says is family oriented. “It is extremely important that we not lose sight of what makes us a great company to work for. We’ll always strive to be that place.”
Altarum, an Ann Arbor-based nonprofit research institute, is working to become the nation’s preeminent provider of objective health systems research and solutions. In doing so, it boasts a collegial and collaborative work environment that gives staff the opportunity to grow professionally while being rewarded with HR systems that promote work-life balance, all while they work on transforming the nation’s health care systems. Respecting employees is part of that undertaking, says CEO Linc Smith, who sees growth on the horizon but with the same values Altarum has sought to instill. “We trust we won’t have lost what we so value today,” says Smith.
One of the key ways this powerhouse automotive supplier attracts employees is its world-class mentoring program. The company, recognized as an ethical company with strong leadership and a growing global reach with international opportunities and a strong financial base, also offers multiple opportunities for educational advancement and distinguishes itself in the variety of assignments available to employees. Created when Richard E. Dauch and a team of investors acquired a number of former General Motors plants in 1994, AAM is expected to continue to expand its global footprint, product development and worldwide sales, which, in turn, could mean even greater opportunities for employees.
CEO Michael E. Tobin says building a positive experience makes good business sense, at least one reason why American Community Mutual Insurance Company spends so much time creating a culture that values employees. “It’s easy to come to work to a positive experience,” says Tobin. A big part of that is the development of appreciation and a partnership with employees who are, as a result, “genuinely engaged in the success of our organization.” American Community hosts programs that encourage healthy lifestyles and supports employees in activities that support charity and community involvement. “It’s so we can all help others,” says Tobin.
What is at the top of the list of reasons people will want to work for the American Diabetes Association? The organization’s “critical and meaningful mission.” Add in a competitive total rewards package and a philosophy that sees investment in technology to make processes simpler for employees and it’s easy to see why the Southeast Michigan branch made the list. A combination of special events to honor individuals who are being recognized for their efforts and flexibility of work hours are seen as contributing to the health of the workplace. Some call it having a great balance between having the heart of a nonprofit and functioning like corporate America.
How did Amerisure become a premier employer? CEO Richard Russell says it’s about focusing on excellence and optimizing customer service through extraordinary service. “This commitment is so ingrained in the culture -¦ that it is readily apparent to applicants.” He says it works on the retention level as well. “They want to stay at Amerisure because of the pride and personal rewards they receive for doing an extraordinary job,” says Russell. With two of Amerisure’s most profitable years occurring in 2005 and 2006 (with that level of profitability continuing in 2007), Russell says the success is “achieved through our people.”
“Bottom line, recruiting is our business, so it is a true focus for our staff,” says Arrow Strategies CEO Jeff Styers, who recognizes the importance of having staff (most of whom work offsite) feel like family. Taking note of events such as anniversaries or service that goes beyond the call is part of the strategy. So is focusing on building a team that works well together. “We have been known to create positions that suit individual needs and desires while providing a value-add to the company,” says Styers, who also focuses on promoting from within (rather than seeking outside leadership).
In the midst of a rebranding effort that will see three separate companies come together, CEO Scott Taylor says Artisan/NLM Enterprise is nonetheless building a “great word-of-mouth reputation.” Taylor says technology leadership in the logistics industry is only part of it. “It’s more so due to the genuine investment we make in our employees. We are able to retain employees because we deliver on that reputation and provide them with fulfilling careers and a vast opportunity for growth.” The company puts its money where it counts as well, basing pay on a straight eight hours with no deduction for lunch or breaks.
A human capital, marketing and consulting services organization, ASG Renaissance attributes its success in attracting and retaining employees to a combination of benefits, company leadership and a work environment that focuses on open, honest communication and feedback. CEO Lisabeth Ardisana says the result is “a relaxed environment where it’s easy to get along with people and work towards the common good.” Being upfront about how the company is doing financially adds to the high loyalty and buy-in factor, says Ardisana. “Everyone is extremely dedicated to doing exceptional work and we all share the same high personal and professional standards.”
Rock stars? Atwell-Hicks employees might not be on the music stage, but they are in the spotlight as far as people like Kathleen Trader, human resources group leader, are concerned. Trader says the company’s size-”the resources of a large firm, the agility of a small firm”-makes it “perfectly positioned to offer more leadership opportunities, professional development and performance incentives, in addition to the opportunity to work on dynamic projects nationwide.” Training is clearly a priority, and a formalized employee feedback program helps make sure individual ideas don’t get overlooked. Nearly 70 percent of new hire referrals come from staff referrals.
CEO Ben Maibach III says Barton Malow’s “solid reputation for integrity” among clients, subcontractors and colleagues is frequently mentioned by new hires as a reason for them pursuing employment with the design and construction services firm. And still the company wants to know how it can be better. “One of the first questions we ask ourselves is ‘what could we have done differently?’ and not ‘how did this employee fail us?'” says Maibach. “We hold people accountable but we know there are two sides to every story. We consistently look for win-win solutions while maintaining respect and dignity for our individuals.”
Being in the public accounting business these days has its own set of challenges, all of which require talented individuals to tackle. BDO Seidman is no exception, but the organization excels in being able to attract the professionals it needs to serve a growing client base. The practice, a member of BDO International, invests in internal communications, mentoring, tuition reimbursement, student loans and training. The result is a strong professional and personal growth culture and a partner-to-staff ratio that’s one of the lowest in the industry, which translates into greater opportunities early in a professional’s career.
CEO Jeanne Carlson has one word for why Blue Care Network is able to attract and retain employees: culture. “Our vision, mission and values were created by employees, for employees and we work hard to honor these commitments,” says Carlson. It also means listening, which management does regularly. “This input gives us opportunities to learn and adjust our business to meet the needs of our employees and they, in turn, take care of our customers.” As proof, Carlson points to a Work/Family Care program, developed in partnership with union leadership, that includes resources to help with homework and other work-life topics.
With word-of-mouth being the primary means of recruitment, this benefits company (which specializes in employee and executive plans as well as estate planning), is able to share in its success. As Executive Vice President Stacey O’Keefe explains, working at Cambridge includes “unbelievable teamwork” and an atmosphere where it’s “work hard, play hard” throughout the year. It’s also one where success is celebrated. “Everyone is aware of what the goals are,” says O’Keefe. “On a quarterly basis, we discuss those and on a monthly basis we get together for a breakfast or a lunch. It really is a great place to work.”
Staying on top of changes in legislation and regulation takes a lot of work and that means making a continual investment in employee training, something Donald Clayton knows all too well. Doing so will help the Southfield firm stay ahead in the face of strong competition. The firm does its part to participate in international organizations, the better for employees to “provide resources for our clients.” A culture of caring includes trips to Cedar Point and serving homemade cakes to celebrate promotions. Clayton says communication is key. “It assures our work as a team is fundamental, while valuing individual contributions to our team goals.”
Clear!Blue, whose clients include Jeep, Domino’s and Dodge, was founded on the idea of creating a unique environment where people would actually want to work. “The reason we have tried so hard to create and maintain that kind of place has a lot to do with ‘Inspiration!’ our first core value,” says CEO Todd Smith. At Clear!Blue, HR is called “People and Culture” and every year, Clear!Blue Camp brings the firm’s Chicago, Birmingham and Germany offices together for an intensive two-day session where work is checked at the door, the emphasis being on sharing company vision and unifying team goals.
West Michigan’s 101 Best & Brightest Companies To Work For
West Michigan winners were recognized in May and were featured in the Grand Rapids Business Journal
-¢ Acoustics By Design, Inc.
The cable company, now diversified into phone and Internet service, has also widened its reach as far as benefits that include the usual medical and such, but also complimentary and discounted cable and other services, plus tuition reimbursement and stock plans. Keeping in touch with employees is a priority as well, through a variety of interactive communications. Employees are encouraged to seek resolution for issues and concerns and an annual survey has 95 – 98 percent participation for the last two years. Dave Buhl, senior vice president of Comcast’s Michigan Region, says being a leading edge technology provider will only enhance employee relations in the future.
It may be the third year winning for this organization, but only the first under this name (two-time winner Research Federal Credit Union merged with Community Choice in August). What hasn’t changed, according to Tracy Jones, vice president of human resources, is the high level of commitment by employees. Part of that may be due to the feedback they get. “We have semi-annual evaluations, a coaching process, and an internal service survey that allows us to share feedback and foster development.” The “family friendly” environment comes with “a high sense of empowerment and respect for team members and the contributions they make,” adds Jones.
When Community Financial CEO William Lawton talks about a “good working relationship with employees,” he’s talking about emphasizing teamwork and two-way communications. “By working together productively, both Community Financial and our employees will succeed,” says Lawton. “There is real job security when we provide top quality service.” Lawton says having policies and procedures in place to resolve any problems that occur is key, as is valuing each employee as an individual. Leaders meet monthly with employees to provide a one-on-one communication forum and in the future Lawton expects to see “an even more innovative culture that nurtures cutting-edge employee friendly programs.”
In the midst of one of the toughest economies in the nation, Computer and Engineering Services is fighting back with a full employment package that’s focused on what employees need. Vice President Jay Miron points to communication practices he says helps when it comes to retention. Miron says employee relations begins even before employees come on board and extends through quarterly luncheons, monthly check-up calls, family events and annual performance reviews. When employees voiced concerns over rising gas prices, CES responded with a weekly gas card raffle, a small gesture, perhaps, but one that Miron says was received positively. “Our employees appreciate the fact that we listened.”
When Computer Consultants of America is looking for help, it turns to employees, who serve as the primary source of new hires. Once on board, employees benefit from a process that seeks to develop individual career plans for everyone in the organization, providing them with guidance, training, certifications and higher education. Says CEO Nicole Meathe, “We (do it) by implementing simple kindness combined with hard work to ensure our presence in the information technology market.” Five years from now, the theme should be much the same. Just quicker. “It is our vision to respond even faster to our employees’ needs and continue to provide outstanding support and guidance.”
It’s been four years since several thousand Compuware employees were asked to relocate from suburban facilities to the company’s new downtown Detroit headquarters. Today, the landmark Campus Martius facility includes a wellness center, onsite daycare for 400 children, all-day kindergarten and even a doctor’s office. Thomas Costello, senior vice president of human resources at the software development and services firm, says it’s all part of delivering a great place to work. “The nature of our business, which is about delivering cutting edge technology, means we need to attract and retain people,” says Costello. “Having a happy and engaged workforce only makes you more productive.”
Twenty years ago, Van Conway and Don MacKenzie linked up to provide specialized turnaround consulting and litigation support services. Today, the firm has five offices and some 65 employees, but it’s still a family atmosphere. “Everyone knows each other well and enjoys working with one another,” says Conway, a senior managing director. An open door policy fosters interaction with all levels within the organization, one where the culture “encourages everyone to reach their highest potential.” Work-life balance, Conway says, is a company value that plays out in various forms, including a recent trip to Cedar Point for employees and families.
CEO Anthony Carnarvon says developing an organization where employees are genuinely happy is about providing a friendly work environment, comfortable work conditions and a great benefits package. “We are proud that our employees take pride in their jobs, are committed to our organization, and enjoy coming to work.” They also appreciate life outside work, supported and encouraged by the credit union, as well as the corporate commitment to communities and the charitable organizations to which it donates. Carnarvon sees a future where growth and low turnover dominate. “Our employee longevity and continued employee development will allow us to continually strengthen our employee relations.”
At Deloitte, offering the opportunity to serve the country’s foremost organizations is said to be the most compelling reason for its success in attracting and retaining employees. Once onboard, SE Michigan Offices Managing Partner Joe Angileri says employees get special attention on an ongoing basis. “We are proud of our ability to make personal connections to coach and mentor everyone as an individual in an organization of our size. We pride ourselves on the individual attention necessary to help our people grow and develop.” And in the future? “Our organization will be well-known as ‘the place to be’ to accelerate your career development.”
CEO Richard DeMaria says empowering individuals to be policy makers within the company has led to higher levels of engagement, commitment and long-term retention. With some 22 percent of employees having celebrated 15 years or more of service in the last year, the loyalty factor is producing dividends. DeMaria underscores that loyalty by treating employees as insiders. “Employees understand that each of us shape the company’s destiny every day and have meaningful input on methods for doing our jobs.” Volunteerism is also encouraged, the reward being “the knowledge that we have made a difference and have a strong voice.”
A special place requires special people. For the Detroit Athletic Club, congeniality is the culture and J.G. Ted Gillary, executive manager, says hiring “likeable” people is key to the organization’s success. “They are our most important asset in attracting and keeping a stable workforce,” says Gillary, who adds that coming to work in a beautiful and elegant 92-year-old facility has its own reward. “It’s simply a great place to work.” The culture also requires employees to work closely with each other. “There is nothing more comforting and encouraging than to be among people where trust and respect is the norm. Our organizational culture is also our product.”
CEO Larry Alexander says people not only understand the organization’s mission, goals and priorities, but how their individual responsibilities fit with those goals. “We’re a people-oriented industry rather than one that focuses on product.” At the same time, he recognizes the very real need for work-life balance. “People are encouraged to do things outside their daily job functions, which creates a cross functional atmosphere. People help out wherever there’s a need and that helps us remain a successful organization.” Alexander says being in the center of “everything exciting that’s happening in the Metro area” makes the convention and visitors bureau a great place to work.
The largest credit union in Michigan and one of the largest nationwide, DFCU Financial says it’s committed to delivering “outstanding member experiences.” CEO Mark Shobe says the organization recognizes the link between member satisfaction and that of employees. “Our employees believe in and live our brand, which is to deliver highly personalized service and expertise,” says Shobe, who revamped the DFCU compensation system. “Only the highest level of personnel received bonuses. We increased the pay scale to ensure that it was competitive -¦ and we also introduced gain sharing. My feeling was that all employees are responsible for the success -¦ and all should share in that success.”
“Exceptional people on a mission-¦” For Domino’s Chairman and CEO David A. Brandon, it’s a recipe for continued success in a competitive business. “Our approach to attracting and retaining exceptional talent is to find out how our team members want to be treated, and treat them that way,” says Brandon. An open-door communication policy, development moves and extended learning courses are ways that’s played out. Brandon, who has Domino’s 10,000th store in his corporate crosshairs, knows he can’t get there without good people. “We work hard every day to make Domino’s an employer of choice today and will continue to do so.”
Human Resources Director Kathleen Herwick says employees at DTE Energy take their work seriously -¦ and they’re rewarded for that dedication. “For every dollar paid to employees in base salary, our company contributes an average of nearly 87 cents more for other benefits,” says Herwick. A free wellness program (“Energize Your Life”) and a competency-based performance management system that encourages accountability are among initiatives she says makes DTE Energy “a model workplace.” Numerous programs for promoting diversity and a mentoring process that helps employees with problems that may interfere with job performance is part of what makes that possible.
For Jackie Hooper, vice president of human resources at Easter Seals-Michigan, “finding the right people to be on the bus” is an important first step in creating a successful organization. “We need people who believe and want to support Easter Seals and its mission. A lot of the screening practices ensure that the people we bring on board have the same core values as we have.” Hooper says a strong staff recognition program and a free HMO option for health insurance are among the features that keep turnover rates low. “People want to feel they’re making a difference. We’ll always be looking for employees who are mission driven.”
Being in an organization where team support is a dominant trait has its own rewards, says Employees Only CEO Mario Apruzzese. The company, which “leases” employees (handling payroll, benefits administration and the like), is one where “everyone tries to help out everyone else.” Apruzzese, a CPA who founded the firm, says an attractive benefits package combined with flex scheduling, job sharing programs and paid time away from work to participate in charitable or civic activities are among the strengths of Employees Only. He also sees a future where ever-increasing standards will make it challenging to provide a great work environment. “But that’s why it means so much.”
Hire entry level four-year college graduates, train them and promote from within. That’s the Enterprise model, says Chris Gould, area vice president and general manager, who says “fun and friendly” are among the key reasons employees cite in discussing their workplace among friends or family. Gould sees a future where continued growth means even more opportunity for employees. “We will continue to offer fantastic career opportunities,” says Gould. “Our corporate business sector continues to grow and our managers focus on growing our daily rental fleet with every activity. This is what will continue to provide career opportunities for our employees.”
ePrize CEO Josh Linkner says the company mixes hard work with play to “keep team members on top of their game.” Company-sponsored events like an annual summer party, a Halloween gathering (“eeekPrize”) and March Madness festivities are part of the mix. “We take a holistic approach to employment and do our best to provide team members with ePrize perks they can’t find anywhere else,” says Linkner. With a goal of at least doubling the size of the organization in five years, Linkner says maintaining the culture and values will be key. “These rock-solid principles are the lifeblood of this company and will continue to drive everything we do.”
Progressive. Flexible. Inclusive. They’re three words Jeff Bergeron, Ernst & Young’s Detroit office managing partner, uses to explain why the professional services organization enjoys success in its recruiting and retention efforts. And diversity. “We are also committed to continuous improvement opportunities for our people as demonstrated by our investment in learning and mentoring initiatives,” says Bergeron. “When our people achieve their full potential, our clients benefit and our business prospers.” Once employees have the technology tools and flexibility to balance work and personal life demands, they “take individual responsibility for their professional and personal growth and for performing at their best every day.”
A reputation for “unequaled client satisfaction” is what allows Etkin Equities to recruit the best talent, who benefit from a healthy, flexible and productive work environment with work-life balance. Principals Douglas M. Etkin and James A. Ketai attribute the company’s success to doing the right thing and the work ethic that they’ve tried to instill. Oh yes, they’re also “nice people.” Not a bad combination to have when you’re hoping to continue to grow. But Etkin, growth or not, wants to maintain “the high level of employee satisfaction we have today” in an environment where people “can be themselves without worry of the dreaded office politics.”
The company may be in the business of making labor-saving robots, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t care about people-or even those who work in customer companies. Indeed, an initiative (www.saveyourfactory.com) is intended to help companies retain their manufacturing base by having them fully and objectively analyze the advantages of technology, including robotic automation, before deciding whether to source overseas. For FANUC employees, an ongoing emphasis on empowerment drives HR efforts, which helps paint the biggest picture of all: 99 percent of FANUC customers say they’d continue to buy from the company.
A family company from its inception in 1976, the Farbman Group has tried to maintain that family oriented environment, says Human Resources Director Kristin Higginbotham. An attractive benefits program, workplace flexibility, an internal “Farbman University” training program and outings throughout the year, as well as a wellness program and bi-weekly visits by a massage therapist, all contribute to an environment where people are staying longer than ever. Higginbotham hopes to see that trend continuing, even in an organization where turnover is not a problem. Still, “we hope we’ll have even more long-term employees than we do today.”
Employee engagement is the rule when it comes to working at Fifth Third Bank. And for good reason, says President and CEO Greg Kosch. “We believe that engaged employees create positive, meaningful customer experiences. Employees are enjoying their success and as a result, refer their friends and family to the bank, both for employment opportunities as well as financial services.” Kosch says creating “exceptional workplaces that encourage individual work-life” balance is good for business. From a larger perspective, he says employees know they are “helping to build better tomorrows” for customers, a reward in itself.
CEO Jim Townley says he knows who he works for at FTC&H. “The fact is we are inclusive, and work with (not for) each other,” he says. “We have broad-based employee ownership that allows us to chart our own path and growth initiatives. The emphasis is on professional development and providing the latest technology so staff can do what they enjoy and do best.” Townley points to work-life balance, the utilization of individual talents and a mentoring program as being among the initiatives of which he’s most proud. And for good reason. “A staff member who is well-rounded and puts family first does superior work.”
Fresh ideas. Value diversity. Foster creativity. They’re all part of Flagstar Bank’s strategy for attracting and retaining employees, an important factor for this growing company. Flagstar also boasts an open-door policy, which it says keeps the lines of communication flowing freely at all levels of the organization. That, in turn, allows the bank to take advantage of good ideas and move quickly to implement them, at the same time being aware of employee concerns. Community involvement through grassroots events and major sponsorships keeps Flagstar connected as well, even as management seeks to maintain a dynamic culture and family like atmosphere.
Walk through the hallways of Garden City Hospital and chances are you’ll run into employees who represent a second or even third generation of family members. Yes, it’s that tight knit, according to CEO Gary Ley, who says promoting a family atmosphere in an organization that’s friendly and caring is part of an organization that was founded in 1947 by six physicians. Today it has a well-earned reputation as employer and health care provider and Ley sees a future that will build on those strengths, with the same values coupled with the latest skills and technology helping to drive continued excellence.
Having developed a reputation for integrity and providing a professional, ethical work environment, Ghafari President & CEO Kouhaila Hammer says a combination of corporate stability, worldwide career opportunities and a focus on technology are responsible for the firm being able to attract and retain employees. It’s also a challenging environment, but that’s part of what keeps talent in place. As for the future, Hammer says the company will work hard to maintain its leadership. “We expect to continue the trend of growth through greater service offerings but no matter how much we grow, we will never compromise our focus on customer service or our ‘do what it takes’ culture.”
CEO Randal Bellestri says achieving success in attracting and retaining employees is about the “total package” that comes from working at Global Tooling Systems. “We start by hiring qualified people, and offer them a safe, clean environment, pay them above-average wages, and provide them with enough work to keep them from any type of layoff.” Keeping that momentum going is also an important factor. “We communicate the philosophy that we all rise and fall together, and praise them equally for a job well-done. When your employees are happy, word spreads throughout the industry and local areas, and this attracts other qualified personnel.”
“What you see is what you get.” Paul V. Wolber, office managing partner at Grant Thornton, says the phrase is at the heart of why employees join the public accounting firm. “We have been told there are many reasons for people being attracted to us from an employment perspective, not just one.” People are chosen to be part of the selection process for their ability to convey the Grant Thornton Experience to candidates. Add in the challenges of the profession, the growth of the industry, and retention “almost takes care of itself.” A doubling of the staff over the past three years would seem to support that statement.
While loyalty is a word that’s sometimes over-used, that’s not the case with G-Tech, where the very first person hired by President Theresa G. Ghafari in 1991 is still with the organization. With a reputation for integrity, a professional, ethical work environment, consistent growth, and nationwide career opportunities, employees are recognized for their talents and contributions through advancement. Ghafari says while it may be “easy to promise more than you can deliver in an effort to recruit or place an employee,” it doesn’t happen at G-Tech. “Our credo here is ‘do what is fair, do what is right, and don’t worry about anything else.'”
Okay, you just saw Kid Rock walk down the hall. And Trisha Yearwood threw a concert -¦ in the cafeteria. For employees at Handleman Company, it’s all part of the average day. Yes, the firm is undergoing its own financial struggles, along with the rest of the music industry, but Handleman isn’t about to release its grip on core values that have made it a “101 Best Places to Work” for six years running. Perks such as “stork” parking for expectant mothers and dry cleaning pick ups are among the “no or low cost” initiatives in a company where everyone’s treated like family.
Never content to rest on its laurels, this premier firm is now taking a leadership role when it comes to sustainable development, with a commitment to develop best practices throughout the organization. Employees will benefit from a corporate commitment to pay for the cost of examination to become LEED-accredited professionals, says Chairman and CEO Dennis King. “It’s something we’re always doing for the people who work here,” he says. “Elevating the level of knowledge and talent of staff members is a good business decision and one that makes our employees more valuable in their role as engineers and architects.”
Henry Ford Health System calls its rewards and recognition program “Total Rewards,” a reflection of offerings as diverse and unique as its employees. Whether it’s flex benefits, retirement and pension plans, wellness, child care, employee assistance, or tuition reimbursement, each are considered an effective recruitment and retention initiative. Employees, who set new standards for diversity (a few of whom are in their 80s), come to work in a challenging, invigorating environment, says CEO Nancy Schlichting, who adds that Henry Ford’s leadership “provides a spirit of cooperation and desire for each employee to succeed, not only as an individual, but as part of a work team as well.”
Huntington says it’s “invested in people” and one might think that’s referring to the bank’s customers. But Michele Symkowiak, regional HR manager, says Huntington has been able to create a culture that focuses on people-associates who look to HR as a first place to turn, not as a last resort. That proactive strategy helps cut down on the number of issues for which HR needs to be involved. “They seek us out at the front end,” says Symkowiak. “We’re very proud of the relationship we’ve established.” With Huntington being involved in the various communities in which it does business, employees are encouraged to do their part as well.
Founded 11 years ago by Michigan-born entrepreneurs, ImageSoft has no question as to why it is so successful: its people. As CEO Scott Bade explains, it’s the result of hiring “bright passionate people. Who inspire, encourage and challenge each other every day.” Employees find themselves in a position where an open exchange of ideas is encouraged and thinking beyond the norm is expected, no matter what position. They also work hard. “We have high expectations,” says Bade. An open communication strategy that combines regular team meetings, e-mail and voice mail for updates is part of it, but “nothing is more effective than simply walking through an open door.”
When it comes to human resources strategy, owners Don Czerniewski, Paul Gutierrez and Glen Dantes have a simple goal: doing things that make employees of Industrial Control Repair want to work there. It may be flexible hours or superior working conditions, but open and regular communications is seen as one reason for the ability to retain people. “We have a lean initiative and we involve employees in a lot of the day-to-day decisions,” says Czerniewski. “If someone does leave, it’s usually for a reason we can’t control.” Continued growth is expected to create additional opportunities for employees in the months and years ahead.
A supplier of plastic fuel systems, Inergy has relied, successfully, on word-of-mouth as a recruiting strategy. When prospective employees do come on board, they’re presented with a broad spectrum of employee relations practices, many of which wouldn’t be found outside a much larger organization. Examples: succession planning, international assignments, and training and development options. But still, it’s about the people. “The most common thing we hear from our employees is they enjoy the people,” says CEO Mark Sullivan. “Working with excellent people makes life at work more pleasant and interesting and provides our employees with opportunities to learn and grow professionally.”
With health care costs continuing to rise, having full family coverage with no employee contribution is an even more compelling reason to work for an organization like JARC. As Executive Director Joyce Keller points out, having the best pay rate for direct care staff in the area is another. “Not only are our employees rewarded financially and through our amazing benefit package, but the work they do is always rewarding because each person who works for JARC makes a difference in the lives of the people we serve and their families,” says Keller. “We are creating the best possible life for people with developmental disabilities.”
Known as a “career builder,” KPMG further promotes that reputation with an extensive Web site that encourages employees to look at opportunities throughout the firm, even if it means changing practices. Add in alternative work arrangements and a philosophy that speaks to giving back to the community and it’s easy to see why so many have chosen the firm upon which to hang their professional hats. “We let our employees drive their careers,” says Detroit Office Managing Partner Jeff Dobbs. “People like to work here because they really enjoy the people they get to work with on their teams.”
When others answer “people” when asked what distinguishes a company from the competition, you’d be wise to listen. So it is that Thomas P. McGraw, founder and president, is relentless in his pursuit of finding quality people. “The right fit is more important to us than simply filling the job with anyone other than an exceptional candidate,” says McGraw. Having been successful in fostering a fair, open and honest environment where opinions and feelings are respected, McGraw says mutual trust has been the result. Having grown from three employees to a staff of 60 in the last 10 years, McGraw says the organization is ready for any change future growth will demand.
With work-life balance being at the top of issues of interest to Susan Cubbin, vice president of human resources at Meadowbrook, it’s no wonder that the program she’s most proud of is the “Get Fit, Stay Fit” wellness initiative. It’s also a statement of respect for employees. “We care about them, we want to help them succeed, and we provide an environment where they really want to work.” The future for Meadowbrook should be different-but better. “We’re always trying to add things that enhance and improve the current status,” says Cubbin. “It will be different in the sense that we’ll be looking at better ways to do that.”
When people join Mill Steel, they’re “adopted” into the Samrick family, owners of the firm that Harry (grandfather of President Andrew and father of CEO David) started in 1959. “They feel they’re responsible for an employee’s family welfare as much as they can be,” says People Development Director Tom Stanfield. Once onboard, the caring attitude permeates the organization, so much so that some have called being at Mill “like working at a family reunion.” Not that it isn’t a serious place. “Our goal is for every employee to feel like they’re a small business owner,” says Stanfield. “And we don’t pigeonhole people.”
CEO Christopher Bishop says MiPro Consulting, which focuses on the PeopleSoft enterprise environment, has a number of core values, but the first is, naturally, people. “I’m proud that we can afford to be innovative, that we listen to our employees and hear what they want and what is important to them, rather than just offer cookie-cutter solutions.” Being able to provide work that people find interesting and challenging is also something Bishop is pleased to offer at MiPro. “I think they appreciate being recognized for their individual achievements and not treated as just a number or a cog in the machinery.”
“Our employees see firsthand the impact they have in the lives of our clients and consumers.” That’s how CEO Sheilah P. Clay explains the success of Neighborhood Service Organization in attracting and retaining employees. The private nonprofit human service agency, founded in 1955 with a mission of reaching out to people and empowering them to improve their lives, treats staff like partners. “We cannot do this without them,” says Clay, who adds that “making a difference” is a major reason given for why employees enjoy working at NSO, which has a unique system of locating offices where problems exist in the community.
Now celebrating its 10th year in business, the company was founded by two high school buddies with just $20,000 in personal start-up funds (and today, with no debt). Chairman and president Sandy Kronenberg calls a decade of sustained growth, even throughout the dot-com bubble, “a testament to our sure footing: people, tools and process.” The founders (CEO Duane Tursi is the other) say feedback from teams is an essential first step before any policy or procedures changes are made. Also standard is the Netarx practice of talking to customers, then integrating the knowledge gained into the company.
CEO Stan Gramke says the 42-year-old nonprofit, which helps prepare people with disabilities for competitive employment, is one that recognizes staff through internal promotions and advancements. A testament to that is the longevity and retention rate, he says. With “excellent working conditions, hours and benefit package,” the organization attracts people who enjoy working with individuals with disabilities. Employees are encouraged to use their earned time off and maintain a work schedule that is conducive to that type of atmosphere. Gramke sees a future where New Horizons will continue to diversify its services to become more individualized in meeting the needs of people served.
NTH boasts a “self-renewing” annual development program (NTH Project Management Academy) HR Vice President Stephanie Redman says is designed to “produce thoroughly prepared, well-rounded project managers and to encourage teamwork within the firm.” As President/CEO Ben Tiseo says, “we strive to provide excellent service to our clients and to provide an excellent working environment for our employees. Training, mentoring and professional development are key to our success as a firm.” The employee-owned firm, founded in 1968, is a nationally recognized expert in the geo-thermal discipline. “We have earned the respect of our peers and our clients by providing innovative, cost-effective solutions for both unusual and routine problems.”
At Oakwood, it seems one of the best ways to attract employees (especially hard-to-come-by nurses) is through employee referrals. Keeping them is at least partly a function of Oakwood’s orientation program (with management effectiveness also being cited). Another key part of the health care organization’s employee relations strategy is to listen, gathering input from a combination of satisfaction surveys, feedback sessions, and, in the case of employees who do move on, exit interviews. Add in flexible work arrangements and job sharing, tuition reimbursement and both child and adult day care programs and Oakwood becomes one of the “Best Places” to work.
A clear vision of the corporate goals and objectives is the primary reason given by HR Director Kelly Jackson for the consulting firm’s ongoing success in attracting and retaining employees. That, and “having exciting projects to work on.” Founded in 1962 to serve as the consulting engineer for the city of Livonia (which remains a client), Orchard, Hiltz & McCliment this year acquired the remaining 40 percent of its interest in Houghton-based Hitch, Inc. But adding 15 members to the staff won’t change much. “We live out our core values,” says Jackson. “We’re a people-caring organization that’s family friendly.”
At this specialty lender (Origen provides financing for manufactured homes), it’s “family first, worker close second,” a philosophy that starts with the CEO. For Laura Campbell, senior vice president of human resources, it just makes common sense. “We want our environment to be both rewarding and relaxing at the same time.” It plays out in flexible work schedules, dress-down days, and the organization’s “Make the Difference” program, which encourages employees to be involved in charitable and social events throughout the year. The result, says Campbell, is creating a place where people want to work. “When that happens, they’ll tell others.”
With a strong culture of employee involvement evident throughout the organization, Otterbase founder and CEO William Bennett says teamwork is an essential part of just about everything that happens at work. A series of shared core values drives the company, among them “passion” (for company, consultants, and clients), “diligence” (to ensure each objective is followed through to completion), and “humility” (to recognize the limitations and improve upon them). Bennett says employees participate in making policy through a formal executive committee, made up of eight employees who Bennett says have “full power to give policy direction” on HR matters.
Start with an inherently creative industry that includes public relations, interactive media and event marketing and it’s natural that what’s needed to thrive is a workforce that’s just as creative. That’s where PCGCampbell takes off. “The communications business is a constantly evolving one these days, so successful companies like ours encourage creativity and innovation from all employees,” says Kevin Kennedy, executive vice president. “Complementing the interesting assignments is our culture of flexibility and fun.” Yet the work gets done. “Staff teamwork and collaboration are key to our business,” says Kennedy. “People believe they can always count on their fellow employees when called upon.”
While people are still key, Cathy Revord, senior vice president and HR director, says employees are even more important in helping to link customers with newly bundled packages of financial services. “The mentoring and training is still part of that, but we have products our employees are proud to present to customers. They are products a larger bank has but we deliver with a community bank feel.” From the employee perspective, Revord says, “knowing their customer is being taken care of is important to them. The biggest changes have come in having more in their toolbox to help the customer. They feel they’re making a difference.”
Determined. Distinctive. Fearless. They’re words the law firm says its clients use to describe its approach. But when it comes to employees, “inspiring” might be more appropriate. A “Great Place to Work” initiative has as its objective the idea that someone would remain with the firm “for the duration of their career.” Innovative benefits such as flexible hours and working remotely (for professional staff) are part of it. So are movie ticket discount programs, birthday celebrations, healthy living programs and a mentoring program. And in case you were thinking otherwise, the Plunkett Cooney work experience is no mere marketing concept. As their Web site states, “It’s an environment we instinctively cultivate.”
Why do people want to work at Rock Financial? “It’s the culture. Without a doubt,” says Todd Lunsford, vice president of human resources at the mortgage lender. “It’s the sense of pride that we create and the level of ownership and responsibility that we give folks.” Those thoughts are underscored when new hires go through their orientation-with the help of CEO Bill Emerson and Founder/Chairman Dan Gilbert. It’s also represented by a new type of thinking. “We’re looking for ideas, which is part of a bottom up strategy for continually refining our processes,” says Lunsford. “We want those ideas and that makes us a lot different than most companies.”
“Schawk’s industry leadership is a magnet that draws people to our doors, but it’s our culture that keeps people inside,” says President David A. Schawk, of the company founded by his father, Chairman Clarence W. Schawk in 1953. “We integrate visionary thinking with timeless values and ideals and I think this inspires great confidence among our employees.” An employee opinion survey-with an 88 percent response rate-helps keep the organization on track. David Schawk says embracing change means a constant state of reinvention. “We’ll be transforming our global organization to provide higher value solutions to brand owners (but) the fundamentals of how we treat our people will not change.”
With a 98 percent customer retention rate, Service Express needs employees who will also stay around. The company’s strategy? Give them opportunities that are important to everyone. A structured, multi-step interview process includes a day of job shadowing and the selection of new hires based on their talents. SEI points to its communication channels-”open and two-way”-and its systems of measuring objectives and performance on a weekly and monthly basis as reasons for its success in recruiting and retaining staff. In short, employees who may require additional resources are not left to flounder; and at annual review time, there are no surprises.
Having started by visualizing what she wanted the company to be, Adrienne Lenhoff Wise enlisted employees in making it happen. And then, Shazaaam! “It’s become a reality and as a result people on our team love their careers,” says Wise. “They go the extra mile for our clients and have a vested interest in the growth and success of the company.” Shazaaam! employees are not ones to be pigeonholed. “They like being challenged to learn and do new things,” says Wise. “The nature of our work has them traveling to fun places, talking to different people and challenging their minds and unleashing their creativity.”
With a 43-year reputation for providing high quality, innovative solutions and excellent service, SME CEO Mark Sullivan says the company “proudly advertises and celebrates the fact that we are a performance-based company that generously rewards those who truly deserve to be rewarded.” When it comes to recruiting, that sometimes means grabbing candidates-even if there isn’t a position for them. “We’ll create an opportunity,” says Sullivan, who says he’s particularly proud of the organization’s communications practices and recognition programs. “We put tremendous heart into designing our benefit programs and group professional development and training activities.”
From a small storefront office on Woodward Avenue in Birmingham, Mich., founders Vern Spalding and Frank DeDecker began their partnership in 1954 with a handshake and an oath to focus on quality in workmanship and integrity in client service. A year after their first project-lot grading plans for a builder in Lansing-the pair had 40 projects on the go. Today, the 100 percent employee-owned business remains one that fosters long-term relationships with its clients, the result of empowering people to share ownership and sharing their time and expertise within the communities they serve.
As a faith-based employer, St. John “recognizes the value and importance of a great work environment,” says CEO Elliot Joseph. Several programs put teeth to the philosophy, including an Associate Ambassador/Service Excellence program that empowers employees to make decisions and a Principles of Leadership program that outlines guiding behaviors “for how we work together” as well as being a foundation for leader development. St. John is also working to relieve a shortage of nurses. “We launched a results-oriented initiative in 2005 to transform the nursing experience and we continue to meet targets like reducing voluntary turnover and improving work environment scores,” says Joseph.
For President Lesley Delgado, every day is an opportunity to learn-from the employees of StaffPro America, which she founded in 1992. “We learn and get our best ideas and solutions from them,” she says. “Because they are on the front line, they have the best and most intimate details about how their work affects the whole. Initiatives and best practices should always come from those who are serving the organization.” It’s an approach that works, if the stacks of thank you cards are any indication. “The most prevalent theme is appreciation for treating employees with a high level of respect for their personal and professional goals.”
Running a business as the enterprise it is doesn’t mean employee needs and desires can’t or shouldn’t be accommodated. Indeed, for President and CEO Cynthia J. Pasky, it’s good business to do so. Treating employees like family is at the heart of a philosophy that’s been paying dividends since it was founded in 1990, operating with a combination of honesty, ethics and hard work. “Each and every employee is treated with equal respect and acknowledgement and is offered immense growth opportunity,” says Pasky. “When they are working at S3, they are part of a family, a family that works hard, plays hard and is proud.”
For some companies, diversifying away from automotive is their focus. At TAC Automotive, it’s just the opposite. The organization focuses entirely on meeting the staffing needs of the automotive community-both OEMs and suppliers alike. CEO Jim Cowper says the organization, a part of TAC Worldwide, uses measured touch points with all employees to monitor success. “Employees like the fact that they’re treated like professionals and are given the tools necessary to succeed and can ‘see’ weekly measurements of their work,” he says. In the future, Cowper says TAC will change with the market, with the intention of using the latest technologies available.
With home and business customers buying everything from local and long distance as well as Internet and satellite TV (through an affiliation with Dish Network), TDS Metrocom is one busy place-and one that needs people to succeed. For Cathy Sionkowski, market manager, being able to offer a dynamic, fast-paced work environment that’s challenging, exciting and rewarding helps meet that need. “We’re part of an industry where change is constant and the technology evolves at lightning speed,” she says. “Our employees appreciate working in a small business environment, and being part of a large, national company.”
He may have started The Nailco Group as a retailer of nail care products, but CEO Larry Gaynor has applied a fresh perspective to doing business in transforming the organization to one that meets the needs of retailers whose business is beauty. Everything from supplies to furniture and more can be found at one of the company’s online or brick and mortar stores. Yet it still comes down to people. “I’m proud of the fact that we have the ability to actually change people’s lives through their own transformation,” says Gaynor. “They get to see the results first hand. Harnessing their inner talents and strengths has seen tremendous results.”
Some things change. And some things remain the same. For Bryan Hirn, whose Rains Group was acquired by Arthur J. Gallagher over the past year, it’s different ownership. Yet a philosophy of treating employees “the same way we treat clients” remains. “We pretty much do whatever it takes to help people do their jobs, to be the best they can be.” A major initiative has been the implementation of a wellness program, which included the construction of an on-site workout facility. The company hired a personal fitness trainer and developed programs for healthy living, one result being a 75 percent reduction in the number of employees who smoke.
Putting people first is at the heart of this growing public accounting enterprise that first opened its doors in 1941. And for good reason: it depends on its cadre of some 550 professionals to succeed. CEO Steve Kelly says giving employees the tools to succeed is a way for it to protect its investment. “We offer Dale Carnegie Training and leadership training and we encourage employee feedback,” he says. The firm expects to double its size within five years, adding more offices in Florida and Michigan, even as it remains on the cutting edge as a means of recruiting and retaining employees.
Much has changed since Henry C. Turner founded the company that bears his name in 1902. But maybe not: Turner called his clients “respected friends” and that’s not much different in philosophy today. It may be bigger (okay, a lot bigger) but as Steven Berlage, general manager and vice president explains, “an employee is getting the best of both worlds by working in a mid-sized office here in Michigan with a large company backing.” The depth of resources available at Turner means employees get all the tools they need. And they’re empowered to make meaningful decisions regarding day-to-day activities, with advancement based on performance, not experience alone.
Who says a couple of hundred people can’t be close? Not CEO Tony Frabotta, whose colleagues at UHY Advisors work hard at personally developing relationships through a number of events that include family. Sure, those same colleagues work hard at what they do-serving clients at UHY’s offices in matters of tax, business consulting and public accounting. There’s also an emphasis on continuing education. And providing an environment where UHY will be ready to adapt. “Our industry drives change,” says Frabotta. “Therefore, we are always looking for ways to help employees deal with external change in our industry.”
Ask University of Michigan Health System CEO Robert P. Kelch, M.D., why the organization is successful in attracting and retaining employees and you’ll get a straightforward answer. “People are drawn to the mission,” says Dr. Kelch. “They recognize that this is a very diverse organization where employees can build their careers and work among world-class experts in their field. They say they chose to work here because of the experience, our rich benefits, and our competitive pay.” Kelch says listening to employees is one of the employee relations practices for which he’s most proud. “That feedback is critical to helping leadership understand how we can improve.”
Carol Spann, vice president of corporate human resources, clearly understands just how powerful something like culture can be to an organization as large as Valassis. “One of our key strategies is to enrich and evolve our culture, which speaks to how highly we value our associates and our commitment to continual improvement,” says Spann. “We want our workplace to be comfortable, enjoyable and, yes, fun. Maintaining such an environment where associates look forward to coming to work involves a business where they are an integral part of the strategic plan.” With the integration of Advo Inc. the next year should be an even more exciting one for the people of Valassis.
Want a degree? Work at Verizon Wireless, either part-time or full, and you’ll be eligible for up to $8,000 in annual tuition reimbursement. Plus the company offers comprehensive, low cost family health insurance from the first day of work, and health, vision and dental insurance for part-timers. Jackie Underwood, Verizon’s associate director of human resources, says being a “compassionate employer” is something she takes pride in. “We value employees. And when we evaluate a change, we want to know how that change will impact employees.” A pay-for-performance company, Verizon expects to see a future where employees will be even more connected with technology than they are today.
Sometimes it’s just the work. At Virchow, Krause & Company, Regional Managing Partner Craig D. Nelson says success comes from “the opportunities we provide our partners and associates for a tremendous professional career in which their efforts are appropriately recognized and rewarded while allowing their personal lives and goals to remain a top priority.” Still, it doesn’t come without effort. “We are most proud of the investments we make to build camaraderie and strengthen our culture,” says Nelson. “Whether it’s a holiday party at Comerica Park or an after hours function, our employees know we care about them and their needs.”
As Kathleen Holycross, CEO of Visiting Nurse Association of Southeast Michigan, puts it, “It’s a new workforce with new rules and VNA has adapted accordingly.” For an organization celebrating its 109th year of service, a new way of doing business includes flexible scheduling options, and a sophisticated computer system that gives employees secure access to network files from home. In addition to opportunities for job development and an attractive compensation and benefits package, Holycross points to a generous paid time off policy as reasons for the organization attracting and retaining staff and predicts the organization will remain a leader in home health care.
What does it take to be a “101 Best Places to Work For” company, year after year? Ask someone at Volkswagen of America (a perennial winner) and they’ll undoubtedly mention the outcomes: a high employee attraction and retention rate that’s related to a finely honed talent selection process. Or the ongoing employee development, progressive leadership practices, excellent benefits, rewards and recognition awards, or perhaps the flexible work schedules and the performance-oriented, employee friendly culture. At VW, words like “community,” “diverse,” “talented” and “engaged” are talked about regularly.
Having a strong customer base and employment opportunities are both reasons for W3R Consulting’s success in attracting and retaining the people it needs. Having a process for developing each employee through their time at W3R is another. CEO Eric Hardy says frequent interactions with each employee at the customer site helps the company foster an open dialogue about key successes and challenges. “We attribute our low turnover to open communications, which increases our awareness to challenges before issues arise,” says Hardy, who predicts his organization will grow significantly five years from now, but with the same strong bond with employees.
Having an open mind is not an abstract concept at Wade Trim. For Tim McKindles, the organization’s director of human resources, it’s a way of thinking that has something of a domino effect. “You move an executive up and you have to fill that position, which repeats itself over and over again. It’s about promoting from within, which is very healthy for an organization such as ours.” Employee relations practices at Wade Trim typically involve two answers: “what is the minimum I can do?” and “what’s the right thing to do to make the employee whole?” Clearly, McKindles favors the second answer.
Get ’em young and get ’em early. That’s the kind of thinking behind a summer intern program that this past summer had some 25 university students working side-by-side with staff to learn the company’s business. “Our interns experience our corporate culture, learn important skills and are given performance reviews,” says President John Rakolta Jr. “We then invite the top talent to intern with us for the following year and upon graduation, to join our organization.” The practice is one of Walbridge Aldinger’s most successful recruitment programs. “We seek the brightest and best, and they reap what all our employees enjoy.”
Pay and benefits is important, but for a law firm with a mere 4 percent turnover, there must be more. And there is: the firm’s reputation and the quality and type of work it does for clients. “Once working for the firm, people appreciate our approach to teamwork throughout the organization,” says Managing Partner Douglas Wagner. “We hire professionals in every position and each person has an important and valued role to play in the service to our clients.” Location, location, location? At Warner, Norcross & Judd, it’s flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. “We attempt to meet people where they are and provide packages meeting their needs,” says Wagner.
The nine-year-old management and technology services firm specializes in business technology strategy and enterprise application development and integration. Employees have taken on the service mantle-rebranding the premium consulting services that larger national firms provide but in a smaller, nimbler, and locally focused consultancy. Regular meetings with company leadership and a mentoring program are ways Xede keeps those who come on board with the organization. A rigorous interview process that’s structured to bring on and retain high caliber talent is all part of the game plan at Xede. “It’s very fun and relaxed, but it’s very professional as well,” says Lisa Kloock, director of HR and operations.