Foosball tables, Keurig coffee makers, big-screen TVs, Beer Fridays, birthday bonuses—creative employers can come up with about a jillion ways, large and small, to demonstrate concern for the worker.
Each one of those trappings, however, is just a tool. And you don’t build a productive workshop by simply dumping tools into it willy-nilly; you do it with a strategic focus that blends such factors as your approach to structuring an employee benefits plan, the way your workplace is set up, the way your work flow is organized to optimize each individual’s chance to succeed, or the processes you have for hiring people who will produce lift rather than drag.
Such thinking defines our 2014 Best Companies to Work For. As you read about this year’s winning companies and finalists, you’ll see the kinds of creative approaches that owners and executives have embraced to differentiate themselves in the quest to attract and retain the top talent.
As the economy continues to become ever more digitally driven and knowledge-based, attraction and retention of the best remains paramount. The work force has been shrinking in recent years relative to the overall population, and there are legitimate concerns about the quality of what’s left of it. For, as the late George Carlin so eloquently put it, half the people in the country, by default, are below average.
So here’s to the companies that place a premium on bringing in the truly talented worker, and helping him or her achieve personal goals in life and professional goals at work, while helping their organizations thrive.
LARGE COMPANIES: WINNERS
If your mission is helping individuals, businesses, and communities create additional value in their lives, it’s just good business sense to build a company that demonstrates the value you place in every employee, and allows them to unleash their talent and realize their potential. Before any of that happens, though, you have to get ’em in the door, and Verizon makes an employment offer tough to resist. Competitive salaries and benefits are standard fare in the HR menu of large companies, but this isn’t: a 401(k) retirement plan that includes a dollar-for-dollar match of up to a whopping 6 percent of an employee’s salary.
Next comes a training program that starts with eight days of face-to-face instruction for new hires, eight days of virtual training and five days of in-store application. With updates every year. That positions each employee to embrace Verizon’s credo, a series of statements that defines the company and the way each employee interacts with others, and with customers. It’s a kind of personal mission statement for employees: Providing customers with the best experience. Embrace the highest ethical standards. Value teamwork and diversity. Display integrity. Embrace change. Take personal accountability and meeting challenges head-on.
That formula has produced a workplace recognized on multiple levels for its attractiveness. Working Mother has had Verizon on its list of best companies for working moms for 13 straight years, and the company is one of the 100 Best Places to Work in IT, according to Computer World.
The long-term outlook for those employees would appear to be promising; as the nation’s largest wireless carrier, Verizon serves 102.8 million retail customers. As an active member in communities where it operates, the company encourages employees to participate—and they do, to the tune of 6.8 million hours of volunteer service since the company was formed in 2000. It also sports its own grant-making arm, the Verizon Foundation, which supports employees’ volunteering efforts with potential grants of $750 for non-profits where an individual employee volunteers at least 50 hours a year.
TVH Parts Co.
You just don’t see a lot of family businesses—in any sector—thriving on six continents. Were there a bigger market for materials-handling equipment in Antarctica, you can bet that Belgium-based TVH Parts Co. would be offloading forklifts there, too. It’s come a long way since its founding in 1969, and over the past 11 years has seen its U.S.-based operations in Olathe simply explode. The co-founder’s daughter, CEO Els Thermote, arrived in 2003, and the former Systems Material Handling has rebranded and expanded, with success metrics everywhere: Now with operations in six states, its revenues are up fivefold, topping $275 million. The employee count has gone from 211 to more than 750. And it replaced a 225,000-square-foot warehouse with a mega-facility covering an astonishing 1.2 million square feet.
The fuel for that growth? Employees responding to the call for teamwork, creativity and initiative. They benefit from TVH’s emphasis on a healthy work-life balance, a focus on open communication, incentive programs, and educational opportunities for employees.
The name of the company’s employee wellness initiative tells you a lot about how it sees its role in improving employee lives: the Nudge program. To encourage healthy and productive lives, TVH has opened a new on-site gym at the Olathe headquarters. Fitness classes, weekly “fruit days,” reimbursements for gym memberships, free flu shots, and health challenges all combine to elevate the overall health of the work force and give the leadership leverage in discussions about health-care insurance rates. That comes in handy, since three health plans are on the benefits menu, along with vision, dental and prescription-drug coverage, life and disability insurance, and flexible spending accounts.
To address fiscal fitness, TVH sponsors financial-management seminars and offers a 401(k) with matching on the first 5 percent of employee contributions. That work/life thing? Covered: Flexible working hours, seven paid holidays, vacation and sick-day accrual, and an additional personal day each year. All of that comes with an extensive investment in each employee’s training, including TVH Leadership Academy for managers, an employee-recognition program called TVHONE, and continuing-education assistance.
Opposites may indeed attract on occasion, but there’s something to be said for the power of affinity, too. Think about it: Big companies, which tend to get big by being well-run and great places to work, also tend to align with corporate partners who share their values. No surprise, then, that KPMG’s Kansas City office counts among its considerable client base nine of the 20 biggest public companies and nine of the biggest private companies in this region.
The local office is but one branch of a global professional-services firm that has 155,000 employees worldwide, 28,000 in the U.S., and nearly 300 in Kansas City.
With 2013 revenues of nearly $23.5 billion, it has serious muscle to put into its appeal as an employer.
Getting that many people to pull the oars in sync starts with a learning and development package for new hires and veterans alike. Advisory, Audit or Tax Fundamental trainings, each running a week long, help new hires understand the company, its culture and the vast array of technical aspects they must command. Veterans, as well, undergo 80 hours of annual training—that’s nearly 4 percent of an employee’s annual hours devoted to absorbing guidance from thousands of sessions of live, instructor-led and on-line courses.
A highly competitive compensation package includes a 401(k) with a match of up to 25 percent, a suite of health-insurance options, dental and vision plans, flexible-spending accounts for medical and dependent care, discounted fitness programs and facilities, flexible work arrangements, part-time schedules and a sabbatical program.
The collaborative work environment, company officials say, has a lot to do with favorable responses to in-house surveys in which 86 percent of employees say they take pride in working for KPMG. That, no doubt, is what helped the firm earn inclusion on Fortune magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, plus a slew of other organizations’ recognition as a quality employer.
The benefits of working at KPMG flow both ways: to employees and back to the community, via a national volunteer program called Involve, and with service on boards of non-profit entities. Among the beneficiaries of the local office’s largesse are the United Way and charities identified by KPMG’s own Community Giving Campaign. The office here also sponsors the Kansas City chapter of Women’s Corporate Directors, the Young Athena award and other programs that promote women in business.
It’s hard enough just building a top-notch workplace from scratch. The real trick, though, is sustaining it at that level throughout years of furious growth. Welcome to Faruk Capan’s world. Fifteen years after he envisioned a digital marketing company that would specialize in meeting the needs of pharmaceutical and health-care companies, his Intouch Solutions staff grew by nearly a third in 2012 alone, and now stands at 470 employees working in three locations.
By bringing on those new folks, and retaining talented ones, the company has grown big enough to warrant new digs—a 90,000-square-foot headquarters that will be ready for occupancy this summer. From the looks of it, they’ll need every inch of that space: the company expects to add 350 more jobs in the area over the next five years.
At Intouch, the keys to mission success are found in the skills and knowledge of that staff. Accordingly, it has launched its own in-house university—Intouch Continuing Education—with instruction in various business sectors, such as the School of Pharma, offering an overview and immersion into the dynamics of pharmaceuticals.
An 80 percent company share of family health-insurance costs (matching the level for individuals)
is a nice touch, as is the 401(k) plan with a company match and no vesting schedule. Paid holidays are a given, but Intouch goes above and beyond on the time-off front with three weeks of vacation starting in Year One. It also offers an annual bonus plan, fitness reimbursement, and associate referral bonuses, all meant to keep employees not just healthy, but happy.
Monthly employee celebrations and summer hours are part of a Work Hard/Play Hard culture, but as a true differentiator, check this out: an annual beer-pong competition.
Having covered the foundational tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the company addresses employees’ higher aspirations to by making community engagement a foundational value. That includes support for Harvesters–The Food Network, Toys for Tots, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and others—all told, 20 charities and non-profit organizations benefit from the financial contributions and pro bono work of Intouch and its employees.
Olsson & Associates
Half a workday. Think about how much more productive or fulfilling your own life would be, how much more in balance your work/life dynamic would be, with that kind of time for the “life” factor built into each work week. That’s exactly the kind of benefit employees at the engineering firm Olsson & Associates enjoy, on average, with the normal 4½-day week.
Within that structure, factor in an environment that fosters collaboration and communication, a relaxed dress code, and a team-centered approach with a keen appreciation for entrepreneurship. All of that, the company’s leadership says, allows Olsson to provide the client-service levels you find in a small company, as well as the professional resources of a large company.
Olsson stresses open communication and encourages just that in each of its 24 offices nationwide by providing firm-wide and team-specific financials. Intranet blogs and team meetings dispense important information, and all employees are encouraged to take initiative, anticipate change, and demonstrate leadership.
Open-door policies? Please: this place has a no-door policy, given the open layouts of the offices—again, a tool that facilitates collaboration.
An in-house training program helps staff members grow into their roles and develop both technical and soft skills. A four-member Organization and Development Training team supports strategies and business objectives, and both technical and non-technical employees regularly receive instruction in various topics. Many live training sessions, in fact, are recorded for replay, and training is also available on-line.
Compensation starts with a competitive salary structure in a market where competition for qualified engineers is heated. Performance-based bonuses sweeten the pot, as do flex time options, 401(k) retirement accounts with a company match that vest immediately; employee-ownership through a stock bonus program and ESOP, and a wellness program. And, naturally, comprehensive benefits for employees and their dependents, including health, dental, life, vision, and short- and long-term disability insurance.
What does all of that get you as a firm? How about a 23 percent pop in year-over-year billings for January 2014 alone, with a rosy outlook for the rest of 2014. Financial stability allowed the firm to open offices in Oklahoma City and Minneapolis last year.
One would expect a company with nearly 31,000 full-time employees to have resources sufficient to take good care of the staff—financial, managerial and instructional. And if the company in question were Edward Jones, one would be correct. The financial advisory firm simply oozes workplace stability: Jim Weddle is just the fifth managing partner in the company’s 92-year history, and all were promoted from within. Fully 60 percent of the company’s leaders
came up through the adviser ranks, and they communicate with the work force via e-mail, town-hall meetings, trimester updates and a digital suggestion box that teemed with 15,000 suggestions last year. A 14-time honoree on Training magazine’s Top 125 list, Edward Jones has training built into every stage of an associate’s career, with veterans mentoring new advisers and office administrators.
By structuring a system in which associates are eligible to become partners, the compensation matrix encourages performance and allows for sharing of
profits. And atop a competitive and innovative salary structure, you’ll find health and dental coverage, a 401(k) plan with immediate vesting for associates, flexible spending accounts, access to fitness programs and discount programs, flex hours and more. The company demonstrates its concern for employee well-being with free wellness care, discounted premiums for those who quit smoking or lower their blood pressure, glucose or cholesterol levels, adoption assistance and tuition reimbursement. And with its medical plan self-funded, the company can override provider decisions, order coverage or pay for expensive treatments.
Adding to workplace satisfaction are compressed workweeks, telecommuting, job sharing and voluntary unpaid leave, and sick leave that can be used to care for ill family. Perhaps most attractive to the entrepreneurially inclined, financial advisers run their own businesses, working in partnership with branch office administrators to achieve shared goals. And how’s this for a perk: Simply for ensuring diversification in clients’ portfolios, financial advisors earn extravagant diversification trips to exotic destinations across the globe. Families are invited and there’s no limit to the number of trips awarded.
LARGE COMPANIES: FINALISTS
In the age of the Affordable Care Act, employees everywhere are wondering what might happen to the health-insurance coverage they get from work. Nobody has a crystal ball that can project the full consequences of ACA through full enactment in 2018, but for those working at Bank Midwest, there’s a certain security in knowing that the employer places a premium—literally—on their service.
In addition to three comprehensive medical insurance options, the bank offers dental and vision insurance, prescription drug coverage, group life and accidental death insurance, company paid disability insurance for both long term and short term, supplemental life insurance, health-care flexible-spending accounts and health-care savings accounts, both on a pre-tax basis.
Rounding out a robust series of benefits at Bank Midwest are a 401(k) retirement plan with company match, 10 paid holidays a year, plus two floating holidays, bereavement leave and sick leave, all in addition to vacation time. Employees also enjoy discounted interest rates on loans made through the bank, as well as fee-free checking accounts with no minimum balances to maintain.
That robust package of perks comes wrapped in an organizational commitment to fiscal discipline and community service. The former is addressed with a long-term M&A strategy meant to create shareholder value through disciplined acquisitions, as is a stock repurchase program that saw a $147 million buyback of 14.2 percent of outstanding shares, with an additional $50 million repurchase spend authorized. The latter comes through financial support for the arts, education and civic organizations, with additional backing from staffers serving on the boards and commissions of dozens of area non-profits.
An elegant logic defines the workplace at Orginal Bread, a Prairie Village-based Panera franchisee: A mission to ensure that guests have incredible experiences must recognize that the first people in the door each day are members of the team. To ensure their experience, as well, the company promotes an environment that values fun, high accountability and long-term reward. The framework for that is a set of values embracing integrity, the long-term view, commitment, belief in the individual as well as the power of small teams, fairness, and a sense that everybody is in the same boat.
To get them rowing together, the company strives to provide wages that are above industry standards for associates, and work weeks that are less demanding than often found in restaurant concepts—a starting minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, a dollar more than the federal level, and for managers, a 50-hour work week over five days, with all salaried staff eligible for bonus opportunities. The need for consistency across a platform of 34 locations—24 of them in the Kansas City region—is met with an intensive training program for potential managers, and for positions above assistant manager, promotion is only from within the company’s ranks.
The company is also a good corporate citizen, with nightly product donations that came to $5.1 million in retail value in 2013, and its fund-raisers generated $85,000 for Operation Breakthrough, JDRF, Gilda’s Club of Kansas City and Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Saint Luke’s Health System
One benefit routinely ascribed to federal health-care reforms has been a new emphasis placed on individual accountability for one’s own health. The need for that was no revelation to the leadership at Saint Luke’s Health System—more than a decade before those reforms passed Congress, the hospital network was one of the first employers in the region to link participation in a health-risk appraisal with a health-benefits discount. They followed that up in 2003 with a four-point program that they say yields a holistic approach to benefit design planning: focusing not just on physical, but emotional, spiritual and financial well-being.
The physical side is bolstered with a 50-percent premium discount and de-ductible credit on a health-savings ac-count contribution for employees who meet annual wellness criteria, including an exam at least every other year. Tending to financial interests is a retirement plan that automatically enrolls new employees at 4 percent of their pay, qualifying them for the company match—50 percent on that first 4 percent. The system also issues annual lump-sum retirement contributions of 2 to 4 percent of salary.
Long one of the region’s biggest private-sector employers, Sprint employs roughly 7,500 people on its sprawling campus in Overland Park. Sprint places a high value in connecting its own work force with corporate goals that focus on a commitment to people, product and planet.
Compensation levels at Sprint exceeds salary averages overall, and a robust suite of benefits addresses career, social, financial, physical and community needs.
Employees also have access to personal health advocates, on-site health clinics and fitness centers (Sprint was a pioneer in this perk, opening its first on-site center in 1985), financial counseling and seminars, education assistance and other programs.
For nearly a decade, the company has employed a pay-based scale for health-insurance premiums; that means front-line employees bear less of the cost burden than do higher-paid employees for a selection of medical/prescription drug coverages, two dental plans and vision coverage. Company-paid and supplemental life insurance are available, as are short-term and long-term disability coverage.
MEDIUM COMPANIES: WINNERS
Holmes Murphy & Associates
Holmes Murphy & Associates, the risk management and insurance brokerage firm, has it right there in the company’s central goals: Be an Employer of Choice. To be the best, the thinking goes, they must employ the best. And the Des Moines-based company, which employs 21 at its Overland Park office, starts with a competitive salary structure, a stock-incentive bonus plan for sales producers, and benefits that include 401(k) and profit-sharing programs and year-end bonuses.
The next tier includes health, dental and vision insurance plans, disability insurance (long-term and short term), flexible spending accounts and flexible schedules, life and supplemental life insurance, an employee assistance program, reimbursements for fitness club memberships, and an adoption-assistance program.
The company also has a series of personal and organizational goals, which promote individual achievement as well as corporate success: Count on Me, Celebrate, Share Abundantly, Unity over Uniformity, Health Matters, Courageous Influence, and Leave Good Footprints. Those Holmes Murphy Values, as they’re known, are meant to reinforce individual accountability, strengthen relationships between associates and with clients, improve information flow, foster free exchange of ideas, promote health, think entrepreneurially, and encourage professionalism.
Holmes Murphy also supports non-profit efforts championed by its clients, both with a financial commitment and by encouraging staff members to serve in leadership roles with non-profit and community organizations.
What does all of that amount to, from the employee’s perspective? You can find the answer to that in the company’s annual satisfaction survey. Last year, the Kansas City team:
• Ranked Holmes Murphy highly for operating with strong values and ethics.
• Said they believed in the direction of the company and felt connected to their jobs.
• Agreed that new ideas are encouraged.
• And had the flexibility to balance work and personal lives.
If you score that out, it came to a 90 percent job-satisfaction rate, based on whether they would recommend working at Holmes Murphy to others.
Bank of Kansas City
You can’t fake culture, and you can’t mandate camaraderie. When they’re genuine, they are powerful indicators of workplace quality. Example: Bank of Kansas City, where employees not long ago learned that the daughter of a colleague was scheduled for open-heart surgery. They sent a team to Ronald McDonald House to prepare lunch, but not just for that colleague’s family—they expanded that effort by feeding dozens of other families dealing with similar issues. It’s the kind of compassion and commitment to the community, bank officials say, that comes from the heart, not from a corporate directive.
The bank, a division of Oklahoma-based BOK Financial, entered the market in 2006 and has grown to 180 employees in the Kansas City region. Under the direction of CEO Michael Viazzoli, it’s a place where teamwork is prized and ideas flow freely. They have to, officials say—because of the way the
bank is structured, with service lines that run from mortgage lending to wealth management for high net-worth clients, cross-selling and partnering with multiple lines of business isn’t merely encouraged, it’s vital to growth.
And the bank has indeed grown. Seven years after its establishment in Kansas City, it boasts $460 million in assets. That growth is one consequence of a measured approach to banking: The parent company, with $28 billion in assets, was the largest commercial bank in the United States to decline funding under the TARP program, spawned by the financial crisis of 2008.
When the Tulsa-based parent decided it was time to operate in Kansas City, it was entering a highly competitive banking market. That made a competitive salary structure an imperative from Day One, but atop that are salary grades and ranges and bonus opportunities, as well as a comprehensive package of insurance coverages (health, dental, vision), flexible spending accounts, and Healthyroads, a personalized wellness program that
complements an in-house corporate wellness initiative that provides reduced-cost access to fitness facilities.
As with the Ronald McDonald House lunch service, other charitable ventures like participation in Heart Walk are team-based (the bank’s employees donated more than 2,500 hours of service last year), and the bank has been a United Way Circle of Caring member since 2008.
Lansing Trade Group
Let’s lift the curtain—just a wee bit—on how the Best Companies to Work For are determined. One factor, out of many, is the quality of a company’s retirement program—a tangible sign of how much it cares about an employee’s welfare beyond their working years. One differentiator is the size of a company match for an employee’s contributions to, say, a 401(k) plan. And that’s where Lansing Trade Group absolutely shines: The company contributes 5 percent of an employee’s eligible pay to its safe-harbor 401(k). On top of that, the company can elect to add a profit-sharing contribution that historically averages 3 percent of eligible pay. Now we’re at 8 percent of annual eligible pay, and the employee’s contribution so far? Nada. Zippity-doo-dah. “Lansing is an organization that believes in ensuring solid retirement income for our employees, and we make that happen,” says Melinda Lebofsky, Director of Human Resources.
But there’s a lot more than a stellar retirement plan at work here. Based on annual revenues, Lansing Trade Group has grown to become fourth-largest among private companies in the region, dealing in the transportation, storage and merchandising of agricultural and energy commodities through the U.S. and around the world. It got there by valuing entrepreneurship among its nearly 300 employees (about half in the Kansas City region), and that work force applies the spurs for growth, motivated in part by a highly competitive salary and benefits package that rewards employees for superior performance.
Employee focused culture? “Even the small stuff is a big deal at Lansing,” says Lebofsky. Each month wraps up with lunch brought in for all team members, and they still like birthday celebrations. The caloric intake can be worked off either at the on-site fitness center, or through the company’s partnership with local fitness centers in the area.
The company pays 80 percent of health-insurance and dental premiums, provides life and long-term liability insurance, sports a flexible spending account for medical or dependent-care expenses, and offers a tuition reimbursement for both college and grad-school courses.“We do things differently,” Lebofsky says, “and we are very proud of that.”
Spring Venture Group
If you’re going to work at Spring Venture Group—and a lot more people will be in the coming years—be ready to get in the game. Literally: from the company’s annual golf tournament, kickball sessions, and trips to see the Chiefs, Royals, Sporting KC and the T-Bones, this fast-growing company is all about blending competitiveness with fun, whether it’s at the stadium, on a company party bus tour, or during what officials say is “the often-raucous SVG First Friday.”
Founded on an innovative approach to selling health and life insurance in the on-line age, the company has quickly broken through the 100-employee barrier. Anticipating a tripling of that number, it has moved from Leawood into more spacious digs in the Crown Center complex Downtown, with offices that sport ping-pong tables, a café teeming with fresh, healthy foods, and flat-screen TVs.
Going from startup to 100 employees always presents a communications challenge, which SVG has addressed with its own Agent Advisory Board—peer-selected representatives from each team sit down with top leadership of the company once each month, and the board’s charge was issued with a promise: Every issue brought before it would receive a response. The meetings, says HR director Miranda LaHaie, provide full-circle accountability that is one of the company’s core values.
The foundation for growth at SVG—personal and corporate—is laid with a highly competitive base salary, with the possibility of high earnings from day one for those in sales roles. In addition, health insurance and 401(k) offerings are available to all employees, and additional incentives for performance include gift cards, tickets to sporting events, and trips to venues like New Orleans and Sonoma.
Recognition, though, isn’t solely a function of management. Employees are encouraged to issue success badges to one another through Springboard, the employee-engagement system, and co-workers can “like” and comment on those recognitions. A multi-week, internally developed training program is the first step to career success, followed by daily feedback through progressive metrics, LaHaie said, that go beyond basic production numbers. “Those agents who demonstrate a keen ability to lead can quickly become eligible for a Sales Coach position,” she said.
We liked Garney Construction—a lot—when Ingram’s named it one of the Best Companies to Work For in 2011. When the Northland company became eligible for consideration again this year, we figured it would be difficult to exclude Garney from repeat recognition. We were right. “The entire company culture,” officials say, “centers on the fact that it is 100 percent employee-owned.” Employees, then, are not just shareholders, they are true owners, and are reminded daily about the perils and the promise of what the firm calls the power of ownership. The work force credo, then, is: “We treat every job as if it were our own, because it is.”
As the organization grows, each employee’s share value and retirement package increases in worth. How’s that working out? Well, in 2013, the company’s revenues hit $625 million—an impressive 26.6 percent year-over-year increase. In addition to the shareholder value implied by that number, there’s a 401(k) plan with company match, annual bonuses for salaried employees and incentive checks for hourly workers.
Other benefits include flexible spending accounts, health-care insurance that costs an unmarried worker $1 a week—you read that right: One dollar—and for married employees, family plans are just $20 a week. There’s also an option for a high-deductible plan, featuring a health-savings account bolstered
by a company contribution.
As you might expect in an employee-owned setting, career development is grounded in maximizing employee potential. Garney’s Employee Development Council achieves that with structured training, standardized procedures, effective communication and a healthy application of new technologies that allow for Web-based training and getting the most out of live, in-person training sessions across the country. The company has just 41 people working at the Northland headquarters, but organic growth and the 2012 acquisition of Florida-based Encore Construction have swelled that number nationwide. Founder Charles Garney set a standard for philanthropic involvement during his years of ownership, and employees have carried that forward; since the start of 2013, they have donated $165,000 to various charities and fundraisers, and this year, the company implemented a matching program for employee donations to non-profits.
Some companies talk about being a family. At Truckmovers.com, founder and president Tom Duvall is walking that walk every day. The importance of family—at home, just as much as at work—comes shining through when company officials talk about what makes this vehicle-transportation service a different kind of animal.
Family considerations underpin the flexible, odd-hour scheduling or arrangements to work from home; children of employees are allowed to use the on-site fitness center—free of charge to all—seven days a week; the company commits to $16,000 a year to a series of renewable college scholarships for children of employees. Heck, the company’s sense of philanthropy even prompted adoption of an entire family through its ties to The Children’s Place.
Duvall founded the company in 1996, and in recent years, it has become a growth monster, six times earning a spot on Ingram’s Corporate Report 100 listing of the greater Kansas City area’s fast-growing companies. It now has 438 employees nationwide, 114 of whom are enjoying the new corporate offices in Independence. Driving that growth is a belief that employees really are the best resources. That on-site fitness center? It’s just a part of Truckmovers.com’s commitment to work-force wellness, a commitment clearly demonstrated by the personal trainer made available to employees at no charge.
Employees are set up for success with an internal training program—Truckmovers Academy—that provides the training and resources needed for the long haul. Its classes include courses on time management and customer service, skills that will be critically important for continued organizational growth and personal advancement. The latter is addressed with a hire-from-inside-first mentality; all jobs are posted internally before the company looks to make a hire. And don’t mistake the casual-dress environment with relaxed standards for professionalism or customer service: both qualities are emphasized as essentials for long-term success, as are the frequent opportunities to build staff cohesion with activities like an internal Biggest Loser contest, a winter luau, baby showers and happy hours, holiday parties, chili cook-offs, and more.
MEDIUM COMPANIES: FINALISTS
These days, nothing says “We Care” to employees quite like fully-paid health in-surance. That plan is one option available to employees at Bank Liberty, the largest Northland-based bank in the Kansas City region. But the company demonstrates its concern for employees in multiple ways:
• A commitment to promotion from within, offering each member of the team an opportunity for advancement.
• Cross training for many employees, which creates operating efficiencies for the bank and increases job satisfaction for staff members.
• An education-reimbursement program for full-time staff, which promotes personal growth.
• Incentive pay that is available for many, on top of competitive salaries.
• And there’s even an additional paid holiday each year as the bank’s way of saying, “Happy Birthday.”
The bank continues to prosper because it extends that same level of collegiality to its customers, a relationship-nurturing approach that embraces the concept of ownership: Once you speak to a customer as a Bank Liberty employee, you see that customer’s issue through to completion.
As at any organization, things are done by the book, but that book isn’t written in stone; a prime directive for employees is to use their best judgment to make procedural decisions that are good for the company and for the customer as well. The bank also has a refined sense of civic engagement, with staff members serving on boards of various service organizations, chambers and business councils.
The great thing about working for an insurance company? It’s that the folks in charge know their stuff. You see it frequently with Best Companies to Work For honorees that hail from the insurance sector, and with Delta Dental, the pattern holds.
Take a look at the employee benefit package: It covers 100 percent of long-term care insurance, 100 percent of long-term disability insurance, 100 percent of group life insurance and 100 percent of family dental and vision coverage. All that atop trad-itional health-care coverage, 401(k) plan with company match, tuition assistance, reimbursements for gym membership and flexible work hours.
Annual bonuses are based not just on traditional financial measures, but on performance aspects that nurture customer loyalty. Attesting to the effectiveness of that are customer-satisfaction scores of 99 percent, and better than 98 percent on subscriber-retention rates.
Not surprisingly, employee-satisfaction surveys showed figures of above 90 percent on questions about whether employees take pride in working for the company, feel as though they contribute to its mission, understand the company’s strategy and their role in achieving success, know what is expected from them, and believe that customers rely on them to deliver superior quality of service.
National Bank of Kansas City
You don’t have to look hard to find out the guiding philosophy at National Bank of Kansas City. It’s right there on the company’s correspondence, featured even more prominently than the logo: You Matter.
That message works both ways, for customers and employees alike. Owners Jim and Humbert Tinsman, along with CEO Brian Unruh, demonstrate the value of employees as soon as you step into the bank. The sprawling blue wall is awash in yellow Post-It notes that describe instances of employees’ going above and beyond, or from customers regaling staff for a positive experience. And there’s nothing stale about them—the notes have a shelf life of less than 90 days, taken down to clear the wall for the next round of staff and customer recognition.
Some places dread e-mails from the top; staffers at the bank were treated to a succession of good-news notices from Unruh over the past year, introducing everything from a new Everyday Café breakroom (complete with free healthy snacks, gourmet coffee and big-screen TVs), to news of a flex-schedule put in place between the summer holidays and, for employees with 10 years on the staff, eligibility for a company sabbatical.
Those perks and more demonstrate senior leadership’s own embrace of a value system built on respecting tradition, listening first, understanding fully, providing solutions for success and expressing gratitude.
For employees, it’s a great combination: An office small enough to know everybody who works there, and a company big enough to put serious financial resources to work on your behalf. That profile fits Turner Construction Co., a New York-based contractor with a regional office of 83 people working out of Kansas City.
The downturn that devastated the construction sector in 2009–10 separated a lot of employees from their jobs, but things are picking up, and the Kansas City office is part of a broader regional group that hired 195 new positions in 2013, with 15 percent of the staff already receiving promotions in 2014. Those employees enjoy industry-leading levels of benefits that go beyond a steady paycheck: in addition to a suite of insurance products for medical, dental, disability, life and accident coverage, there is an employee assistance program, gym reimbursement, wellness programming, flexible spending accounts, tuition reimbursements, vendor discounts, and as one would expect from a bigger company, a 401(k) plan.
In a sector where safety is always Priority 1, Turner makes a considerable investment in training. In addition to $2,000 a year on each employee’s training—every year—the company has an on-line campus teeming with Web-based and instructor led learning. And it also offers a Leading Women Program to help foster leadership skills among a segment of the work force badly under-represented in those ranks.
SMALL COMPANIES: WINNERS
Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Goza
According to the Global Language Monitor, the English language recently topped the 1-million-word mark. Kim Millican needs only one of those words to describe the benefits package at the trial law firm of Bartimus, Frickleton, Robertson & Goza: “Fantastic.” Millican, the firm’s business manager, defends that proposition by citing, for starters, a maxed out, fully funded profit-sharing program that’s 100 percent paid by the Leawood firm, plus an additional 401(k) safe-harbor program with a
3 percent match. “It is the equivalent of two profit-sharing plans instead of one,” she says.
Medical insurance? Paid by the firm, 100 percent. There’s also a flexible savings account that ensures zero out-of-pocket health-care costs for employees. And an FSA that helps cover day-care costs, as well as a family of insurance products covering dental, long-term disability and life insurance. Merit bonuses are awarded yearly, a check shows up on each employee’s birthday, attorneys can take sabbaticals, and most every Friday is “Friday Lite,” with early starts for the weekend.
That’s a considerable amount of giving from the ownership. But giving back is part of the equation, too, and employees are encouraged to participate in activities that support their favored charities, including the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, JDRF and Operation Breakthrough, among others. The firm has its own causes, too: Every Tuesday is ham-and-cheese day, with the staff assembling 350 sandwiches for City Union Mission. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that comes to more than 18,000 sandwiches a year. The firm also eats the cost for the staff time spent on monthly trips to volunteer at Harvesters–The Food Network.
All of that, Millican says, reflects the values of a firm that champions integrity and character in the lawyers’ work for clients, and kindness, graciousness and generosity for the staff members.
“We treat our employees like family,” says Millican, who should know: She’s been with the firm for 18 years.
“When we spend so much time together, we believe in liking everyone we work with.”
This is a demonstration of organizational priority setting, done right: At Durrie Vision, the Overland Park-based eye care center, the philosophy is: “Patients First, Employees Second, Doctors Third.” If the second group doesn’t have the tools do to its job right, the first won’t produce the revenues that everyone else relies on.
So what’s in that tool kit? It starts with an environment that encourages collab-oration and partnerships between leaders and associates, the company says, one that promotes a sense of ownership and teamwork. As do the monthly all-hands-on-deck meetings, where employees are free to offer suggestions for continuous improvement.
In a health-care setting, technology is changing processes constantly, which means there’s a premium on training for providers, and Durrie Vision is no exception.
The company reimburses associates for the costs of obtaining or renewing certifications, and offers its own leadership-development program. New employees undergo a four-week orientation that does more than expose them to processes and patients—it immerses them in the Durrie Vision culture. Even the leadership goes through a program called Integral Leadership Mastery to produce managers who can develop a high-performance work environment.
Specialists in laser-vision correction, the company makes that routine service a no-cost perk for employees, along with a free eye exam, and families of employees get the free exam, plus half-off the correction procedure.
Those are nice additions to a package of benefits that includes not just health and dental insurance plans, but flexible-spending accounts that come with employer contributions of between $1,000 and $2,000 a year, depending on elections; fully paid short-term disability and life insurance; a very strong 401(k) program that yields a company match of 4 percent annual salary when an employee contributes 5 percent; and uniforms, shoe and clothing allowances.
Employees are also woven into the philanthropic culture that founder Dan Durrie put in place with creation of Focus on Independence, which provides free laser surgery and other vision-correction services to the disabled. The clinic also directly supports non-profit charities, schools and civic clubs on behalf of its employees.
SMALL COMPANIES: WINNERS
Let’s see, now: Ping-pong and Foosball tables. Catered lunches by Eden Alley—three times a week. Big-screen TVs. Cappucino. Local beer, on tap. All in a setting with contemporary art throughout the workplace. Did we say “workplace”?
Yes indeed, this is where the nose meets the grindstone at C2FO, the latest blossom in the entrepreneurial garden that is Sandy Kemper’s mind. The former CEO of UMB Bank and founder/CEO of Perfect Commerce (a tech company that develops supplier relationship-management technology) is at it again with this on-line tool that allows companies worldwide to find higher, better—and more profitable—uses with their cash flow.
The Fairway-based company, (the name stands for Collaborative Cash Flow Optimization) was founded as Pollenware in 2008 and bills itself as the world’s market for working capital, exchanged on a bid-ask basis. It has 58 employees who enjoy not just the aforementioned amenities, but a workplace oozing with entrepreneurial thought. The open layout encourages interaction between the staff and the leadership, who provide transparency with open-book financial metrics and weekly meetings for exchange of ideas. The latter is a must at the nexus of technology and financial services, where nothing is at a “Princess Bride” level of Mostly Dead quite like a tech company that isn’t challenging its assumptions every day.
Paving the way for that free exchange of ideas is a package of competitive base salaries—designed by folks who know their way around competitive salaries—sweetened with highly focused bonus, incentive, stock-option and commission opportunities that reward high performance. There’s also comprehensive health care (100 percent paid by the company for employees; it pays 50 percent of dependent coverage), vision and dental coverage, short-term and long-term disability and life insurance, and a very impressive 401(k) plan that works out to a 4 percent company match for employees contributing 5 percent of their pay.
It could only get better with unlimited paid vacation. Oh wait—there’s that, too. And a $100 anniversary bonus awarded every year you’re employed.
They call it a high-accountability, low-control environment. If you could draw that up on a chalkboard like a math equation, the sum would be: Growth. That’s what the three principals have been cranking out at the work-force solutions company since its founding in 2004. Since then, its revenues have passed the $18 million mark, and the staff has grown to 76 full-time employees who provide IT and strategic consulting, staffing and leadership-development services.
Last year, BalancePoint ranked No. 50 on Ingram’s Corporate Report 100 list of the fastest-growing companies in the region, and made it onto the Inc. 5000 list in 2013, for the third time.
What’s driving that? It’s part vision of founders Jacquie Morgan (the COO), Michael Sommers (the CMO) and Scott Lippert. It’s part mission. And it’s part environment, which starts with what the principals call a values-driven culture infused with fun. Culture can be a tough nut to crack, because if you don’t nail it at start-up, it’s hard to remain authentic, despite your best efforts to change it.
At BalancePoint, there’s a solid foundation of benefits for a company that is small and young: medical, dental, vision and life insurance; paid vacation, holidays and birthdays, a 401(k) plan with a 2 percent company match, and a 529 college savings plan. There’s also a corporate fitness center at the south Kansas City headquarters on Ward Parkway, and employees are allowed to bring their families in to use it, as well.
The company has partnered with World of Fun, Oceans of Fun and Schlitterbahn to offer discount passes for employees and their families. Here’s a nice touch: For employees with kids, BalancePoint also provides up to $500 per child, every year, for sponsorship of various academic activities, 529 savings plans or athletic programs.
The focus on children extends to corporate philanthropy, as well. The company has made a cause of Children International, and adds more overseas beneficiaries as goals are met. Attainment of this year’s goal would fund employees trips to Guatemala to meet the company’s Children International family—an effort that has brought a new sense of urgency to the staff.
Well, whaddaya know: The leadership team at Netchemia rolled out a new policy of unlimited paid time off this year—within certain parameters, of course—and employees are still showing up for work. As a result, the company not only remains in business, but is thriving. Food for thought among those managers with trust issues.
It’s a change that has increased an already high level of employee satisfaction at Netchemia, a Prairie Village-based company that designs and produces software programs that help school systems operate more efficiently. The way things are going, the company won’t be a small business for long—bolstered by a $6 million venture-capital infusion from Mainsail Partners of San Francisco last year, and by the acquisition of an educational-tech company in New England earlier this year, the company founded by CEO Carlos Antequera in 2001 has gone from 35 employees last year to more than 90, with plans to surpass 100 by year’s end.
The formula for success, says talent acquisition director Risa Haug, is the company’s fusion of entrepreneurship, passion, creativity, teamwork, and customer service. A visual representation of that is the company foosball table, where the call of noon and the end of the workday summon the troops, demonstrating an authentic work hard/play hard culture. That dynamic also plays out with company trips to Royals games, Thanksgiving 5K runs and service days at Operation Breakthrough.
The trick to putting together an effective, fast-growth company, Haug says, is a hiring strategy that adheres to company core values. “We hire for cultural fit over position-specificity. As a company, we place importance on hiring individuals who embody our core values and placing them in roles where their strengths are maximized both for personal and company success,” she said.
They call themselves Netchemians, and new hires straight out of college collaborate with employees at all levels, including the six-member executive team, whose desks are out among those of the troops—no cubicles, no individual offices. Netchemia’s work culture is defined by its transparency. Every month, employees are summoned for a review of the previous month’s numbers for each area of operation, analyzing goals missed and goals exceeded.
New hires are reviewed at 30, 60 and 90 days, and all employees do the drill twice a year to ensure that all are on track with their own goals, and that those are aligned with corporate goals. The pace of growth means opportunities for career advancement are frequent, and the policy is to hire within first.
Searcy Financial Services
It’s one thing to boast about having a competitive pay structure, even at a small company. At Searcy Financial Services, the commitment is more specific: The organizational goal is to provide top-quartile pay according to industry standards, and it conducts annual reviews to gauge those benchmarks and ensure that it remains in that lofty territory.
With just seven full-time employees, the Overland Park wealth management firm may be among the smallest to be accorded Best Companies to Work For honors, but owner Mike Searcy shows he can set a benefits strategy that matches many large employers, step for step. Employees are safeguarded against inflation with CPI raises, but also have the opportunity to earn merit pay. There’s tuition reimbursement for courses needed to earn or maintain licensing and credentials, plus time off for continuing-ed requirements. Sales associates are motivated by the uncapped earning potential, and the PTO policy affords two weeks paid vacation, six sick days and a quarterly “free” day. On top of a match of 4 percent of employee salary in the 401(k) program—a level that would put to shame more than one Fortune 500 company—there’s a scorecard for additional profit sharing and incentives.
There’s even remote officing—two members of Searcy’s staff, in fact, log in from across long distances, yet still provide seamless integration into the operation. That’s made possible by the firm’s embrace of technology to shorten distances and improve efficiencies. The firm provides iPads, iPhones and cloud-based programs that allow its staff to get things done from almost anywhere, any time.
The 38-year-old firm also commits staff resources to community service. Each quarter, it contributes a paid day where the staff, as a group, engages in activities that support a charity designated specifically for that three-month period. And the Searcy Spinners, as a BikeMS team, has raised more than $30,000 for that cause.
SMALL COMPANIES: FINALISTS
It would be easy to say that ER Marketing merits recognition based on its wry sense of humor alone—the corporate statement, after all, is CRAP: Curiosity, Respect, Accountability and Performance. But there’s much more to like about this 13-year-old River Market agency, specialists in B2B marketing campaigns. The agency’s 13 employees know the difference between hard work and hard play, and embrace each. The work entails strategic storytelling; the play can be as simple as firing up the company grill for lunch, knocking off early for the patio at Harry’s Country Club, or heading to the playing fields for the summer kickball league. Open-book administration lets employees know how the organization is faring—and it’s faring well, coming off a record year in 2013, with additional growth expected this year. That financial strength allows this small business to provide health, dental and prescription drug insurance coverage, with 80 percent of the employee’s costs for health insurance company-paid. Long-term and short-term disability plans—are both 100 percent company-paid, and in addition to a 3 percent company match on the 401(k) plan, associates collected a 2 percent bump from profit sharing, a combined 5 percent contribution many big businesses don’t provide.
Consider this: During the long recession and weak recovery, nearly 73 million layoffs took place in the United States. Be-
cause of financial considerations, Renaissance Financial acco-unted for … not a single one of those.
The St. Louis-based wealth management company, which has 17 people at its office in Leawood, indeed takes care of its own, in that way, and in other significant ways. You’re pregnant? Two weeks additional leave, paid, a gift from the company. Your wife is pregnant? You get the same two weeks, for paternity leave. There’s a clothing allowance to help ensure that the staff is professionally attired, and—this is huge—if you kick a dollar into your 401(k), Renaissance kicks two. And training. Indeed: Each new advisor undergoes a 4-year development program.
Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice
Like a lot of companies that tightened belts during a protracted economic downturn in this country, Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice is a leaner law firm than it used to be. All the more reason to ensure that those still getting the work done are taken care of in ways that keep them both productive and satisfied. So does anything say “We Care” quite like a chair massage on Mondays?
Or wellness initiatives directed at employee well-being like a Biggest Loser contest, on-site-flu shots and health assessments? Or even the little things, like a private room designated for mothers who are nursing? Those are just a few of the benefits employees enjoy at this 32-year-old Downtown law firm. Always a nice perk: the firm pays 100 percent of the costs for employees to park Downtown, where parking is a hassle for many other companies’ workers.
Now this is a cultural attribute you just don’t find anywhere: Meers Advertising is a dog-friendly environment. “Having dogs in the office helps everyone relax, even in a whirlwind of daily activity,” says channel manager Aubrey Ammon.
Like many in the creative-services sector, owner Sam Meers has embraced the concept of an open floor plan for his integrated advertising/marketing agency. But it’s not just about the way the furniture and walls are arranged: Instead of silo-foster-ing departments, the agency is built around disciplines—creative, channel, interactive, insights and client services—designed to surround clients with senior-level thinking.
Staff members have access to developmental seminars and workshops, and are encouraged to serve on boards of associations and provide pro bono work for area non-profits at reduced fees or at no charge.
Taking risks is part of the culture at Redemption Plus, a Lenexa importer of toys, novelties and
incentive merchandise. Taking risks with employees is not: The company declares that its success is rooted in its ability to retain the best employees, and its benefits are structured to do just that.
A big piece of that is making sure they’re healthy. Even though it has just 74 employees overall (about two-thirds of them
full-time), there’s a wellness coordinator who offers toning classes, chair massages, meditation exercises, and in addition to a Healthy Lunch Group, there are wellness challenges, 5-minute exercise breaks every day, and there’s an on-site exercise facility.
Those add to traditional benefits like health insurance coverage, a 401(k) plan, disability insurance (short and long term), flexible spending and dependent care plans, paid vacation and overachievement bonuses for those meeting key metrics. It’s also a family-friendly place, whether your dependents have two legs or four: visits from kids and dogs alike are encouraged.
Staffing Kansas City
Many small companies are happy to have employees’ attend out-of-town seminars and training sessions—at their own expense. But Staffing Kansas City will even cover the travel expenses for staff members to acquire continuing-education courses or certifications.
President Shelley Seibolt cedes nothing to her big-business counterparts—her 16-year-old firm may have just four full-time employees (supplemented with 450 temp workers during the year)—but Staffing Kansas City pays 100 percent of the cost for comprehensive health insurance, including vision and dental, and you’ll have to look hard to find any business, big or small, offering SKC’s 6 percent company match on the 401(k) program. Every Friday is office-lunch day, and with a staff that size, it’s a snap to coordinate joint attendance at sporting events or to plan birthday celebrations and festivities to mark the arrival of a new family member. That camaraderie feeds into the collaborative setting, where teamwork is vital.