Winning Workplaces and Wall Street Journal Top Small Workplaces 2009: Distinguished Finalists

Winning Workplaces received over 300 applications for this year’s Top Small Workplaces program. These included many great organizations who have produced impressive business results through enlightened people practices. Below is a list of our notable finalists and their accomplishments:

Advanced Financial Services Inc. 
For many clients of AFS, it starts with a phone call that leads to a new chapter in life. A residential mortgage lender with remarkable focus on customer service, Advanced Financial, founded in 1983, works directly with Americans to keep the dream of home ownership a reality. When so many homeowners are facing desperate times, AFS serves as opportunity for hope through refinancing, and is often commended for “following the rules” and “doing things the right way, ” while turning a profit. Now, with 393 employees, the company represents one of the few growing midsize businesses in Rhode Island. Using a relatively flat organizational design, there is only one position (the Team Leader) between the 200 front-line salespeople and the President of the company, creating a strong exchange between employees and leadership. Information is openly shared, as are company financials. In addition to great healthcare and benefits for staff and their families, cash bonuses and stock are distributed to every employee with at least one year of service, and these shares have appreciated in value 658% in the last nine years!

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Cargas Systems 
This employee-owned software and consulting firm is one of the largest providers of Microsoft business management and operations software in the Northeast and a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, specializing in ERP & CRM. Founded in 1988, with a vision to create an environment where talented, entrepreneurial people want to work, its 41 employees engage in the practice of “Ideas Unlimited,” wherein any employee may present any idea – big, small, or “off-the-wall” – to the leadership team for review and possible immediate action as a personal or company-wide initiative. Cargas practices open book management and collaborative decision making, and its profit sharing is based on firm-wide rather than individual performance, which results in effective teamwork. Monthly “stop light” reviews allow groups to gauge areas in need of improvement and provide an outlet for all to share opinions and stay involved. The payoff to Cargas is clear: a growth pattern that is consistently ahead of its competition.

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Crop Quest Inc. 
Since 1992 Crop Quest has specialized in crop consulting and precision agriculture services.  Today, the company consults on over one million acres of farmland in 10 states across the High Plains. With 100% of the company owned by its 82 employees, each person begins earning stock after one year of employment, and the president owns shares on par with other employee-owners. Associates essentially operate as autonomous consultants assisting farmers on a wide variety of issues. The company supports this mobile workforce by emphasizing open communication, informal mentoring and all-staff gatherings with open discussion of the company’s financials. Generous benefits include 100% coverage of family health insurance premiums, an excellent retirement plan, flexible work schedules, company truck, laptops and annual ski trips, all encouraging staff to stay on-board for an average of 10 years. It’s certainly clear why a successful summer internship program routinely draws college students to join this network of highly trained agronomists in their quest for agricultural excellence.

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Daphne Utilities 
Since 1953, Daphne Utilities, an independent non-profit, has been providing water, wastewater and natural gas services to over 10,000 businesses and residents in the City of Daphne, Alabama. In 2005, new management was brought in by the board of directors to transform the organization from one with a typical “public works” mindset into a business enterprise guided by principles of accountability, transparency and empowerment. The new leadership has set high standards with its pay for performance system, taught employees how to understand its finances through open book management and built a capable and flexible workforce through extensive cross training and coaching. This remarkable turnaround has had a triple bottom line impact on the utility company. Employee ingenuity has led to several cost-cutting and eco-friendly initiatives including a Biodiesel Fuel Plant and a Used Cooking Oil Recycle Program that has been replicated across the country. The organization has been profitable for the last 4 years, long term customers notice the improved attitudes of Daphne field staff, and morale among its 70 employees is higher than ever.

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Design Concepts Inc. 
Design Concepts, an award-winning, innovation and design consultancy, helps clients build brands and business through strategy, research, industrial design, human factors, engineering and prototyping. Their projects extend beyond consumer goods to the sporting, financial, and medical industries. For more than 40 years, their talented workforce, has collaborated with companies worldwide to uncover needs, challenge old assumptions and propose design solutions that ignite new opportunities for their clients. The leadership at Design Concepts readily acknowledges that their greatest asset “walks out the door every night,” which is why the company has created a long list of reasons for their 47 person staff to always return. These include, to name just a few, comprehensive benefits and generous paid time off, sabbatical leaves, flexible scheduling and volunteer opportunities. Distinctively Midwestern, employees and clients alike highlight the “down to earth” and hard working nature of the work culture, while commending the casual, fun work atmosphere. Harvesting new talent and fostering professional development is crucial, and in addition to teaching the local University’s product design course, they also offer ongoing “lunch and learn” lectures for staff. As summed up by one employee, “With great people, and great facilities, we can build anything.”

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Finelite Inc. 
Across the nation and world, people recognize that better lighting is the key to a productive and enjoyable workspace. Since 1991, Finelite has been a leader in providing high-performance lighting solutions for schools and offices. Its diverse workforce of 108 employees, assembles high-tech lighting systems where each job is uniquely configured for customer’s needs which means that training and development are essential. The company invests resources toward software, seminars on interpersonal communication and leadership development. Employees enjoy a strong healthcare package and 4-day/10-hour work week (at employee suggestion), while taking home solid lessons in fiscal management, learned through open book management, and commitment to environmental responsibility. Office and school construction slowed in 2008, as did sales of lighting equipment. Yet, Finelite achieved over 90% of its sales targets and paid out quarterly bonuses to employees, while significantly increasing 401(k) matching amounts and increasing cross-training of employees to prepare for the future. Despite the economic pressure, lunch and learns, tuition reimbursement and options for leadership training continue, mirroring Finelite’s determination to grow through these tough times and prepare for a bright future.

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Fleetwood Group Inc. 
While manufacturing and commercial supply industries have been hit hard in the last two years, Fleetwood Group, a manufacturer of wireless electronics and furniture for learning environments has remained remarkably strong. The Fleetwood team argues that their continued success is due in no small part to their nature as a fairly unique organization, being both a Christ-centered and employee-owned business. By nurturing a positive culture that upholds compassion, servant leadership, and teamwork since its founding in 1955, Fleetwood has been able to compete globally as their 161 team member owners (TMO’s) produce top-quality work in a satisfying environment. A main tenet of the company is their active involvement and generous contributions to charitable causes. With all full-time associates enjoying the same benefits as the president, strong wellness and personal development programs combined with an emphasis on open communication and financial management ensures each TMO is able to responsibly and successfully serve both the business and their fellow man alike.

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Institute of Nuclear Power Operations 
INPO helps the nuclear power industry pursue the highest levels of safety and reliability through plant evaluations, training, accreditation and information exchange. Started in 1979 following the Three Mile Island accident, this Non-Profit membership organization is a model for high consequence, technological industries seeking to “self regulate” and continuously improve. Doing so demands the best and brightest in the industry, and through superb dedication to the needs of their 355 staff, INPO attracts high-caliber, experienced professionals seeking independence, and work/life balance. With an average tenure of 12.6 years, INPO recognizes the unparalleled value of experience among its specialists, but also pursues active development of individuals early in their careers.  INPO dedicates two weeks each year to staff training and also identifies significant development activities to ensure its talent stays up to date and engaged.

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Intermountain Donor Services 
There’s a lot asked of the team at Intermountain Donor Services, the federally designated, nonprofit organ and tissue procurement organization serving Utah, southern Idaho, southwestern Wyoming and Elko, Nevada. But the 36 employees here view themselves as privileged despite the intense physical and emotional demands. They focus on two interrelated goals: saving lives through organ and tissue donation and supporting the specialists who do this difficult work. Established in 1987, IDS provides clinical services for the recovery of organs and nearly all tissues, as well as professional and public education to 80 hospitals and a regional population of 3 million. The hours are long and stress is part of the job at this highly successful organ bank. But careful hiring and a strong program for the mental and physical health of employees makes this a cherished job for many. Despite the unpredictable hours, work-life balance is always made a priority, leading to a strong group of long-term staff. Professionals applaud a refreshing freedom from bureaucracy and politics, and IDS benefits provide astounding support for both employees and their families.

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Intertech
Founded in 1991, Intertech has grown from a one-person shop to 35 employees and the largest combined software developer training company and research-supported consulting firm in Minnesota. The family-like bond at Intertech starts at the top and is fostered throughout the organization. Employees’ strong teamwork and commitment to the business was demonstrated in recently, when, despite the impact of severe economic decline, Intertech experienced record sales in 2008. By sharing information, regularly measuring progress, focusing on cost savings and introducing innovative marketing and sales initiatives, the firm grew stronger and introduced open book management and a company-wide profit sharing plan. Clients comment that Intertech employees operate like a tightly-fitted series of gears and that through access to one team, they have access to all the skill sets within the company. Along with generous benefits, including sabbaticals after seven years of employment, employees are offered structured professional development and leadership training options, while participating in various team building activities, like nominating each other for the “You’re the ACE” Award, which reinforces core values of Attitude, Commitment and Excellence.

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M3 Insurance Solutions Inc. 
Founded in 1968, M3 is a privately held provider of business insurance including employee benefits, life, financial planning, retirement, property and casualty. The 170 employees, full and part-time, enjoy a strong benefits package built at its core on solid retirement planning, a comprehensive wellness program and profit sharing. Teamwork matters at M3 Insurance, as 90% of the workforce participates on high functioning teams and all new hires are immediately paired with a fellow team member for mentoring. Engaging employees in business decisions is another priority. A few years ago when the agency underwent a major reorganization, the management engaged staff in a series of roundtable discussions and employee meetings, keeping them informed of the progress throughout the transition. Recently, the company received a “Best of Madison Employer” award in the “Most Participatory Workplace” category. These measures have had a real ROI impact, as their 10% revenue growth in 2008 far exceeded the average industry growth.

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NewAge Industries Inc. 
NewAge Industries, founded in 1954, has lived up to its name by reinventing itself, twice, in the last 20 years. In the 1990’s the firm transitioned from distributing plastic tubing to manufacturing it; in 2001 NewAge’s manufacturing expanded to include their distinct brand of high purity products targeted for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries worldwide. NewAge’s manufacturing has shifted from industrial to clean-room with products targeted for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Relying fundamentally on the values of quality products and timely customer service, the 83-employee company has maintained its original family-based atmosphere and, in recent years, has become an ESOP company. In addition to ownership, employees have the opportunity to benefit from the profitability of the business in gainsharing, which has added an average of 15% to compensation for the last four years. The president is an active believer in “management by walking around” and personally attends to employee development, teaching leadership training to all new supervisors and team leaders.  Clients commend their quick response and superb quality, the result of a work environment that engenders teamwork and pride among employees. When recent economic times turned sour, NewAge gathered all employees to advise on personal financial matters and draw confidence from peer support. The bottom line? Their business continues to grow profitably while current and former competitors have struggled.

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Normandeau Associates Inc. 
Since 1970, Normandeau Associates has provided ecological, environmental and natural resources management services throughout the US, including water quality and habitat assessment, regulatory consulting, permitting and environmental monitoring. The 201 associates of this employee-owned organization work from widely dispersed locations, but remain connected through regional meetings, newsletters, and a sense of transparency and democracy fostered throughout the company. Financial matters are posted on the intranet, along with minutes from all meetings of Board of Directors, a majority of whom have been elected by the employee owners. Profitable every year since becoming an ESOP in 2000, employees and clients alike commend the atmosphere at Normandeau Associates, describing it as “candid” “fair” and “genuine.” Extensive on-site training and unlimited tuition reimbursement help the company’s scientists and specialists build new skills and stay abreast of the newest technologies. In this way, clients are ensured the best service for the fewest billable hours as the company focuses on providing “sound science” to achieve the highest quality of work.

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Pool Covers Inc. 
Founded in 1984 and employee-owned since 1997, Pool Covers, Inc. sells, installs and services safety swimming pool covers. The company lives its motto “Nobody provides service like an owner,” by emphasizing training, pushing down decision-making, and fostering an environment that encourages self-confidence. This formula leads to an empowered 36 member workforce comfortable in generating new ideas and making on-the-spot, smart decisions for the company. It is this out-of-the-box thinking that has led to Pool Cover’s developing the innovative products and procedures that have become the industry standard. Teamwork is the cornerstone to their execution as 100% of their workforce participates on a functioning team. Field staff vote on team leaders who lead their monthly technical meetings, provide cross training, and help all members understand the business finances and target goals. In a difficult economy where so many companies are down 10-20%, Pool Covers has remained steady, even growing over the last three years by expanding its market share and increasing its territory.

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Project Development Services Inc. 
Project Development Services, Inc. (PDSI) specializing in development, conversion and renovation of hotels and resorts, experienced its most profitable year in 2008, despite the fact that it was the fourth worst year since the Great Depression for the hospitality market. Founded in 2001 and now with 23 employees, the firm focuses on building relationships with clients and partners while delivering services that exceed project goalsIn offering increased support to a broad spectrum of clients and savvy investors who understand PDSI’s capacity to mitigate risk, the firm maintains very little bureaucracy, actively integrating the functional expertise of analysts, architects and on-site managers to complete a job. Significant emphasis is placed on a sense of self-worth and mutual respect throughout the organization, where a very high degree of independence and ethical responsibility is demanded of all staff. At the same time they are committed to transparency and staying connected as a firm: each quarter PDSI flies in the entire team for one day of employee initiated public service and another day of comprehensive all-company meetings. It is here that company financials are discussed openly and associates, who have had the opportunity to benefit from the firm’s success, can gauge the results of both “short term” performance bonuses and “long term” profit sharing.

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rbb Public Relations 
Extremely stiff competition for internships at rbb illustrates the interest in this full service public relations firm, known for its excellent performance, flexibility and progressive work environment. Founded in 1975, rbb is woman owned and managed, growing steadily in an industry dominated by large corporate service providers. The design of their office typifies their philosophy – it’s about sharing ideas, being creative and getting things done. Performance bonuses are given to teams who have added the most value to a client, and day-to-day operations are driven by the needs and ambitions of the employees themselves. All 28 associates can determine their own schedule and work location, taking advantage of the company-issued cell phones to maintain rbb’s signature responsiveness. The firm encourages the professional development of staff through its mix of onsite customized training, off-site classes, individual learning plans and mentoring. With an average tenure of 8 years in an industry prone to talent flight, it is clear the founder’s mission to establish an “employee-driven workplace” has spelled success for this PR powerhouse.

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Tastefully Simple 
Tastefully Simple, a direct sales company featuring over 50 easy-to-prepare foods and gifts, has made it possible for busy people everywhere to enjoy quick and delicious meals at home. Founded in 1995 on a dream and a shoestring, Tastefully Simple has grown to become a $140 million-plus enterprise. The company’s 363 employees, from the warehouse to marketing, share in profits annually through its “Spirit of Success” program. With a strong commitment to life balance, the company provides an onsite, state-of-the art wellness center for all employees, their spouses and domestic partners. In addition, they offer a range of flex-scheduling options, which are enjoyed by 20% of their workforce. Benefits are generous, and even part-time employees working 20 hours per week are eligible for medical and retirement benefits. Tastefully Simple’s generosity also extends to its philanthropy efforts within the local community – donating 10% of net profits each year to charitable organizations. Indeed, Tastefully Simple, from its humble roots, has evolved into a dynamic company with big dreams, passion and products that people love.

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Tasty Catering 
Founded in 1989 by three brothers and now with 54 employees, Tasty Catering remains family owned and operated, offering catering and event planning solutions to Chicago area corporations. A successful brand in a crowded field, the company has defined its niche with high-quality food, value pricing and excellent service. The quickly growing company sees its loyal employee base with average tenure of more than six years as key to its success and fills most job openings by promoting current employees. Complimentary meals everyday provide a time for people to meet and talk, while weekly bi-lingual newsletters include discussion of business performance and activities. Tuition reimbursement and flexible scheduling allow employees to further their educations, while funding of employee business ventures and emergency loans in times of crisis support employees in their professional and personal lives. Benefits which are rare in the industry, such as health insurance, a 401(k) match and profit sharing highlight Tasty’s attitude that it is their employees who remain their most valuable asset and strongest means for ensuring clients receive consistent, high quality service.

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TEOCO Corporation 
Founded in 1994, TEOCO (“The Employee Owned Company”) now has 252 employees and is the market leader in providing highly scalable cost, routing, and revenue management solutions for communications service providers worldwide. Committed to keeping TEOCO debt-free, the leaders have built an environment characterized by fiscal responsibility and employee ownership. All of the employees at TEOCO are stockholders and the culture evolves around a set of values that includes principled entrepreneurship, business ethics and acting in the best interests of employees, clients and community. Developing its workforce takes precedence at TEOCO. All employees create “Personal Growth Plans” which help them identify the necessary skills to advance their careers. Employees can access up to $3000 tuition assistance annually in addition to the job specific and financial training they receive at the employee-led “TEOCO University.” Their investment in people and culture is paying off; despite the challenging economy, TEOCO continues to consistently grow its revenue year after year.

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The Focal Point LLC 
Uncovering the most persuasive theories and themes in a legal case and turning them into a winning courtroom presentation is the work of The Focal Point, a twenty-year-old, 25-employee litigation support and consulting firm. Through a proprietary process, the firm identifies key issues for each case and develops descriptive graphics and a strategic communication action plan. All work is done in teams, where employees push each other and clients (who are typically trial lawyers or in-house counsel) to bring new knowledge and value to the group. The firm believes that one’s passions align with one’s strengths. Thus employees are encouraged to devote one and a half days a week toward developing their passion, whatever it may be, in light of learning new skills and strengthening the group. Their workspace reflects their character, and employee-designed posters and iron-on patches celebrate company values, such as employee ownership of each project and a commitment to pro-bono cases. With a founding philosophy that work should be enjoyable, levity and openness characterize this non- hierarchical workplace. Clients appreciate these traits, often describing The Focal Point as the “alter-ego workplace,” the exact kind of place where they themselves would like to work.

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