Identifying the Top Small Workplaces from a pool of nearly 450 applications is a task that The Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces turned over to a prestigious team of eight judges. The judges were chosen to represent a number of perspectives: academics, advocates of small business and entrepreneurship and recognized leaders who have created good workplaces. The judges met recently in Evanston, where they shared their unique perspectives and their passion for the work of the small firms they selected.

Here are detailed bios of the eight judges, including their unique experiences related to evaluating, assisting and in many cases running small companies. Following the judges’ bios are some of their observations about the finalists and the judging process.

Colleen C. Barrett
Colleen Barrett is currently president and corporate secretary for Southwest Airlines Co., a high-frequency, low-fare, point-to-point airline which prides itself in its excellent customer service. In that capacity, she oversees management, leadership, and budget responsibilities over many areas/groups, including Advertising and Promotions, Customer Relations & Rapid Rewards and Leadership Development & Training.

  • We heard her say “I would go to work for this company if I could!” more than once.

Georgia Berner
Georgia Berner has led Berner International Corporation for 23 of its 48 years. She has created an organization that engages the minds of her workers and puts trust at the foundation of its culture. Turnover is less than 5 percent and the organization, a union shop, has been able to avoid the kind of adversarial business-labor relationship found in similar work environments. Berner was named a Best Boss by Winning Workplaces in 2004.

  • “I have often thought ‘If only workers could check in their souls at the same time they punched their time clock, because so much work is soul deadening'” (paraphrased from a quote by early 20th century French philosopher Simone Weil).

Peter Cappelli
Peter Cappelli is director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to his Wharton faculty role, Cappelli serves as co-director of the U.S. Department of Education National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce and research associate for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

  • “I looked for employers that put practices in place that would create great workplaces, as opposed to many where a benevolent owner or boss was simply nice to their employees. In the latter cases, there is nothing for the employees to hang onto. If the boss’s mood changes, the good aspects of the workplace disappear as well.”

Judith Cone
Judith Cone is vice president of emerging strategies for the Kauffman Foundation, where she leads efforts to explore new program opportunities to advance entrepreneurship and education. Prior to her current role, Cone was vice president of entrepreneurship and led a number of the Foundation’s signature entrepreneurship initiatives for youth and adults.

  • “I placed the most weight on whether the firm was outperforming in its industry, since industries vary so dramatically.”

Timothy Faley
Timothy Faley is managing director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan. He holds degrees from Northwood University – Richard DeVos Graduate School of Management, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • “It’s not the idea, it’s the execution. And the execution is all about the people.”

Ken Lehman
Ken Lehman is a managing partner of KKP Group, LLC, the family office for the Lehman Family Group, and chairman of Winning Workplaces. Before organizing the Lehman Family office, he was co-chairman of Fel-Pro, Inc., a family-owned and managed Skokie, IL-based automotive gasket manufacturer.

  • “I look for firms that inspire me.”

Michael Mulqueen
Michael Mulqueen is a retired brigadier general in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and former executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. He assumed the leadership of the Greater Chicago Food Depository in September 1991 immediately upon his retirement after 30 years of service in the USMC. In 2003, while still at the food bank, Mulqueen was named a Best Boss by Winning Workplaces. He now sits on its Board of Directors.

  • “I looked for infrastructure, succession and leadership planning. I was concerned that if the CEO were hit by a 10-ton truck, would they be out of business?”

Jack Stack
Jack Stack is the founder and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation, an award-winning, employee-owned organization based in Springfield, MO. Stack is also the author, with Bo Burlingham, of The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Outcome.

  • “You learn the most about a company when it goes through really tough challenges.”