As the baby boom generation drifts into retirement, to be succeeded by a much smaller generation of workers, human talent is likely to become the most valuable commodity for businesses, according to many economic and demographic experts.
Small Business Times invited the winners of this year’s Future 50 Awards, which are some of the fastest-growing companies in southeastern Wisconsin, to share their strategies and ideas for positioning themselves as preferred employers.
SBT asked the Future 50 company leaders the following: "SBT is looking to share the stories of the ‘cool’ things that Future 50 companies do. What makes your company cool? In other words, what is your company doing that makes your company special in an ever-tightening labor market?"
The following are their responses:
Abri Health Plan Inc.
CEO: Ron Scasny
"In addition to Abri’s local ownership and unique provider-patient delivery model, Abri is a great place to work. Employee meetings are frequent with fun-themed events that provide a venue for two way communication between management and staff. In employees, we look for people who are committed to responding to our customers’ needs and developing a teamwork approach to solving problems and who believe in our mission. Abri seeks first to serve our customers, both providers and members, second to create value for our shareholders and partners and lastly to serve ourselves."
Argon Industries Inc.
CEO: Gregory Clement
"Our leadership style is based on Christian values and servant leadership principles. Our company philosophy is, ‘Nothing Is impossible.’ By leading, managing and working with this philosophy, Argon Industries Inc, has achieved enormous success in the past and will continue to fuel our growth in the future."
C. Coakley Relocation
CEO: Christopher Coakley
"Being accessible to all employees at all times, in our offices or at a move site. We also have informal barbeques at our warehouse on Friday afternoons, many times through the year. In addition, we have company picnics, holiday parties with a nice assortment of gifts for everyone, bonuses and have gone paint balling as a group."
Capital Data Incorporated
CEO: John Steindorf
"Capital Data has created an entrepreneurial culture that replicates a ‘second family’ environment. We have many internal functions (many with spouses), i.e. golf outings, wine tasting, pub crawls, picnics, which assist in enhancing the traditional workplace relationships. People love working at Capital Data because we let them know they are appreciated throughout the year. Additionally, we support our employees’ charitable efforts with matching contributions and encourage service projects as a company to give back to the community. Finally, we pay for Internet usage and PCs in our employees’ homes to give them additional flexibility during the work week."
CEO: Christopher Carter
"What makes CCI cool? We like to have fun we have no walls in our offices, we play hard and work hard, we have Nerf fights, we do lunches for our staff, we go on trips around the U.S. with our teams. We even send them off on their honeymoon vacations."
CJ & Associates Inc.
"We have a unique culture. We are very sensitive to our internal customers and promote a fun working environment. We have a ‘party pail,’ theme days, internal contests, and even a Halloween Party. We have a lounge area that we call Visions café, fully equipped with a TV, satellite, internet connection and even a popcorn machine for our employees to enjoy as well as entertain clients. We also provide a wide variety of benefits, including and not limited to participating 401K, profit sharing, 100-percent paid health insurance, and on site-dry cleaning. It is working, as 50 percent of our team has been with us for 10 years or longer."
Clearwing Productions Inc
CEO: Gregg Brunclik
"We work a lot of rock n’ roll concerts, which makes most people think our jobs are cool.
Our people travel a lot, and the work environment is totally different every day, so there’s never any boredom or mundane- day-to-day repetition. However, make no mistake – our industry is quite demanding. The hours are long, and we prep during normal office hours to work during the typical off-hours. As we’re in entertainment – we work when everyone else is off. So, to keep good people, we invest a LOT in them. We care about them personally. We care about their families, their goals, their problems and their dreams. We invest time, money and a great deal of effort into team building and maintenance of our people assets. Anyone can own equipment – it’s the people that propel the business forward. Since we understand that, we embrace it and proactively focus on getting the right people on the team, getting them into the right position on the team and keeping them challenged and satisfied in that position. It is however, a constant challenge."
CEO: Peggy Coakley
"We are a very diversified company with associates who work in our facilities spread over three locations, and we have many associates who work at client sites spread over 15 locations in three states."
CEO: Dan Maynard
"Our company really focuses on doing whatever it takes to retain our talented employees, even on an individual level, and we continually engage employees on how we can make Connecture an even better place to work. We have broad policies to accommodate varying personal and family needs like flex-time with core required hours, and allowing every employee to work from home one day a week. We also have employee committees charged with organizing regular, company-sponsored social events, and one that represents all employees in making decisions about the best way to spend our benefit dollars. Additionally, we keep a strict schedule of quarterly all employee forums and one of those is a town hall-style in smaller groups with our CEO at least once a year. We publish a bi-monthly employee newsletter that is designed to keep everyone apprised of exciting accomplishments and important objectives. We also have faithfully communicated to our staff that if they have a need that isn’t included in any of the broader HR policies to bring it to our attention and we will do what we can to accommodate them and keep them a part of the Connecture team. One example of this is retaining employees when they relocate to another state, or even another country. We want to keep our employees and devote a lot of effort to creating an environment that makes them feel like they are working for one of the best companies around."
CEO: Dan Aicher
"Our end markets include medical equipment, military and security, along with others. We are participating in applications that include the latest cancer treatment, simulating the next generation fighter aircraft and tanks, and enabling inspection of containers entering our ports. Our design and integration services wrapped around the latest technology enables these innovations. Cool? We think so."
CEO: Daniel Nelson
"We recently purchased and renovated a 100-year-old commercial building on East Wisconsin Avenue and moved into our new office space in February. The interior design and open concept working environment is much more conducive to creativity and collaboration. We also included a much bigger employee lounge, complete with a Nintendo Wii, flat screen TV and even a bar, for unwinding and holding our monthly ‘first Friday happy hours."
Elite Human Capital Group
CEO: Crystal Schroeder
"The culture at Elite is truly the differentiating characteristic of the firm. It is an environment built with creative and entrepreneurial energy. The team enjoys autonomy and independence in making the right decision for our customers, and doing whatever it takes to make our clients and candidate happy. By empowering each team member to have authority in decisions relating to their clients, they in turn become a vested owner in the growth of the company and their income. We’ve created aesthetically beautiful offices which provide a pleasant environment for our team. We’ve been flexible in accommodating work/life balance of our team, and we offer top notch benefits. I really love what is evolved out of this unique culture!"
Executive Benefits Network
CEO: R. David Fritz Jr.
"We utilize an office bonus as a way to allow everyone on our team to share in the financial success of our company. Directly or indirectly, everybody contributes to our progress, and they are rewarded for their team efforts and team spirit"
Fi-Med Management Inc.
CEO: Adrian Velasquez
"Our employees are our most valuable resource. We create an accountable, proactive environment. Exceptional employee benefits include a 401K plan, where Fi-Med has contributed 5+ percent of employee salary annually whether the employee participates or not. In December 2006, Fi-Med rented a luxury bus and took more than 40 employees to lunch in Chicago and then to see ‘Wicked.’ T-shirts for all."
CEO: Rob Gottschalk
"Good benefits. Try to keep a casual, positive atmosphere. Take care of people."
General MetalWorks Corp
CEO: Eric D. Isbister
"The employees of General MetalWorks are leading the company growth and health through continuous improvement suggestions that we call ‘Yellow sheets’. The employee culture makes investment in state of the art high technology equipment and employee training well worth while."
Good Electric Inc.
CEO: Gregg Eisenhardt
"Our national association expects big labor shortages in the near future, so on a local level we are working with Big Step to encourage young people to look into becoming an electrician."
Gordy’s Lakefront Marine and Boat House Restaurant
CEO: Thomas Whowell
"Annual Cobalt Splash Bash Event. We invite all of our Cobalt customers for a day of fun out on Lake Geneva. This year we also had the Jesse White Tumblers entertain at the party. Other ‘cool’ things include: annual wakeboarding tournament; customer boat loaner program; holiday cards (a tradition since 1959); ski and wakeboarding school; free/discounted food and drink coupons; free lunches for all new boat owners; Christmas ornaments for all Cobalt owners; cool Gordy Boys and Gordy Girls in Gordy gear (from our Pro Shop). Cool is as cool does."
Independent Care Health Plan
CEO: Patricia Jerominski
"Independent Care Health Plan invests in our human resources to promote job satisfaction, which in turn provides excellent customer service. Investments include employee training, competitive benefits and wages, and a strong support system for staff dealing with a high-needs high-stress clientele."
CEO: Scott Welsh
"Inland strives to have a very welcoming and creative workplace environment and provides an opportunity for those employees that are self motivated and achievers. Inland’s goal is not to be the biggest service provider in Wisconsin-just the Best!"
Ken Cook Co.
CEO: Kenneth Cook
"In a time of global business expansion where offices consist of cube farms and overseas campuses, Ken Cook Co. stands out as an organization that is focused on the family. A workforce that includes members that span three generations is a testament to the family-centric culture at Ken Cook Co. Founded by Kenneth A. Cook in 1944, the company is a family-built business that has developed a culture that balances a work-centric and family-centric workforce. Kenneth J. Cook encourages an atmosphere of transparency between employees and the head office. Meeting quarterly with each department, Ken shares information regarding company financials and plans for the future in a comfortable, open setting with a question and answer session for inquiring minds.
With programs such as ‘Lunch with Ken.’ where the CEO of the company invites an individual employee to an informal one-on-one restaurant dining experience, to the brown bag lunch where Ken often discusses a recent book he has read in book-club fashion, the norms, values and beliefs of the organization are shared from top to bottom, and the employee is made to feel like family. You could say the corporate culture at Ken Cook Co. is really cool!"
Key Technical Solutions Inc.
CEO: Tim Galante
"Our company allows for flexibility with our associates to optimize success. Employees are involved in defining their own job descriptions, as well as career growth steps. We believe that the current generation entering the work force is the smartest group to enter the business climate ever they just need some good coaching. At Key, our culture allows us to respond quickly to market and technology changes, providing pathways for our clients and associates to achieve success effectively."
La Macchia Group LLC
CEO: Ralph La Macchia
"The special ways we show our appreciation to our employees is to either order in lunch or I will cook a meal for all our employees at least once a month; celebrate each birthday with a gift and a treat of the employee’s choice; recognize each employee’s anniversary; as well, we will be adding a Zen Room for weekly, company-sponsored, massages and a place to get away for a little while. We also look to our employees to help us create a better workplace."
M&M Office Interiors Inc.
CEO: Wayne Breitbarth
"We as owners have taken departmental ‘field trips’ to places like Summerfest, State Fair, Wisconsin Dells, Lake Michigan fishing for the purpose of celebrating and spending time together. These trips have been very well-received."
Mared Mechanical Contractors
CEO: Dick Gust
"Employee-owned, working with customers on small projects to multi-million dollar projects."
CEO: Dave Becker
"We firmly believe in keeping our employees informed of what is happening in our business, so we put emphasis on ongoing employee communications. We supplement our open door leadership policy with our quarterly all-hands meetings and a weekly leadership minute that is distributed to all personnel. MasterLink also provides continuing education and career growth planning for all employees. We offer a number of special recognition and incentive programs, including CEO awards and peer recognition. We provide several opportunities for employees to engage with each other on a social level, such as our summer picnics and holiday parties."
Midwestern Roofing and Construction Inc.
CEO: Trais Haire
"Having certain certifications make our company special. As demand for certain certifications (for example EBE percentage) goes up, so does our supply in offering those certifications which increase our line of work."
Miles Data Technologies
CEO: Robert Ladd
"Fundamentally, with barcode and RFID technology, we enhance a business’s ability to compete. By providing them the tools to improve their operational efficiency, we enable them to invest their resources towards expansion rather than maintaining current levels of inefficiency."
CEO: Scott Molitor
"Exceptional employee benefits, a variety of company activities and incentives (including trips to places like the Mayan Riviera and the Dominican Republic) help us attract and retain the area’s top talent. A shared commitment to excellence helps attract the caliber of employees we look for. Unlimited commission-based compensation (with a competitive base) for sales professionals, and career advancement opportunities that stem from our growth, are also huge perks. But the coolest thing about MilwaukeeJobs.com – the thing that really makes us an employer of choice – is participating in an amazing, ongoing success story, and helping to make it happen every day."
CEO: Scott Happ
"Our work environment is dynamic, challenging and fast paced, but also casual and fun. Mortgagebot leaders never hesitate to thank teammates for their contributions every day, and host countless lunches and parties to support team focus. Team members are motivated by knowing they contribute to the organizations success."
Neroli Salon & Spa
CEO: Susan Haise
"Neroli Salon & Spa provides and promotes education to team members. We like to celebrate all team members’ accomplishments. The team members know that we listen & appreciate their input and have open dialog on their insight for the company."
New Resources Consulting
CEO: Mark Grosskopf
"NRC hosts quarterly fun events for employees and their families so that we can stay connected. Our industry is one in which most of us work apart from each other, and we use these events to help pull us closer together."
Novo Group Inc.
CEO: Mike Harris
"We offer very flexible work schedules; including the opportunity to work from home. We offer a generous benefits package that includes health/dental insurance and paid time off. We also have monthly ‘Novo Knowledge’ training sessions where employees participate in fun training environment. Ongoing training of our employees will be a key component of Novo’s future."
NovoPrint USA Inc.
CEO: John M. Limbach
"Full benefits; annual chocolate day; annual day off for Summerfest with $25 each; trip to a suite in Lambeau to watch the Pack; Brewers games; Bucks Games. Each full-time employee is eligible after three years of service for a fully funded, one week trip to Germany with spouse to meet with our founder and see our sister company during Octoberfest. Komen Race sponsor for runners/walkers. Oh yeah, free parking at our downtown office."
Retail Maintenance Service Inc.
CEO: Peter Mohrhauser
"Since people spend almost as much time at work as they do at home, we have created a workplace environment with all the comforts of home. Within our building you will find several sofas, chairs, lamps, plants, and antiques that would look great in any home. The offices have satellite radio. We also have monitors throughout the building primarily tuned to The Weather Channel or a news channel, but they have been known to display a Brewers game, The Price is Right, or VH1 periodically."
River Run Computers
CEO: Paul T. Riedl Jr.
"What makes River Run special and ‘cool’ are the people. If you surround yourself with great hard-working people, great things will happen. What you have is all these pieces to a puzzle; team chemistry, hard working people, the genuine belief in FIPPERD, vision, excellent products and services, and the overall enjoyment of people doing what they do best. When you put all these pieces together, exciting things happen not only for the River Run team, but for our valued and loyal clients as well. We also listen to our clients and adjust our services to meet their needs. The perfect example is the RSVP – this is a program that was developed from feedback from clients and is being modified based on client feedback."
RS InfoCon Inc.
CEO: Rajiv Surana
"We encourage our employees to voice out their learning and experiences from their customer sites internally. We have quarterly company wide meetings in which we discuss the status of the various projects, lessons learned and document these lessons learned so that there can be cross functional knowledge transfer throughout the organization so that all the employees are aware of the latest trends in the industry. We hub these lessons learned on a per project basis in our data warehouse system in our office so that employees can have access to refresh themselves on a need to basis.
We have seen this process work extremely well for us, as this creates a sense of networking within the organization and can also benefit our clients. This helps our entire organization to stay in touch with the latest trends in the industry and gives our consultants the cutting edge over our competition."
CEO: Scott Gierhahn
"We think it’s cool to hold the bar of excellence extremely high. Not many people want to excel everyday but that’s what we do. A lot of people have joined us and are no longer here. The ones that are work their tails off to ensure we never, never offer mediocre service. We like to compete and win. It’s to our client’s advantage."
Share Building Products
CEO: Peter Share
"We are developing exciting new products and everyone likes to be involved in that. All of our employees have passion for our products and for our customers."
Sterling Aviation LLC
CEO: Chris Doerr
"We have expanded our operational facility to service Europe and other international destinations. We are also in the final stages of being authorized to fly larger aircraft with passenger capacity up to 30 travelers. No other company can offer the traveling public the ‘Sterling Experience.’"
Terra Nova Inc.
CEO: Chris McCanles
"For the most part, the technologies we work with are all about fun: movies, music, digital media, bringing together people to share ideas, learn, and have fun. Yes, we’re involved with drier or more somber applications involving automation or security, but if you love getting elbows-deep into a wide variety of gadgets and technologies, we promise to keep you challenged. Our company offers a very dynamic environment. It is more akin to a flight control tower at an airport than the IT department at your average company. Many who work here do so because they get a deep sense of satisfaction from the level of involvement they have with products and technologies we sell, the relationships we have with our customers, and the direction of the company overall. For our customers, we work hard to inject an element of magic in every system we design and install, primarily when it comes to its performance, feature-set, and ease-of-use. It’s our job to make the promise of the coolest technologies a reality on the ground."
The Sleep Wellness Institute
CEO: Mark Stoiber
"We gave a day off with pay to the entire organization and took everyone to the state fair."
Uihlein Electric Company Inc.
CEO: Timothy Rigsby
"Attention to employee development and being responsive to our customers."