Mid-size companies: Going beyond sales and profits

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2012 - 5:57 AM

Employees feel valued when their bosses look beyond revenues to focus on team and community initiatives.

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State Bank & Trust bused in workers from across the state for its annual employee appreciation day lunch in Golden Valley. Anna Abeld, left, says employees “feel like family.”

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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At State Bank & Trust, each of the bank's 249 employee gets $1,000 every year to donate to the cause of her or his choice. For personal banker Anna Abeld, that usually means the Animal Humane Society.

At Right at Home, which provides in-home care for elderly clients, employees look forward to the dinner and show at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater every year.

In Duluth, women's wear retailer Maurices hired a full-time wellness coordinator and opened an on-site fitness center for employees.

For these Top Workplaces firms in the medium-size category, the emphasis goes well beyond revenues and profits, say employees, who insist they feel valued, have fun and get rewarded in ways large and small. Many appreciate their bosses' focus on community giving, team building, training and incorporating fun and wellness initiatives into the workday.

Michael Solberg, president of State Bank & Trust, said he firmly believes in the company motto, "Happy Employees! Happy Customers!"

Employees get caramel rolls the first Friday of every month and a branch birthday cake each month. Also, they get treated to anniversary lunches and an annual employee appreciation day, which took place last month with grilled food, banners, a tent on the front lawn and bused-in workers from across the state.

In addition to the usual perks of profit sharing, bonuses, health care and a clothing allowance, working at State Bank make employees "feel like family," said Abeld, who added she's most jazzed about the bank's Pay It Forward charitable giving program. State Bank & Trust, which has 13 Minnesota locations, participated in the survey for the first time, ranking No. 10.

At the Duluth-based women's retailer Maurices, which also participated in the survey for the first time this year, it's flexibility that has won the hearts and minds of sales and headquarters staffers.

"I love the company I work for," said Kristin Anderson, the marketing and customer research manager, who has worked there 15 years. Maurices, No. 9 on the list, has 347 headquarters employees in Duluth, many of whom work flexible schedules, share jobs or, in Anderson's case, work from home when not traveling to one of Maurices' 800 stores.

"They do whatever it takes to bring out the best in their associates. They are committed to a lot of initiatives. They do a lot of internal and external training and are committed to a flexible environment," which helps since many employees are women with young families, Anderson said.

Management hired a full-time wellness coordinator, opened an on-site fitness center and showers employees with several appreciation days each year. The recent one, at a restaurant-and-event center in Duluth, offered rock climbing, ice skating, food and fun. Separately, management just paid for Anderson and 150 other top-performing managers and sales associates to vacation in Mexico for a week.

"I can't even tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to continue doing what I do," Anderson said. "What a great company."

Milwaukee-based Wipfli, with accounting and consulting offices in Edina and Lake Elmo, takes a unique attitude toward its 167 Minnesota workers. At Wipfli, the emphasis is that happy customers make happy employees, regional managing director Chuck Palmer said.

Still observers wouldn't assume that from the generous roster of perks and benefits. Wipfli offers workers performance coaches, health club memberships, boat cruises, company picnics, gift cards for great work recognized by peers, and free flowing food and beverages during the tax season to help their accountants make it through.

"We have a nice work environment," Palmer said. "It's like we are part of an internal team."

Climb to the top

Right at Home, a top-ranked workplace in our survey for the third consecutive year, claimed the No. 1 spot in 2012. If it seems ironic that a firm with workers who never see one another would win a Top Workplace of the year contest, then you just don't know Paul Blom and Bob White.

When the duo opened their Right at Home elderly care firm 11 years ago, they knew their nontraditional workplace would need some TLC of its own. After all, the average employee is age 54 and drives directly to the homes of the firm's elderly clients, only rarely stopping in the Bloomington office.

"When you have a company like ours where your employees don't work in your office, you really have to go to those extraordinary lengths to help people feel connected and to help them feel like they are part of something that is not just them and their client," Blom said.

That's why they hold the annual picnic at Como Park, where workers bring family and clients. It's why they hold the much-anticipated dinner and show at Chanhassen Dinner Theaters. And it's why there are health training sessions each quarter that bring together far-flung staff under one roof. There is health insurance, matching 401(k) plans and dental insurance for full- tme workers.

But that matters little to Karen Stevens, who joined Right at Home when it first opened.

In 2009, Blom nominated Stevens for the national Right at Home franchisor's Caregiver of the Year award. Blom secretly collected heartfelt letters from Stevens' clients and funneled them to the home office. Stevens won. And Right at Home flew Stevens and her sister to Omaha, where she was presented with a trophy, a $5,000 check and a surprise reading of client letters -- a memory that still makes her tear up.

"I don't know of any other company that would do something like that," Stevens said. "I have worked with the mentally and physically handicapped for 25 years. But the past 10 years have been very, very special to me because of this company and because of these guys."

Caregiver Greg Schaffner said he isn't surprised the company moved up the list of 30 winners to grab the No. 1 spot. He could easily make more money working elsewhere (wages are $10 to $14 an hour). Schaffner's job let him become an "unusual caregiver," one who built a boat with one stroke client in the hopes of bringing him out of a depression. It worked. Now the two are building a second boat and speak publicly on behalf of the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance.

Schaffner, who retired from a more lucrative job before joining Right at Home, said he appreciates the annual picnic and the Chanhassen event.

"That's nice,'' he said. "But it's that integrity and knowing that they have my back and certainly the welfare of their clients first and foremost. I will work for low wages for people like that."

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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