Small companies: Rockin' pays off at work and play

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2013 - 6:49 AM
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Employees of a Fortune 500 company took software training at Intertech in Eagan.

Photo: Bruce Bisping • bbisping@startribune.com,

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Magnet360 is on a roll, largely because the St. Louis Park-based marketing and technology services company makes a point of rockin’.

That one word embodies much about the way the rapidly growing Magnet360 does business, managing partner Dan Mallin said. It also may explain how a company with the motto “Work hard. Play hard. Rock always” ranked as the top workplace in this year’s small-company category.

“We have a rockin’ culture,” Mallin said of the company. “A big part of rockin’ is a band getting together, working together and collaborating.”

Key to Magnet360’s culture, Mallin said, is hiring talented employees, referred to as Magnetics or band members, who are in tune with the company’s approach. Also important is making sure they have great work to do for great clients. The company takes time to have fun — such as when the clock strikes “Beer 30” on Friday afternoons or at quarterly Cocktails-for-a-Cause fundraisers. Benefits include a zero-deductible health plan, flexible work arrangements including working from home and two days of paid volunteer time off a year.

Every employee also is an owner, “awarded and rewarded again and again” through a stock option plan, Mallin said. “We want to train people to think and act like owners.”

Top small-company workplaces primarily are privately held, independent businesses in technology services, marketing, health care, professional services, technology and creative services. While rockin’ technically may not be included, many hold similar values to those of Magnet360.

Also contributing to a happy workplace, they say, are being transparent about business plans and how the company is doing, trusting employees to make decisions, cultivating a sense of family and, in some cases, providing a sense of ownership or a literal stake in the company.

“For us, it begins with hiring great people,” said Phil Lee, president of JT Mega Food Marketing in Minneapolis (No. 6). “People who are talented but who also have confidence in their abilities so that they understand that what’s best for us individually is that we strive for collective success.”

Tom Salonek, owner and president of Intertech (No. 8), a software development, training and consulting company in Eagan, credited being a top workplace largely to hiring good employees (only one in 20 who apply gets hired) and giving them projects that keep them engaged.

Communication and transparency also contribute, Salonek said. Such efforts at Intertech include a yearly town hall meeting, where employees ask questions and air issues to a senior leader who conveys the concerns anonymously to the leadership team.

“If you speak plainly and do what you say, especially those people who have been around the block, they’re going to appreciate being in an environment where they trust and believe in what the management team is doing,” he said.

A family atmosphere has played a role in long-term success at Pharmaceutical Specialties Inc. in Rochester (No. 10), co-president Rick Sandwick said. The company has monthly and quarterly birthday celebrations, featuring cake and a potluck, respectively, and paid “early outs” on summer Fridays.

“We like to think of everyone as family,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons people enjoy working here and one of the reasons we put out a good product. The people who work here like helping other people.”

Camaraderie stemming from employee ownership helps make for a positive workplace at the regional office of Burns & McDonnell (No. 16), an engineering, architecture and construction firm, said regional manager Gene Sieve. The company has 4,000 employees in close to three dozen national and international locations, offering the opportunity to work on interesting, challenging projects around the world.

“On a daily basis we feel empowered to conduct work and serve our clients as though we’re sole proprietors,” he said of the employee-owners. “We empower each other to create change and have fun, coupled with a sense of social responsibility that comes from the top down.”

At Horizontal Integration (No. 4), a digital marketing and strategic staffing agency with 60 employees in Minnetonka, a collaborative environment, open-door communication policy, flexible hours and unusual perks contribute to a high employee-retention rate, said Jacqueline Johnson-Leister, marketing and communications manager. Events include boat cruises, curling, paintball, skiing, bowling, golfing and regular taco bar and summer barbecue lunches.

“Each employee receives his or her own laptop, which he or she can take home, and our kitchen is stocked weekly with groceries galore from Coborns Delivers,” she said. “When our team achieves its annual goal, our firm treats all our employees and their significant others to a company trip to Mexico.”

 

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