Five-Star Workplaces 2014

Winning Workplaces - 2014

Each November SBM features some of the top workplaces in St. Louis.  These companies aren't just the best places to work, they are businesses where the individuals working there are seen as much more than employees.  And those individuals aren't just happy at work.  they are given chances to foster personal and professional growth.

Red Key Realty Leaders

After working as an agent and in management roles in some of the top real estate offices, Jill Butler wanted to create an office that focused on bringing the highest level of customer service to home buyers and sellers as well as local real estate agents. “In an industry that is dominated by national corporate franchises, I saw an opportunity to create an office that offers a more personal approach for both agents and clients,” she says.

Butler launched Red Key Realty Leaders, building the firm on the motto “Love and Service” with both her clients and her employees in mind. “This means love and service to our agents, to our clients and to the community,” she says. “We look for ways to surprise and delight our staff, agents and clients. We try to create a culture of achievement, support and fun.”

Red Key’s caring atmosphere includes perks like training, one-on-one coaching, limo birthday lunches, monthly massages, off-site retreats, monthly happy hours and a meditation room. “We believe that happiness is the way to measure success,” says Butler. “Statistics show that happy people are more successful and productive, so fun and happiness are our goals. We strive to build strong relationships with our employees and celebrate their strengths. We work hard and play hard. We strive for excellence, and we like to play and have fun at work. We celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, going ‘above and beyond’ in everyday work, and try to get together outside of the office.”

In addition to providing a celebratory team atmosphere, Red Key encourages and supports individuality and achievement of personal goals, according to Jill Balaban, receptionist and office coordinator. “There is a strong focus on individual strengths and support for working within our own style,” she says. “We receive individual and group recognition at sales meetings, strong coaching and training resources.”

What ties everything together for Red Key is its people – staff, agents and clients – and their positivity. “Happy people create a happy environment,” says Butler. “Take care of your staff first and foremost, and they will serve clients at the highest level.”

Mosby Building Arts

For Scott Mosby, owner of Mosby Building Arts, which was founded by his father, Sam Mosby, in 1947, clients and employees alike shape the business’s culture. “Our culture is summarized very simply by the phrase, ‘Say what we do, and do what we say,’” says Mosby. “Saying what we do means to design understandable plans, write clear work scopes, choose products that last and to fully communicate the expected outcome to all team members. In short, make a clean promise.”

Then Mosby and his employees do what they said they would do, on time, on budget and with a happy client. “This basic behavior is the basis for our strong reputation, employee retention, and very high referral and repeat clients buying from us,” says Mosby.
With the platform of delivering a shared vision in place, Mosby Building Arts supports its employees with the understanding that each person wants to do something meaningful with his or her life, make a positive difference each day and leave behind a better world. “Each associate works diligently to support their family, raise their kids and improve the community,” says Mosby.

To help each individual achieve this, the business is committed to every employee. “Not only do we strive to offer the most competitive vacation benefits, health insurance and 401(k) plans; we pride ourselves in treating employees like family,” he says. “This allows our company to offer more personalized benefits and the flexibility to adapt to each individual associate’s needs and personal development plan.”

Kate Ewing, marketing manager, believes this customized flexibility is the company’s greatest employee benefit. “For me, it’s the flexibility to leave work in time to teach or make a board meeting,” she says. “For others, it’s the flexibility to spend time at home with new babies or leave early enough to catch a child’s ballgame.”

Overall, though, the best part about Mosby’s culture is that everyone truly enjoys working there, according to Ewing. “Associates are excited to come to work and help the company grow,” she says. “With our emphasis on relationships, we not only treat each other like family but also have strong relationships with our clients, vendors and community that strengthen our workplace culture.”

Chris Cakes St. Louis

Always self-employed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Paul Werkowitch had a talent for recognizing professional opportunities that fit his lifestyle. So after working for a friend’s pancake-catering company for four years, he began to see an opportunity to launch a second Chris Cakes location. In 2004, he founded Chris Cakes St. Louis, a professional catering service offering famous pancakes and more.

Most important to Werkowitch when launching the business was to provide employees with the lifestyle freedom so important to him in his career. “My employees control their own schedule,” he says. “They can schedule days off up to a year in advance. If it’s a college student who can work Mondays and Wednesdays one semester and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next, we accommodate.”

In addition to letting employees dictate which days they work in the short and long term, Werkowitch empowers his employees by giving them freedom in the day-to-day. “Paul gives us a lot of independence,” says Dylan Belgeri, a Chris Cakes employee. “We train for a few months, but then we get to go out and run events on our own. We don’t have a boss standing over our shoulder. It makes the business special to see your boss trust in you.”

Having created a culture of freedom, Werkowitch makes sure to publicly recognize his employees’ willingness to do what it takes to get the job done. “We have the occasional company outing – either paintballing, where all the employees worked as a team and took on me (the boss), or maybe a meal and competitive flipping challenges,” he says. “We also have an upcoming outdoor event as well.”

In addition, Chris Cakes gives its employees financial rewards like Christmas bonuses, bonuses based on post-event surveys and customers rebooking, and an “above and beyond.” “It gets awarded when employees really go beyond what is called for on a job or if they do something that makes our customers ecstatic and it isn’t in their job description,” says Werkowitch. “We also give them recognition publicly, and if the situation is appropriate, we publicize it on Facebook and Twitter.”

To name just one benefit: allowing employees to live life outside work by letting them dictate their own schedules.

Integrated Payroll Services (IPS)

When starting Integrated Payroll Services (IPS), an outsourced payroll and human resources company, to become St. Louis’ most trusted provided in the industry, Coray Groves and Joe Schweppe had a clear vision for their company.

What building a winning company culture has come down to for the IPS partners has been hiring great people who care about what others think of them. “Our culture is one where if an associate is struggling with project demands, others will lend a hand without being asked,” says Schweppe. “It’s not uncommon to find people here after hours helping others so they don’t have to stay too late.”

IPS employees view the family atmosphere and the support given to them professionally and personally as top benefits of working for the company. “I worked for a large company for many years prior to coming here, and I really needed a change from the culture of my previous employer,” says Jinx Landis, tax manager. “I work every bit as hard here as I did in my former position but feel much more appreciated here.”

Landis believes this is partially because people’s contributions have bigger impacts in smaller organizations, but she says what it comes down to is that the owners make sure all employees feel appreciated for their roles in the company’s success. “They hire carefully so that everyone who comes here wants to be part of a growing company, has the right attitude and fits in well,” says Landis. “I believe our growth and success reflects that. They constantly say they cannot do it alone and we, the employees, are what make this work. Of course, we all know that the tone set by the leadership is critical as well.”

Maintaining this tone of positivity and caring, the IPS partners support their associates with standard biweekly meetings with their supervisors to help guide, troubleshoot and potentially align resources for projects. “We listen to our associates to uncover opportunities for training so they feel more rewarded when helping customers,” says Schweppe. “We support and fund ideas that associates have that help them learn from each other, such as Friday lunch and learn. IPS has a policy to pay for additional certifications, such as Certified Payroll Professional and Human Resources Specialist.”

The Lipton Group

Athird-generation family-owned real estate company, The Lipton Group has owned, managed and developed a wide range of commercial real estate, including apartment communities, retail centers, office buildings, condominiums and storage facilities, since 1957. After nearly six  decades of steady growth, the Lipton family knows that to succeed, they must deliver exceptional living experiences to their residents as well as work-life balance to employees. “Our company philosophy is ‘life in balance,’” says Randy Lipton, president. “We don’t just say it; we live it. For example, we give employees 18 paid days off within their first year of employment. Many companies make employees wait six months or even a year before they earn paid time off. We know that our associates have lives outside of work, and we encourage them to take their paid time.”

In addition to the standard nine holidays off, The Lipton Group offers extra holidays off – like the day after Thanksgiving – to improve employees’ work-life balance, and it hosts several events each year to provide breaks from work. “We try to have special events throughout the year to get the employees out of their offices and enjoying time with their co-workers,” says Lipton. “We have an annual picnic or sporting event that we attend during a regular workday. We allow the locations to close early in order to attend.”

The Lipton Group also believes in providing generous financial benefits for ease in life. “The Lipton Group offers a 401(k) company match up to the first 4% that the employee contributes to their 401(k),” Lipton says. “We offer monthly bonuses/commissions for leasing personnel, maintenance and management teams based on the number of new move-ins as well as the number of retained residents. The property managers and maintenance supervisors earn semiannual bonuses based on the operating budget of the community where they work.”

Beyond these benefits, The Lipton Group shows appreciation for individual employees with handwritten birthday cards with gift cards, an employee-of-the-month program and recognition of employees on the company’s Facebook page. “I personally have worked for The Lipton Group since 2001, and I could not imagine working for a better company or with a better group of employees,” says Mandi Randell, marketing director. 

Woods Basement Systems

At Woods Basement Systems the company culture is all about its friendly, family atmosphere. “This is partly because this is a family business but also because we have the luxury of having a team that shares the same values,” says Wayne Wood , general manager. “We care about our employees and do our best to be sure that each team member has all of the necessary tools, resources and support to perform at a high level and provide ‘wow!’ service to our customers, co-workers and community.”

While employees know they have a job to do, the team at Woods Basement has fun doing it. “I believe that this approach makes everyone enjoy their jobs more, and our customers appreciate working with happy employees,” says Woods.

To perpetuate fun in the office, the Woods family hosts many events to celebrate its team members. “Every year we host an Employee Appreciation Dinner to celebrate our team achievements, in which we recognize each department’s top performers with various awards,” says Woods. “Dinner is free for our employees and their spouses or guests. Owners Rick and Anna Lee Woods host the annual company picnic, dubbed WoodsFest, which includes good food, a fishing derby, horseshoes, swimming and cool prizes. Additionally, we host an annual team golf scramble where employees play for free.”

On a regular basis, team leaders will organize and cook breakfast for the company’s production and service crews, and employee birthdays, holidays and other important days of the year are celebrated with office parties and potlucks.

The bottom line at Woods Basement is that its people make all the difference and that happy employees lead to happy clients. “Every day I come to work with my friends,” says James E. Lord, digital marketing manager. “The people – from the owners to new hires – are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever worked with.  Everybody wants everybody to succeed, and we all help each other provide the best experience for our customers and have fun doing it.”

Northwestern Mutual-St. Louis

When Gerard Hempstead joined Northwestern Mutual, it was because of his strong desire to help people in the community by providing a path toward financial security. Today Hempstead shares this drive with his employees, who are all dedicated to the same goal. “This culture is energizing, competitive and fun,” says Hempstead, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual-St. Louis “We truly care for each other personally, professionally and financially. Our staff members work with our financial representatives and serve a role where everyone is interdependent to the success of the agency.”

The company culture at Northwestern Mutual-St. Louis also includes an emphasis on growth and achievement for everyone. “Each staff member has their own personal design or mission statement of what they wish to accomplish and when they would like to accomplish it from a professional, financial and personal standpoint,” says Hempstead. “Just like our financial representatives, our staff is able to chart their own course and set their own goals. Together we help achieve both personal and professional growth in an environment that is challenging and exciting.”

Office manager Karen Horton believes the firm’s investment in personal and professional growth for each and every staff member is the greatest benefit. “We all have our own growth plan, and Gerard not only encourages but pays for industry-related education, whether it be a course, certification or licensure,” she says.

In addition, Horton says the firm offers many benefits she views as integral to the company’s culture. “The office covers medical, dental, vision, short- and long-term disability, and life insurance for each staff member,” she says. “In addition, we recognize our staff at various times of the year with luncheons for birthdays, company anniversaries, etc. We even provide a special shopping spree around the holidays. The benefits included are both large and small but are important items that create cohesion among all team members.” 

Carmody MacDonald

With a shared entrepreneurial spirit, Don Carmody, Leo MacDonald Sr. and Jack Hilton wanted to create a law firm that would be focused on building close relationships with clients and providing premium-quality legal services. Since its founding in 1981, Carmody MacDonald PC has grown while remaining focused on building client, pro bono and community relationships. “Overall, the same spirit of dedication, persistence, selflessness, preparedness and endurance that we extend to our clients we humbly extend to our community,” says Carmody.

Just as the firm has a focus on supporting its community, it supports its own employees. “We have a passion for innovation, collaboration and long-term relationships,” says Carmody. “The staff and attorneys at Carmody MacDonald are valued and appreciated. The firm regularly holds in-house training sessions for attorneys and staff in an effort to build effective leaders and motivate and facilitate collaboration and teamwork.”

By retaining the leadership it has built, Carmody MacDonald has grown in size and strength. The firm retains talent in part by providing benefits that go above and beyond the norm. “The benefits are plentiful and all-inclusive,” says attorney John Willard. “There’s support on every level – financial, professional and personal.”

On top of health, short-term disability, long-term disability and life insurance being paid for by the firm, a matching 401(k) up to 6 percent of employee contributions, and flexible spending account and health reimbursement arrangement plans, Carmody MacDonald provides:
12 weeks of paid maternity leave; employee assistance program; paid parking; wellness program with access to workout facility; Sam’s Club membership; employee discount program for retail stores; referral bonus to employees for referring other employees; paid time off – employee receives a maximum of four weeks off; Administrative Professionals Week meals and entertainment; holiday gift card exchange program; weekly “Fat Friday” breakfast (on a rotation; each person or group of people brings in breakfast for the entire firm every Friday morning)

Even with these benefits, it’s the people that make the workplace, Willard says. “Here we’re a family; we look out for each other as professionals and as individuals,” he says. “It’s a positive environment, and I get the sense that everyone here realizes they’re working at a special place.”

Scheffel Boyle

At Scheffel Boyle, a 60-year-old accounting firm, the environment is built on fostering success for both clients and associates. To help each employee reach new levels, the firm provides motivation and professional guidance, with a strong emphasis on teamwork. “I’ve seen other businesses get lost in their own success without encouraging employees to be successful on an individual level,” says managing principal Dennis Ulrich. “We don’t want that to happen here. Our goal is to develop success at Scheffel Boyle from the inside out. We know that motivating our staff to focus on professional and personal development will make us a stronger company.”

Because of this, the culture at Scheffel Boyle is very team-oriented. “We have a great group of people here that all pull together to teach, learn and grow,” says John Russell, supervisor and two-year employee of the firm.

One way the team at Scheffel Boyle grows together is through regular continuing education and mentoring for associates. “We want them to grow professionally while working here and continue to expand their knowledge and expertise,” says Ulrich. To do this effectively, we have regular staff meetings during which our principals and senior staff provide continuing education for all employees. We also have a mentor program where our new hires are paired with a senior associate to help them learn the ropes and to be a sounding board for questions they might have.”

Russell and other employees view the continuing education and mentoring as a huge support. “There is a lot of motivation in the air here to not only help your clients but better yourself professionally and personally,” he says.

Supporting his staff comes naturally to Ulrich, who views his team as the No. 1 reason Scheffel Boyle is a Winning Workplace. “We are lucky to have an amazing staff of motivated, dedicated and passionate individuals fill a variety of roles within our firm,” he says. “We want to develop our staff to be able to come and get my job. We want leadership and a successful career for all.” 

Conner Ash

One year after Howard Rosen joined Conner Ash in 2001, he not only had supported the accounting firm through a transition between generations of partners but also had become its managing partner. At that time, Rosen and the firm’s new leaders decided to make a sharp left-hand turn with the firm’s culture. “We decided to be more collaborative,” says Rosen. “This meant being inclusive of nonpartners, open about our finances so everyone knew where we stood and having profit sharing.”

Conner Ash’s profit-sharing program, Rewards for Results, was just one way the firm began to show its employees how much their individual work matters. “All of our employees have the same four key performance indicators by which we measure their bonuses,” says Rosen.
Rosen and the other partners continued to make cultural adjustments by taking the time to figure out what was important to employees and then tailoring the business to meet those needs, according to Rosen. The changes included investment in technology to allow employees to work from anywhere and no mandatory Saturdays during busy season.

Amanda Mueller, the firm’s administrater, recognizes this flexibility as one of the top perks of working for Conner Ash. “As a CPA firm, we don’t have mandatory Saturdays during busy season,” she says. “That really sets us apart, and it goes back to our families being part of our success. On a regular basis, if someone needs to work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. because of school or family, they can make their schedule that way.”

To promote the idea of relaxation and flexibility in the workplace, Conner Ash offers employees holiday parties, employee recognition dinners and a relaxation room. “We converted an empty office into a room with a massage chair, mini-fridge, snacks, games and movies for employees to go in if they are having a stressful day and relax,” says Mueller.

Overall, though, Mueller says it’s not the tangible perks that make Conner Ash a Winning Workplace, but the people within the firm. “What’s clear is that family is important,” she says. “We know we’re valued and our families are valued. Our successes are our families’ successes.”


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