2023 Smart Culture Awards

Be an enabler of outstanding workplace culture

2023 marks the seventh year of the Smart Culture awards. As co-founder of this event, along with Smart Business, I want to extend sincere congratulations to this year’s honorees — and applaud them for being enablers.

Larry Senn, referred to as the “Father of Corporate Culture,” once said, “Culture is not an initiative. Culture is the enabler of all initiatives.” What a powerful statement!

Alliance Solutions Group CEO Aaron Grossman

Often, people have negative connotations toward an enabler, as it can be defined as someone who supports another person’s dysfunctional behavior. But an enabler is also defined as a person or thing that makes something possible, and you are in the position of making great culture possible.

Senn knew that a strong culture is the foundation of successful organizations. It’s not just about creating a positive work environment; it’s also about setting clear goals and objectives, providing effective leadership and having a shared sense of purpose. A strong culture drives performance, attracts and retains the right talent, and impacts your bottom line.

Smart cultures enable collaboration, innovation and creativity because employees feel valued, respected and trusted. Enabled employees are motivated to do their best work and reach company goals.

Culture is the foundation of our success across the TalentLaunch network. Our purpose as a nationwide network of independently operated staffing and recruitment firms is to inspire the world to realize its potential. In Ohio, our companies include Alliance Solutions Group, Alliance Healthcare Solutions, Alliance Industrial Solutions, Artemis (IT)s and Capstone Search Advisors.

Culture is not something that can be created overnight. It’s been inspiring watching the evolution of culture-focused companies in Northern Ohio over the past seven years. Congratulations to the honorees, all of which are enablers in the most positive and impactful way. ●


2023 Smart Culture Honorees





Jeff Ahola, Owner and CEO

From the moment new hires join Ahola Payroll & HR Solutions, the company embraces them with an employee-first culture that includes engagement, expanded benefits and a hybrid workplace model.

Ahola is active on social media with a program called Employee Spotlight, in which new hires are interviewed and featured on the company’s LinkedIn page. The Employee Engagement Committee further fosters connections and keeps work fun by hosting events such as an in-office karate lesson by a billing manager who happens to be a black belt.

Each year, Ahola surveys its employees and requests feedback on their level of engagement, benefits packages and likelihood of remaining with the company. The company plans its internal programs around the results. This has led to benefits offerings that include tiered vacation time, paid volunteer time off, paid birthday time off, fitness reimbursement, a company-paid employee assistance program and employee store and semi-annual bonuses, among other offerings. Ahola also plans monthly philanthropic events to keep employees active in the community.

As part of a move to a hybrid workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahola invested in tools to improve communication and culture building. The company says this has improved the employee experience for fully remote employees and helped it attract and retain the best talent. ●






Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga, MD, Founder and president

Apex Dermatology’s team is laser-focused on “Transforming Lives Through Healthy Skin.”

What started as four employees at one location has grown to 250 employees staffing 12 locations throughout Northeast Ohio. From recruitment and onboarding staff to fostering meaningful work relationships, the practice’s culture instills a sense of purpose and esprit de corps.

Founder and President Jorge Garcia-Zuazaga, MD, has implemented the “Thought of the Week,” a companywide email that discusses principles to align the team. Employee recognition includes customized bobbleheads for individuals who exemplify Apex’s core values. A former Marine flight surgeon, Dr. Garcia-Zuazaga has also created a celebratory company coin that is presented to team “rock stars” who goes above and beyond their duties.

Quarterly Apex Leadership Roundtables provide a format for administrators and providers to learn together and strengthen team dynamics. One example was a “dinner in the dar,k” where staff members gathered and ate dinner blindfolded. The exercise was an impactful occasion to understand team dynamics, vulnerability and the significance of shared experiences.

The Apex Journal Club offers an opportunity to discuss interesting cases and novel treatments, and a mentorship program pairs mid-level managers with seasoned teammates to focus on leadership development and community impact. ●





Andy McCartney, President

At a time when traditional means of finding machinists have become more difficult, Bowden Manufacturing’s engagement with young engineers has allowed the company to take on more complicated projects with the help of inquisitive young minds eager to learn from more senior staff.

In the midst of significant growth, Bowden Manufacturing has built its Manufacturing Next Gen Program into a talent acquisition system responsible for nearly half of the company’s workforce. It says the infusion of youthful energy has radically changed its culture and the way it processes work through its shop floor.

Bowden has also improved its internal communication and customer experience. Daily morning e-mails alert the engineering team and senior leadership to personal development opportunities. The company created the “Frustration Index” for employees to report on their frustration level (from 1 for a smooth day to 5 for an extremely frustrating one) at the end of each shift in order for team leaders to address issues more rapidly. Even in a busy environment, the company says this approach has quickly reduced the overall level of frustration in the shop.

The company says a newly established Customer Champion Program, in which two teammates serve as advocates on the shop floor for each customer, has improved motivation. ●





David Carr, President and CEO

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Brennan Industries Inc., a hydraulic and pneumatic fitting source since 1953. In its third generation of family leadership, the company’s mission remains to provide the best products and solutions for customers while building a culture of development and growth for employees.

President and CEO David Carr ensures that team members stay connected so that everyone shares in the company’s success. Employees are encouraged to speak up, and an open-door policy throughout the organization reflects the value of individual input. Along with providing a quality product, service is an essential value. Each call or visit to Brennan is met with excellence in customer experience that is consistent throughout all facilities.

A quarterly newsletter and frequent corporate communications keep team members current on company happenings. With the addition of a new marketing manager in 2022, updates to the company’s website and social media platforms engage customers and employees alike.

Each year brings remodels or new facilities, with improvements that include gathering spaces, open floor plans and high ceilings. Furnishings that support health and wellness include standing desks and lumbar supporting chairs. Company leaders work to ensure that employees have the best tools and technology at their fingertips to do their jobs efficiently. ●








Bill Onion, Managing director

Espousing the importance of “endless curiosity,” Briteskies — a full-service eCommerce solution provider — encourages employees to learn new things, whether they directly apply to their professional responsibilities or not. This means not only advancing career capabilities but also exploring new hobbies. Distinct personalities and interests are encouraged and celebrated, as the company says the best way to achieve customer success is through a team that is happy and fulfilled.

Briteskies believes that while the technical expertise of its team members can solve any issue a client presents, the relationships those employees build with clients are what sets it apart from others in the field and leads to short-term projects expanding into long-term support. The company says “customer compassion” — empathizing with customers and using enthusiasm and expertise to deliver the right solution — is its top core value.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to Briteskies adopting a hybrid work model, with team members encouraged to work from the office two days per week. Wednesdays are designated as in-office days, with lunch ordered, games played and meetings that benefit from in-person collaboration held. The company says this approach allows the work-from-home days to be heads-down, productive workdays, while the office days are centered on the socializing that is a crucial part of Briteskies’ culture of team involvement. ●





Paul Carleton, Managing Partner

While investment banking is a traditional business, Carleton McKenna & Co is purposefully nontraditional. Team members are embarking on a path to modernize investment banking and showcase it for what it is — a fantastic career option for people of all backgrounds.

At CM&Co, culture is everything. The company’s core values require colleagues to exhibit intentional optimism, aggressive execution, insightful solutions and an outward focus. Corporate leaders are not beholden to many traditional prerequisites and rationales for hiring, instead expanding their potential participant pool beyond those familiar with the historically nondiverse industry. Seeking diversity of experience, education and background results in better teams, better advisers for clients and better stewards of financial transactions.

The company’s leadership team is 50 percent female, bringing a unique perspective to both internal and external decision-making. CM&Co has more female investment bankers than any other independent firm in Northeast Ohio. With a lens of continuous improvement, there is comfort at all levels of the organization to raise issues, suggest new ideas or offer creative solutions.

Additionally, community service is integral to the company’s culture. Managing Partner Paul Carleton says, “If you can’t serve your country, serve your community.” Office hours can be spent on board participation and volunteer work and is actively encouraged. ●




Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, President and CEO

Cleveland Clinic’s retention rating of 84.7 percent in 2022 was well above the national benchmark of 81.2 percent. The company attributes this success to a diverse, collaborative culture that leads to more creativity, productivity, innovation and overall happiness.

In order to foster learning, improvement and development among staff, Cleveland Clinic offers educational opportunities, mentoring, coaching, tuition reimbursement and, in some cases, loan repayment. Caregivers have free access to one-on-one financial counseling, budgeting tools, home-buying seminars and more. In 2022, the company launched its Nursing Loan Repayment Program, in which 1,432 caregivers enrolled, with Cleveland Clinic contributing more than $4 million to help nurses pay back their student loans. Additionally, the Caregiver Hardship Fund helps caregivers who have suffered an illness, family member injury, loss of a spouse’s job, eviction, etc. In 2022, Cleveland Clinic contributed more than $1 million to support caregivers through that fund.

In the move from the pandemic to a national labor shortage, Cleveland Clinic has prioritized caregiver feedback through listening sessions and surveys. It says both leaders and caregivers rated their “sense of belonging” at Cleveland Clinic as very high. Cleveland Clinic also held its first-ever benefits preference survey, in which 90 percent of caregivers rated the company’s benefits and health plan as high value. ●





Phil Rath, President

“If you treat team members and vendors fairly, care of customers comes easily.”

That is the core belief underpinning the culture of Compass Packaging, a corrugated sheet plant in Mantua that manufactures shipping containers and point-of-purchase displays. Established in 2003, the family-owned company began with five employees. Today, it operates two production shifts with a staff of 75. The Packaging with Purpose philosophy, started in 2017, reminds employees that they are part of something bigger than themselves. Many team members wear T-shirts or sweatshirts bearing the motto.

Under the leadership of President Phil Rath, team members are focused on fostering long-term relationships with fellow employees, customers and suppliers through friendly, supportive and fair dealings. The company works to ensure that managers are aligned with its vision and values and is implementing the Entrepreneurs Operating System (EOS) to further this goal.

Corporate events occur throughout the year, including holiday celebrations and free ice cream on hot summer days. Topping the list is the annual Movie Day in December. Everyone is paid for a full day of work but instead goes to the movies together. The Garrettsville Cinema is rented out for the private occasion, and team members bring their families for a free movie and concessions. ●






Jeff Stohr, CEO

The long-standing employment tenure of several key employees in leadership positions at Conveyer & Caster – Equipment for Industry (CC-EFI) helps new hires as they acclimate to their roles. The company made changes to its onboarding process to assist this effort.

Inside sales coordinators now go through a six-week caster assembly training so that they understand one of the key products. Employees shadow the lead of their team and meet with all leadership team members to understand additional roles within the company and improve cross-functionality in the future. Each new hire also has lunch with CEO Jeff Stohr, who has been a member of the team for 34 years, to understand the company’s history, culture, values and product offerings. The company believes this approach paves the way for open communication in which every employee of the family-owned business is made to feel like a member of the family.

CC-EFI’s 2019 move from Ohio City to a much larger and more collaborative work environment in Westlake further fosters the team mentality. Employees have access to a golf simulator, gym, racquetball court, shuffleboard court, ping pong table and more, allowing for team bonding on site. Employees are also rewarded for their hard work with a profit-sharing bonus program, and work schedules have become more flexible post-pandemic. ●




Tom Harrison CPA, CEPA, President & CEO

Each year, Corrigan Krause surveys employees with questions like, “What three words describe the firm?” Inquiries are intentionally open-ended to provide insight into team members’ thoughts on the company’s corporate culture.

Recent responses included caring, family, fun, work-life balance, team-oriented, welcoming, knowledgeable, supportive and growing. The positive descriptors stood out because they were attributed to Corrigan Krause more often than benchmark organizations. Providers of accounting, tax and consulting services, Corrigan Krause leaders hold strategic planning workshops to gain input from upper management. Remaining flexible and responsive is vital to creating the firm’s supportive workplace and building motivation to be better than before.

The company’s social media platforms serve as a constant cycle of good news and authentic support for staff by providing public recognition for their hard work. Posts also serve as a mechanism for team members to show pride in their colleagues.

The firm’s ongoing focus is ensuring the health and happiness of its employees. Curating a positive culture has a direct impact on retention. In the height of The Great Resignation, Corrigan Krause had incredibly high employee retention. Additionally, over 25 percent of employees have been with the firm for 10 years or longer. ●


Ron Leonhardt Jr., President and CEO

As CrossCountry Mortgage continues to grow, it focuses on supporting, rewarding and recognizing employees to maintain and improve company culture. This includes the 2022 launch of the company’s first-ever employee reward and recognition program, The Extra Mile, which recognizes employees for significant milestones. The company says its survey-based award program, in which employees share feedback and recognize growth and sales, also ensures employees’ voices are heard to create an open, transparent and trust-based environment.

CrossCountry Mortgage fosters personal and professional development through training programs and internship programs for those interested in the mortgage industry and ongoing digital-based training for employees. Collaborative biweekly branch manager calls provide insights and best practices happening across the industry. The company hosts annual events designed for team member development, including an annual sales rally and a marketing summit.

CrossCountry Mortgage is currently placing greater emphasis on internal communications that inform, inspire and engage its national workforce. The pandemic sharpened the company’s desire for visibility and a clear direction, with regularly scheduled check-ins that set clear expectations within teams. One-on-one support networks, including peer-buddy or mentor-mentee networks, are also available to employees. ●




Wesley Gillespie, Regional President, Northeast Ohio

At ERIEBANK, a strong company culture not only attracts the right people but also gives the financial institution a competitive advantage. Employees exemplify that culture in the communities where they live and serve. They understand that viability and expansion of the local business economy are directly linked to diverse and inclusive banking practices and resolve to place value on similarities and differences within the workplace and marketplace.

Under the leadership of Regional President Wesley Gillespie, ERIEBANK is committed to successfully integrating diversity, equity and inclusion into every facet of business. ERIEBANK houses a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee that meets monthly. Composed of executive sponsors and employees, committee members include underrepresented minorities and individuals with differing backgrounds. This year, ERIEBANK is introducing Employee Resource Groups whose aim is to cultivate DEI further and provide professional development, networking and camaraderie among employees.

In an effort toward continuous improvement, ERIEBANK has several programs to help motivate employees to be their best selves in and out of the office. Its Culture Award recognizes an employee nominated by their fellow colleagues for embodying the bank’s culture and values. ●





Lauren Burke DeVere, President

Thanks to a progressive culture in which transparency and diversity are valued, Fire-Dex onboarded more than 100 new employees in the past year. The women-led, family-owned company says the implementation of its Opportunities for Improvement program, in which associates offer suggestions to further foster a productive work environment, has led to, among other things, more daily fresh food options being made available to the onsite workforce.

Fire-Dex also actively shares associate achievements and milestones, family updates and organizational activities, both internally and on its social media platforms, and it holds town hall meetings and sends a monthly e-mail newsletter to encourage an open dialogue within all levels of the organizations. The company cites its paid maternity and paternity policy, which includes adoption and foster child placement leave, as an important part of its effort to help employees. Fire-Dex offers several hiring and retention bonuses and perks to show that work and dedication are valued, and weekly performance and production incentives and overtime opportunities provide hourly associates access to additional compensation or greater schedule flexibility.

While frequently hosting virtual and in-person touch-base meetings among team members builds relationships, Fire-Dex also has one no-meeting day per week, so that associates have the space to focus on work tasks without interruption. ●






Scott Mawaka, CEO

Over the past 37 years, Fleet Response has evolved into an industry-leading fleet management company with over 300 employees, offering claims management, subrogation, safety solutions, maintenance and vehicle rentals. Through nearly four decades, the company has maintained a family-like culture that ensures employees have a voice and that addresses issues important to them.

Under the leadership of CEO Scott Mawaka, Fleet Response emphasizes the importance of personal and professional development. Started in 2018, its Leadership Education and Development Program (LEaD) was created to develop business skills, increase exposure to core management competencies and foster the continual growth of high-potential staff.

The company’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee was created in 2020 to further an inclusive culture that encourages, supports and celebrates the diverse voices of employees. In its fourth term, the committee is now led by employee volunteers who strive to nurture an environment where every person from every background feels empowered to succeed.

The all-day Ron and Fran Mawaka Employee of the Year event celebrates employees’ hard work and dedication. One finalist from each department is recognized and receives $1,000, and the overall winner receives $5,000. All finalists are recognized via social media, and the event is livestreamed over the company’s Facebook channel. ●





Bill Priemer, President and CEO

Post-pandemic, Hyland continues to evolve its employees’ work experience and benefits to reflect an increasingly remote and global workforce, with programs and resources that allow all employees to engage and connect with each other, regardless of where they work from.

Last year, Hyland introduced Yammer, a companywide business social networking and collaboration platform, to keep employees informed and allow them to connect on both work-related tasks and personal areas of interest. President and CEO Bill Priemer’s traditional Monday meetings are now convened virtually, with the global audience of employees kept in mind. The Hyland HUB intranet has focused more on sharing and highlighting employee stories through the “Hello Hylander” series, in which employees from all over the world share their personal stories of resilience, struggle, achievement and personal journey.

Hyland unveiled a new Lifestyle Spending Account, where employees can be reimbursed for things that support their physical, emotional, financial and work/life balance needs, such as gym memberships, house cleaning, pet care and more. A continuing education program called “CAMPfire,” mentorship circles, Focused Fridays (uninterrupted time with a break from cameras), quarterly wellness and development days and a stronger focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives all add to the strong culture Hyland provides. ●









Sam Falletta, CEO

At Incept, corporate culture is driven by a commitment to helping employees, partners and clients become the best version of themselves. The company has defined its core values with the acronym Integrity, Never Settle, Compassion, Everyone’s a Customer, Present and Tenacious. To keep those qualities top-of-mind, each meeting ends with individuals sharing an example of how someone on the team exemplifies one of the Incept values.

Under the leadership of CEO Sam Falletta, the company has defined a set of core behaviors exhibited by extraordinary people. These 33 behaviors inform team members’ daily practices and set the Incept culture apart from other organizations. One of the behaviors is “transparency creates trust.” The leadership team believes that sharing openly with employees is the best way to foster better understanding and positive relationships. At a weekly Town Hall meeting, a member of senior leadership addresses the entire workforce, delivering updates and answering questions.

During their #RelationshipsMatter campaign, team members learned more about one another through a successful video series. In each video, an employee shared two truths and a lie about themselves, and viewers guessed which statement was the lie. The engaging content was just one of many ways Incept harnesses social media to promote its company culture. ●






Ethan Karp, President and CEO

With the opening of a new headquarters in 2022 and the exposure it gave to the manufacturing industry, MAGNET graduated record numbers of students from both its ACCESS and ECEC workforce development programs.

The company says its Manufacturing Innovation, Technology & Job Center is galvanizing the region’s manufacturing ecosystem with a variety of public and private workspaces. In revitalizing an abandoned building, MAGNET’s headquarters also features a park and a playground area for the neighborhood, fulfilling the company’s goal of positively impacting both its internal and external communities.

MAGNET recently began in-person, bi-weekly all-staff lunch meetings to create device-free conversation among team members at communal tables. During these meetings, public thanks yous reward collaborative work. MAGNET also holds quarterly team outings that have included race-car driving, dueling piano bars and axe-throwing.

Each year, the company’s values week features daily adventures, concluding with an all-staff conference at an activity-driven location. MAGNET holds monthly reading and wellness groups and psychological safety training and encourages its team members to participate in various community events.●





Richard Buoncore, Managing Partner

Founded initially to serve pro golfer Arnold Palmer, MAI Capital Management is now a comprehensive wealth management firm that strives to simplify, protect and help grow clients’ wealth.

The key to the company’s success lies in building a business around three pillars: Taking care of clients, each other and their communities. Internally, they have created a people-first environment. From the top down, everyone at MAI works hard to ensure that team members are equipped to build and live a culture of service and continuous improvement.

Helmed by Managing Partner Richard Buoncore, company leadership sets the tone for valuing inclusivity, remaining agile and building solid relationships. MAI University is a resource where employees can easily access and complete year-end performance reviews alongside their managers, find support for obtaining professional designations and certifications and enroll in training sessions. A yearly MAI Leadership Summit for new leaders sets them up with skills and tools to be future culture carriers.

At every town hall meeting, team members are given the opportunity to nominate colleagues for examples of how they have shared time, treasures or talents to help others. By spotlighting these stories, MAI fosters an environment where employees are acknowledged for their quiet, often-unseen acts of kindness and charity. ●




Adelbert “Chip” Marous, President and CEO

With a new headquarters that opened in 2020, Marous Brothers Construction has furthered its culture of collaboration and inclusion. During the design process, President and CEO Adelbert “Chip” Marous encouraged formation of several employee-led volunteer committees to help steer ideas for components of the project, such as interiors, furniture, history and landscaping.

Through that process, it was determined that flexibility for space use was vital to spark creativity, evoke innovative design and invite discussion for collaboration and out-of-the-box problem-solving among coworkers. Instead of traditional office arrangements, the facility boasts huddle rooms, a living room and lounge, indoor and outdoor conference rooms and a café.

Marous Brothers always seeks to promote from within. The company says its training and development committee recently assembled a full calendar of trainings through Marous University, a companywide, strategic platform designed to propel the professional development trajectories of employees. The company also provides college tuition assistance to employees and sponsorships into the Joint Apprenticeship Training Program.

Seeking to break up the workweek routine, the company hosts concert/theater/sporting event ticket raffles, happy hours, monthly summertime cookouts and ice cream socials in the outdoor courtyard, Mother’s Day flowers, a holiday party and other engaging activities. ●




Jeremy Sopko, CEO

At Nations Lending Corp., advancing business and company culture is more than a focus on profits. It is also about maintaining an environment of success, pride, diversity and inclusion.

Co-owners CEO Jeremy Sopko and President Bill Osborne, started the mortgage company in 2003 with the belief that they could positively impact homebuyers’ lives. Their vision for Nations Lending was driven by three core values: Family-first culture, work-life balance and first-class experience. With an infectious attitude, their leadership sets the tone. Sopko and Osborne entrench themselves in daily operations, taking time to get to know employees by name.

The principles that guide the corporation include “Show Tenacity, Be Resourceful, Maintain Integrity and Become Dynamic.” These tenets are integrated into daily routines. Team members are empowered to take ownership of the company’s direction and have a say in decisions or changes.

The company’s Creative Engagement Community offers ongoing activities that help employees get to know their co-workers better and learn from their diverse backgrounds, fostering an inclusive atmosphere of pride and respect. Team members embrace the Nations Lending culture as a badge of honor. They often receive feedback from new hires that the company’s family-first values are not rhetoric; they are the truth. ●






Therese Zdesar, President and CEO

Despite an employee base that is in the field rather than in the office, providing care to aging adults and their families, Home Instead Senior Care has worked extra hard to connect and foster a culture of family and respect, leading to a retention rate that far exceeds the industry national average.
Despite an industry-wide staffing shortage, Home Instead has been able to consistently meet, within 24 hours, any requests from the community to provide care.

The company says caregivers have left other companies to work for Home Instead because they are treated with dignity. From the time of hire, the more than 200 caregivers employed by Home Instead receive a call from the owner or a visit on orientation day. Caregivers also receive birthday cards and anniversary cards and gifts, special handwritten thank-you notes after a job well done, frequent administrative staff visits to check on what support is needed in the field and proactive phone calls to further offer assistance.

Recognizing the importance of seniors having the same caregiver day after day, Home Instead listens to its caregivers through employee surveys to ensure its culture is maintained.

The company says this develops a level of trust that is vital in this field, and it continues to invest in resources that further this commitment. ●






John Wargo, Senior vice president

At Rocket Mortgage, culture is created through fun, client service and community. The details of mortgages can be tedious, so company leaders make sure to create a lively environment for team members.

That often includes friendly competitions and even a dash of the ridiculous through silly videos and goofy skits. Workplace kitchens are always filled with slushies, coffee, BEVI machines and more. The company partners with its Cleveland Cavaliers corporate family, hosting Rocket Mortgage employees at numerous game-day events throughout the NBA season. Employees also benefit from perks through Rocket Mortgage’s partnerships with hundreds of companies.

Senior vice president John Wargo and the leadership team believe that happy team members make for happy clients, and they have remained committed to caring for both at the highest level. They also stay focused on the “ISMs,” including Rocket Mortgage’s founding principle: “Every client. Every time. No Exceptions. No excuses.”

Post-pandemic, the company has remained true to its corporate culture, maturing as it developed a hybrid schedule that enables employees to work part-time from home. Additionally, a people officer directs diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The winner of numerous business awards, Rocket Mortgage has been named one of Cleveland’s best places to work by The Cleveland Plain Dealer. ●





Brian Krusz, Director of Growth & Development, Founder

At Sgt. Clean Car Wash, a commitment to company culture begins in the interview process, where prospective team members are given a holistic understanding of what will be asked of them. They must be comfortable adhering to the strict customer service standards that are set and the nonglamorous parts of their job. The company says its “No promises, only commitments” guideline results in a slightly lower hire rate than the industry standard but a significantly higher retention rate.

Sgt. Clean does not pay minimum wage like many conventional car washes but rather compensates team members at a premium in order to attract, retain and reward customer-savvy people, including some salaried positions and benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. The company says its team members have added financial incentive to provide higher-quality service to customers via monthly bonuses based on their team’s or location’s performance, aiding in the retention rate for both team members and customers.

Servant leadership is at the heart of this company, founded by a veteran, and the company believes that having engaged team members with skin in the game creates an entrepreneurial spirit, where team members are encouraged to seek answers to questions and empowered to find solutions to issues. ●






Steve Peplin, CEO

At Talan Products Inc., the vision of its owners and the values they established have forged the company into the world-class organization it has become.

In 1986, Talan’s founders set out to build a successful and respected metal stamping and manufacturing company where people wanted to work. They aimed their principles high and refused to compromise. CEO Steve Peplin likes to say, “We were partnering before partnering was cool.” Those partnerships included customers, suppliers and team members. Like a three-legged stool, the company could not stand at full strength if one component was weak.

High-achieving since its beginnings, Talan has offered employees profit-sharing through the years. Owners also ensured that the people who worked for them always felt they were partners in the company’s success. There were also fun events, starting with turkey frys in the parking lot, grilled burgers for lunch and parties at local venues. These special activities grew into picnics, local cruises and their exciting annual golf outing.

Talan’s core values of Commitment to Safety, Collaboration, Tenacity-Determination and Respect are published and supported by behaviors that put them into action. Industry benchmarking shows that Talan’s turnover rate is half the industry average, affirming that the company has fostered a highly engaged workforce. ●







Cynthia Rios, Executive director

In 2022, The Haven Home LLC provided shelter for 234 families who would otherwise be homeless, distributed more than 16,000 diapers and served nearly 4,000 meals. The organization attributes this successful impact on the community to a culture where people want to work through personal and professional development.

The Haven Home’s direct staff faces challenges in helping clients manage their fears, emotions and trauma, which means it is important for those staff members to have developmental opportunities. It achieves this with seminars and workshops that focus on self-care and healthy boundaries, as well as programs that broaden staff members’ knowledge of shelter services, affordable housing and nonprofit administration. Staff have flexibility of scheduling, provided all shifts are covered. Administrative staff have the option of working from home up to two days per week or during special situations. And all staff birthdays are recognized and celebrated.

As a young organization, The Haven Home encourages its staff to seek out and suggest new methods and ideas, including software and furnishings that improve productivity, safety and security. In 2023, it is upgrading plumbing and electrical systems and remodeling its playroom to provide an environment that offers activities for all ages and abilities. ●






Ed DeAngelo & Brad Clark, Co-presidents

At SpyGlass Group LLC, culture is paramount. Leaders make it a top priority to create an environment where people want to work.

For over 20 years, the company has provided industry-leading telecom and technology expense management solutions. From the beginning, the company’s mission, vision and values have centered around employees and their well-being. SpyGlass’s culture is underpinned by the statement, “We strive to enhance the success of our team with a tightknit culture of fun, entrepreneurial spirit and overall life happiness.” This principle is just one of the many ways Co-president Ed DeAngelo and the leadership team demonstrate their value for employees.

SpyGlass emphasizes the three Cs: careers, culture and clients. The company focuses on hiring people early in their professional lives and enabling them to excel and advance from within. Corporate initiatives include an extensive training program to emerge new hires into the SpyGlass Career Acceleration Program. Employee growth continues through SpyGlass University, mentorship and external professional sales training.

Leaders also find unique ways to focus on employees’ personal growth. The Wellbeing Program enhances overall happiness and centers around five core values: community, financial, career, physical and social. Wellness events include corporate challenges, financial education classes, athletic and cooking competitions, fitness activities and charitable events. ●








Robert Fiala, Founding Partner
Chris Smith, President

The transformation of a former junior high school in downtown Willoughby into ThenDesign Architecture’s new office building not only aligns with the company’s focus on the education market but also provides ample room to support the different ways employees collaborate.

The 24,000-square-foot space includes “collaboration caves” and flexible work cafés. A large flex studio space provides room for everything from staff meetings to yoga classes, and the main kitchen offers equipment and space for the company’s Friendsgiving potluck, chili cook-offs and hot chocolate/coffee bars.

Recognizing the importance of effective communication and thought leadership, the company launched TDA Insights, a team blog that allows for the sharing of expertise and the exploration of ways to use videography and photography within an architectural context. The company also has an internal newsletter, The Scoop, for project announcements, staff shout-outs, birthday celebrations and wellness tips.

TDA believes in attracting great people with a culture of respect and integrity, with opportunities for growth and creativity. Several team members shifted career paths within the firm. For instance, one architect became an IT manager and another a director of communications. The staff is diverse (seven countries are represented among the more than 50 architects, with more than 50 percent of them women), and several staff members serve as mentors in the community. ●





Taurean Spratt, Vice president and general manager

Turner Construction Co.’s culture focuses on three core values: Teamwork, Integrity and Commitment. The organization’s purpose is to make a difference in the lives of its people, clients and community.

Vice president and general manager Taurean Spratt and the leadership team recognize that employees are their primary asset. Their mission is to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment where people feel physically and emotionally safe. Ideally, every person who steps onto a Turner construction site believes that they contribute and belong to something extraordinary.

The company is growing in its understanding of unconscious bias and allyship as it strengthens its commitment to a just and inclusive workplace. In 2020, Turner established a 10-year vision to reflect the communities in which it builds and achieve equitable representation at all levels throughout the company. Leaders are also reimagining their recruiting program and taking steps to help employees reach their ultimate career potential through thoughtful mentorship and strategic placement.

Turner recognizes the importance of a culture of continuous improvement. Building a company and a workforce for the future requires tremendous adaptability and vision. Leaders foster an atmosphere where employees share their ideas and engagement to implement improvements and advance innovative ideas. ●







Matt Baird, President

USI was recognized by Insurance Business America as a Top Insurance Employer for five consecutive years, was named one of Insurance Journal’s Best Agencies to Work For in 2022 and has been cited as Best Place to Work in Insurance by Business Insurance three years in a row. The company attributes this recognition to standards that help both new and established professionals with foundational industry knowledge, technical skills, leadership development opportunities and a supportive sales culture.

USI operates around the concept of USI ONE — Omni, Network and Enterprise. Through Omni, associates can tap into the vast experience of more than 500,000 clients, thousands of professionals and over 150 years of business history to determine the financial impact for clients of every USI solution. Network features dedicated technical experts networked nationally and embedded in local offices to build integrated account teams. And in the Enterprise process, associates meet regularly to expand ideas through expert-led training and support programs.

The company says it reaffirmed and formalized its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in both hiring and community impact. USI established an Executive Sponsor Team, a full-time DEI manager and a 20-member I’m With U Council to serve as advocates committed to championing a culture where diversity, equity and inclusion are foundational to success. ●





Kyle Braun, CEO

In 2021, CEO Kyle Braun and corporate leaders established Waste Dynamics as a parent company to manage their brands, including Budget Dumpster. As the organization grows, leaders continue to rely on their valued team members to drive culture.

The company has invested heavily in its internal and external communication to build a successful working environment and a positive customer experience. During the pandemic, circumstances necessitated standardization of communications throughout the organization. Waste Dynamics revamped daily performance emails to give employees direct insight into the health of the business. In addition, monthly company newsletters share department highlights and individual successes.

Many of the company’s significant cultural improvements have resulted from embracing internal employee surveys that generate individualized, anonymous feedback. As leaders pave their way within the waste industry, they value employee retention. Managers provide guidance to enable employees to advance their careers within the company.

Last year, Waste Dynamics purchased the building that has been home to its other companies, including Budget Dumpster, since 2018 and invested in office renovations to create spaces designed for a modern hybrid work environment. ●