Beyond bonuses

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He’s built like a catcher.

Short, stocky, with shoulders like a bull, Matt Carpenter swings the aluminum baseball bat with quick, powerful strokes.

Thunk! Thunk!

The baseballs rocket out of the Iron Mike pitching machine and strike Carpenter’s bat with resonating, solid connections.

Thunk! Thunk!

He’s not at his neighborhood batting cages. In fact, he’s just next door to where about a dozen of his employees pour over hundreds of lines of HTML code and download job opening ads from any one of the Web’s most popular career placement sites.

Carpenter is co-founder and COO of EmployOn Inc. in Euclid, an online career service which offers employers and recruiters access to a 1.5-million-resume database and job seekers access to more than 8 million jobs from 100,000 Web sites.

A former catcher for the Columbus (Ga.) Red Sticks and Watertown (N.Y.) Indians, Carpenter was drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of high school, played for Mississippi State University and Cleveland State University and was then drafted by the Colorado Rockies. He never played in a big league game, although he saw plenty of big leaguers come through the ranks.

Carpenter left baseball and joined his father’s recruiting business, Executive Search of America. There, he created the concept for GrassIsGreener.com, which grew into EmployOn. With his father, Ed, and about a dozen recruiters, Carpenter grew the company to more than 100 employees and raised $13 million in venture capital from firms including Doll Capital Management and Crystal Internet Venture Fund.

”Playing on some really successful teams and some really unsuccessful teams, I really wanted to transfer a sense of teamwork,” says Carpenter. ”Teamwork is so important in a start-up because, much like a lot of these start-up baseball clubs, you’re going to lose a lot more games than you win early on. If you don’t have a good solid foundation of teamwork, you’re going to find that you’re going to continue to lose.”

Chow time

EmployOn’s offices look misleadingly small from its humble storefront near Lake Shore Boulevard. The trendy executive office features exposed wood ceilings and ductwork, black track lighting and subdued black and gray furniture.

Yet when you step through the swinging doors to the lunch room, it’s like a trip back in time.

”This has been an Elk’s lodge for the last 90 years,” Carpenter says. ”The Elks still come in every Tuesday night; they have a license on this place forever.”

The free lunch served is no less homespun. Cheeseburgers, sloppy Joes, meatloaf and stuffed cabbage are often the bill of fare, although the stuffed cabbage does not receive a warm reception by the diners, Carpenter says.

”We don’t get any mahi-mahi, which is good for our investors because it’s a low cost lunch,” Carpenter says. ”This is great for us because it keeps people at work. What we used to find is, typically at lunch we would just hear this sucking sound out at 11:45 and everybody comes back at 1:15. Now what we get is people have lunch at their desks and people stay here. It’s great because we get more productivity and they get lunch. In many ways, it goes beyond even paying for itself.”

EmployOn’s free lunches help break down the corporate walls that often form between top executives and new, younger employees in growing companies. Carpenter saw those barriers first-hand as a minor league player unable to approach managers and coaches at the major league level.

”We’ve got everything from senior management teams accustomed to working in Fortune 500 companies, the Key Banks and G.E.s of the world, down to kids just out college, doing spidering and inside sales,” Carpenter says. ”The cool thing about the lunch is the ability for a guy like Jim Bennett, who is our CEO, to be sitting down with one of our spider people and having lunch, and you don’t get that at many companies. It happens here all the time.”

”(They are) little things that perhaps don’t cost an arm and a leg, but in terms of impact and perception, they are worth their weight in gold,” says Patrick Perry, president of the Employers Resource Council. ”Organizations are looking at ways to make the transition between home and work a little more muddied; the little touches in the workplace to encourage people to think this is a neat place for me to spend eight to 10 hours a day.”

Batter up

Just downstairs from the lunchroom are the batting cages. They were built for a children’s baseball school that Carpenter runs with Indians’ Manager Charlie Manuel. When EmployOn came about, Carpenter found that stressed-out employees enjoyed using the cages to blow off steam.

”You’ll see at lunch or after lunch, they will come down and whack balls around,” Carpenter says. ”Or our engineers will come down and have home run derby competitions.”

At a time when stock options aren’t so attractive, and cash bonuses are out of the question, rewards like a free lunch or company sponsored recreational activities can be a solution for employers looking to recognize their workers without breaking the bank.

How to reach: EmployOn Inc. (216) 502-5500

Morgan Lewis Jr. ([email protected]) is a senior reporter at SBN Magazine.

EmployOn website