Matching talent with top opportunity starts with great culture

As a co-founder of this event, along with Smart Business, I want to extend a sincere congratulations to all of the 2020 honorees of our fourth year of the Smart Culture awards. It is amazing to watch the growth of this community of culture-focused companies we are creating here in Northeast Ohio. 

Aaron Grossman, CEO, Alliance Solutions Group

As we move into a new decade, with unemployment continuing to be low and the battle for top talent at an all-time high, we believe an emphasis on great culture is the true X factor for all businesses. Today’s competitive recruitment environment makes culture more important than ever to attract and retain top talent. It’s arguably the biggest marketing tool for enticing candidates to join your business. 
Leadership cultivates the foundation of culture to empower employees to achieve the company mission and realize how vital each of their contributions is to furthering those goals. Maintaining culture, especially through times of growth, requires dedication and focus, which is why I’m so proud that our event continues to grow.
I’m also proud to announce that the TalentLaunch Network is also in its fourth year as a nationwide network of independently operated staffing and recruitment companies all tied to one belief — INSPIRING THE WORLD TO REALIZE ITS POTENTIAL.
Our local Northeast Ohio-based companies, Alliance Solutions Group, Alliance Industrial Solutions, Alliance Search Solutions and our new IT staffing brand, Artemis, all embody our commitment to making sure culture remains the living and breathing entity we can all embody as we grow and work hard to acquire and retain top talent in our communities. Culture can’t be delegated; it must be demonstrated. As we move into our fourth year of the Smart Culture Conference, it’s exciting to witness the momentum we’ve created as we all look for more ways to invigorate and innovate.


2020 Smart Culture Honorees

Achieve Incentives & Meetings
Bonnie Lawson, president and CEO
For Achieve Incentives & Meetings, 2019 was all about business inside its own walls. The 67-year-old travel incentive and meeting planning firm knows how to ensure its clients get outstanding service and have an unforgettable experience, but it never focused that same effort on itself. 
With the help of President and CEO Bonnie Lawson, Achieve Incentives changed that in 2019, with cultural initiatives promoting collaboration, employee well being, accountability, operational efficiency and a better bottom line. 
For Achieve Incentives, it was imperative to develop a mission statement and values and use them as guiding principles to jumpstart cultural change. The leadership team spent three months discussing guiding principles for the foundation of the organization, and the same themes kept coming up: Exceeding expectations, leading with integrity, being supportive team members and having passion for adventure. 
The company created memorable travel-themed phrases around each of these tenets to serve as values: Give the world, travel the high road, weather the storms together and find joy in the journey. It also came up with three mantras to support its new values: Work smarter not harder, create the easy button and be a buffalo — charging into the storm and running through it.
With these values incorporated into daily routines through wall decals, signs in each office and “easy buttons” on each desk, the company has never been more unified.

Apple Growth Partners
Charles Mullen, chairman
At the beginning of 2019, Apple Growth Partners engaged an outside consultant to address its most significant areas for improvement – onboarding and employee engagement.
To change the cultural foundation of these elements, the accounting and business advisory firm formed two “growth circles” that worked extensively to complete research, conduct one-on-one interviews with staff and brainstorm ideas for improvement. They then presented their findings to Apple Growth Partners’ executive committee to implement changes, demonstrating the firm’s commitment to continuous improvement.
Establishing a strategic plan and subsequent committees helped ensure the firm is meeting the needs of its employees. Committee leaders are actively engaged with multiple levels of employees, receiving feedback and ideas. Committees formed in 2019 include the Green Committee, Wellness Committee, Walking Club and the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Beginning with Apple Growth’s Chairman Charles Mullen, the firm has recognized the importance of culture and how it impacts every aspect of the business. The firm’s clients are better served by employees who are engaged, appreciated and well taken care of. The influence has been demonstrated from the top down.

Bravo Wellness
Jim Pshock, president and CEO
To achieve wellness in life requires plenty of discipline, and no one knows this better than Jim Pshock, president and CEO of Bravo Wellness. 
The wellness company has a culture of performance based on discipline. This discipline promotes decisiveness and standards of excellence that ensure direct accountability. The company built a foundation for its performance outlined in nine core processes called the Bravo Way, in which 20 percent of the work yields 80 percent of the results. The nine core process accountabilities are product management, change requests, software development, marketing, sales, client relations/account management, service delivery, accounting and human resources. 
Each process is made up of phases that include its determined purpose, what initiates the process, steps to take within the process and its deliverables. Each also has performance metrics to gauge success. When all Bravo employees follow the core processes, the company produces consistency in how it operates and on what it delivers.
To ensure the processes remain up to date, ownership is assigned to specific individuals and formal documentation is provided to the defined business process improvement team. These two teams consult to evaluate and improve all current processes, and core processes are reviewed at least once every two years to ensure the current business state.

Bill Onion, managing partner
With half of its values focused on its internal team and half focused on its clients, Briteskies makes it clear that both client and team member happiness are a priority. The ecommerce, marketing and integration services company firmly believes that making and keeping your team happy leads to more successful projects and more satisfied clients. 
The company’s No. 1 value is customer compassion, and it’s a top priority for a reason. Briteskies’ primary goal is always to understand what customers need and how best to serve them. The second and third values focus on the well being of the internal team. Trust and commitment among fellow coworkers has been the recipe for success for the organization.
When it comes to hiring new team members, the company takes special care to match hires to its values. While someone may have an incredible resume, if that person doesn’t share the company’s commitment to the client and the team, they are not considered a good fit for the organization. 
By allowing its culture and values to guide business choices, Briteskies has seen an increase in successful partnerships and projects. With the help of Managing Partner Bill Onion, culture defines Briteskies’ marketing, recruiting, training and delivery processes, keeping the company on track and making priorities clear.

Channel Products
Teresa Lindsey, president and COO
At Channel Products, the culture underpins the foundation of the company’s success. To reinforce the culture, the manufacturer of component systems and technologies employs an ongoing communication campaign featuring five elements – Channel University, Channel One, Channel Me, Channel Cares and Healthy Obsessions.

  •   Channel University is a training and personal development effort intended to create a culture of leadership and customer service.
  •   Channel One is a team building and corporate responsibility endeavor designed to encourage collaboration. 
  •   Channel Me is a rewards and recognition program aligning the goals and strengths of the company and employees to advance the needs of customers.
  •   Channel Cares supports good works, random acts of kindness and civic responsibility within the communities where Channel’s employees live and work. 
  •   Healthy Obsessions is Channel’s corporate wellness program.

Through these initiatives, Channel Products and its President and COO Teresa Lindsey maximize the positive impact the company has on employees, customers and the world. Evidence of this impact can be seen with five consecutive years of revenue growth, the launch of new business lines, employment growth, philanthropic activity, low turnover and new customer relationships. 
In addition, the company recently opened a new corporate headquarters space designed to enhance its culture by giving employees a great place to work.

Cleveland Metroparks
Brian Zimmerman, CEO
For over 100 years, Cleveland Metroparks’ mission has been rooted in three core pillars – conservation, education and recreation. The park district’s mission is inherently tied to the surrounding community, and the park’s successes have direct benefits, both social and economic, to the region.
While this mission has stood strong as a guiding principle, Cleveland Metroparks CEO Brian Zimmerman knew the development of core values was an important next step to elevate and cultivate an organizational culture that thrives around the mission. It took into account best practices, and Cleveland Metroparks staff had a hand in developing the final core values, expressing what was most important to them and what, through their work, the organization stood for. 
Once the values were chosen and defined, small employee focus groups helped finalize which were essential to executing the mission. Those core values are not only purpose and goal oriented, they also have organizational weight behind them and are reinforced through annual performance appraisals.
Overall, employees felt the mission and purpose made them feel their jobs are important. Cleveland Metroparks has created a culture that allows all employees to thrive over the organization’s 100-plus years of service to Northeast Ohio.

Brett Lindsey, president and CEO
Everstream’s vision is to be the preferred fiber network service provider of the Midwest and beyond. To achieve this, President and CEO Brett Lindsey has continued to champion the company’s long-held corporate values. 
Four of the five values are fairly common — passion, transparency, diversity and cadence. However, the fifth value, and the company’s Golden Rule, is “Do what you say you will do,” or DWYSYWD. It means show up, put forth the effort and honor your commitments. 
Every employee receives two T-shirts, one with DWYSYWD and one that says, “Happy people. Happy customers.” Everstream’s “Do what you say you will do” mantra is the lynchpin of a corporate culture where integrity, transparency and open communication are paramount. Lindsey also hosts monthly all-hands calls, on which he shares company information and takes questions, and the Culture Committee organizes monthly events.
The company’s success is rooted in the basic premise that its customers can’t be happy if its employees aren’t happy. DWYSYWD doesn’t simply influence success — Everstream’s success is predicated upon it.
In late January, Everstream announced plans to expand the footprint of its fiber network throughout the Midwest. In 2019 alone, the company added fiber miles in Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Indiana, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Everstream also has opened offices and hired local staff in its new markets.

Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland
Lorretta Mester, president and CEO
Contrary to a common misperception, the Cleveland Fed’s employees are not government employees, and the Federal Reserve does not receive funding through the congressional budgetary process. The Federal Reserve is an independent entity within government.
As such, the Cleveland Fed’s success is due to its people and culture. Its talent acquisition strategy seeks to strengthen recruiting across the various areas of the bank, expand the bank’s external presence and assemble human resources to build a sustained culture of high performance, engagement and inclusion. 
The strategy continues to yield positive results. One example is the Cleveland Fed’s formal mentoring program, which kicked off in early 2018. Each year, those interested in serving as a mentor or in having a mentor are matched based on a review of applications and interests. Participants receive guidance and tools to support a positive mentoring experience, which generally lasts one year. 
The program is cohort based, which promotes additional collaboration across functional lines and provides participants with a broader pool of peers to learn from. Mentoring supports strategic efforts to enhance cross-functional collaboration; embraces diversity, inclusion and opportunity; and develops skills critical to the bank’s success. 
Mentoring leverages the bank’s competencies and encourages skills and behaviors reflective of a learning culture that empowers employees to be engaged, resilient and flexible.

Foundation Software/
Fred Ode, chairman and CEO
Foundation Software and’s culture stems directly from the beliefs of Fred Ode, founder, chairman and CEO. His aspiration is to create an environment where employees feel appreciated and want to come to work.  
Foundation Software and Payroll4Construction (P4C) are built around family. While seven of the 300-plus employees are members of Ode’s family, family members of other employees have been hired into both companies through a vibrant employee referral program.  
The family feel that makes up the corporate culture is a testament to Ode’s desire to make everyone feel valued and find their best fit when pursuing their professional goals. 
In this age of automation, the companies go to great lengths to ensure they are building real relationships with clients. The reception team answers every phone call so clients get immediate assistance. In addition, the companies offer educational programs to clients, and when they have questions about the software, the Client Services and Implementation teams work to ensure they feel comfortable and supported as members of the extended family. 
Foundation Software and P4C celebrate client successes with anniversary cards and onboarding cupcakes and work with clients through hardships, such as when employees stayed after hours to help process payroll for a client who lost their information in a natural disaster. This down-to-earth approach has led to referrals, an increased client base and business success.

Bill Priemer, CEO
Hyland employees want to come to work every day. The software company’s culture makes it easy to balance a hard work ethic with a thriving home and personal life. 
To ensure that vibrant culture continuously improves, the company gauges its culture through eNPS, or Employee Net Promoter Score, a survey in which employees can comment on improvements they’d like to see in the culture and with the business in general. This gives them a voice in many of the changes the company makes, such as a new parental leave policy and Hyland bikes to get around the sprawling campus. 
Hyland and its CEO Bill Priemer also love giving employees deserving recognition. Every Monday, Hyland honors a “Player of the Week” who is chosen for exemplifying a core value. Players spin a wheel full of prizes, including an extra day off, cash bonuses, gym memberships and more.
Hyland also celebrates its employees with an annual Welcome to Work Day, where executives ride around the parking lot in golf carts, picking up employees and driving them into work. Employees enter through a row of cheerleaders welcoming them and a breakfast spread is waiting, complete with donuts, breakfast pizza, fruit, granola bars, yogurt and more.
Honestly, who wouldn’t want to come to work every day?

Kappus Co.
John Kappus, president and CEO
Across three generations and more than 71 years, Kappus Co. has understood the importance of creating a culture where people want to work. To attract and retain the quality team members that make the food equipment and service provider successful, it strives to create an environment that encourages creative thinking, rewards hard work, provides opportunity, supports community involvement and fosters teamwork. 
Over the past two years, Kappus Co. has become a better organization through the integration of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) model into its operations. By living core values, implementing a shared vision, instilling accountability throughout the company and providing an effective vehicle for idea sharing and problem solving, Kappus’ culture continues to evolve.
By truly embodying this culture from the top down — starting with John Kappus, president and CEO — and continually reinforcing it, the company’s team members get a strong sense of direction and purpose. When team members are willing advocates for the company, it directly impacts customers’ perception of the organization, driving sales and new business and ultimately positively impacting the bottom line. 
This also translates to lower turnover rates, resulting in Kappus having a highly knowledgeable, experienced team whose members challenge themselves to find new and better ways to get work done. This enables expansion and innovation in the industry that benefits customers.

Jordan Rackie, CEO
At Keyfactor, the company’s culture is as important as the cybersecurity software it creates. While there are many examples of Keyfactor’s culture, three areas are especially worthy of highlighting — employee rewards, customer experience and culture videos. 
In 2019, Keyfactor implemented a monthly employee reward program called the Keyfactor Key Contributor Award. Each month, employees nominate someone they feel best demonstrates the Keyfactor core values. The person with the most votes wins and receives a plaque, $100 and paid travel to the company’s Spain offices. This award motivates employees every month to exceed expectations. 
The second area of focus is Keyfactor’s customer experience. One of the five Keyfactor core values is “Customers are Core,” and that theme is threaded throughout the organization. In fact, in 2019, Keyfactor received 100 percent customer satisfaction ratings across numerous capabilities, which creates employee satisfaction and boosts culture and morale. 
Keyfactor also creates culture videos released each month featuring an employee answering questions about their experience at the company and their life outside the office. These videos are produced with authenticity, and employees are encouraged to be themselves so other employees, customers, partners and potential recruits see Keyfactor’s culture firsthand.
Finally, Keyfactor’s core values revolve around trust, customers, innovation, delivery and teamwork to make it all happen.

LeafFilter Gutter Protection
Jeff Beck, CEO
At many companies, employment results in a cut-and-dried 9-to-5 routine. Strict schedules, cubicles and uninspired white walls are the norm for many, but LeafFilter Gutter Protection’s leadership thinks outside the box and breaks the mold. The company’s culture is fueled by its brilliantly designed office spaces, adorned with bright colors and vivid artwork, and by its employees.
From one employee in 2005 to over 1,500 in 2019, LeafFilter has enjoyed a great deal of growth. Nonetheless, it has maintained a family-oriented, small business-like atmosphere. About 500 employees reside and work in Northeast Ohio, and this group in particular has created a tightly knit team known internally as the LeafFilter family.
LeafFilter opened 14 new offices in 2019 alone, but despite that expansion, the Northeast Ohio team has maintained a consistent personality thanks to CEO Jeff Beck and Founder Matt Kaulig. This culture has contributed to the company being recognized as one of the area’s top workplaces, but LeafFilter knows the true signs of a happy workforce come directly from the employees. 
As a result, the social media team conceived the hashtag #LFfamily. This initiative encourages employees to share their experience on social media and start a meaningful conversation about their job, their coworkers and what makes LeafFilter an incredible place to work.

Main Street Gourmet
Harvey Nelson, CEO
The key line in Main Street Gourmet’s mission statement says, “We will always be responsible and committed to responding to the needs of our customers, our organization, our team members and our community.” 
To Main Street Gourmet’s credit, the baked goods company has simultaneously been a reliable business partner to its patrons, a compassionate employer of its personnel and a conscientious corporate citizen.
Main Street Gourmet’s corporate philosophy is very simple: A business is judged not only by how much it brings in but by how much it gives back. The company has grown and succeeded over the past 32 years through the caring, dedication and exceptional work of its ownership, management and employees. Remaining mindful of its roots, it makes a conscious effort to regularly perform philanthropic deeds.
Whether it’s founding the Akron Marathon in 2003, its “Muffins for Mammograms” program for women who cannot afford breast cancer screenings, or the “No Muffin Left Behind” initiative that raises money for the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, Main Street Gourmet’s local community has been enriched and advanced through the care, dedication and exceptional effort of its group of “good-deed doers.” 
At least 50 percent of the company’s employees, including CEO Harvey Nelson, regularly and selflessly donate their time to a number of worthy endeavors.

National Interstate Insurance
Tony Mercurio, president and CEO
National Interstate Insurance works to create an environment for employees to live their best lives through meaningful work and create a culture that supports, engages and empowers all employees. 
In fall 2019, National Interstate, led by President and CEO Tony Mercurio, hosted a two-day Whole Life Conference, with programming in part determined by employee feedback and a goal of continuing to create a positive, inclusive and meaningful culture. There was a keynote speaker on “Uncovering Your Professional Brand” and a “Women in Leadership Panel” that included both female and male panelists speaking about experiences in the workplace.  
Employees had a chance to submit questions prior to the panel. In the afternoons, there were breakout sessions on meditation and mindfulness in the workplace, valuing uniqueness, financial wellness and dressing for your personal brand. The Whole Life Conference was open to all employees who could attend all sessions or choose the ones they were interested in.
National Interstate Insurance also provides a culture of continuing education through Lunch and Learn sessions. Open to all employees, Lunch and Learns help employees understand co-workers’ unique set of circumstances and cover a variety of topics based on employee feedback. This year, topics included staying fit while you sit, mental health, coping with market volatility, wellness and more.

QualCare LLC, dba Home Instead Senior Care
Therese Zdesar, president and CEO
A famous quote from Maya Angelou says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This quote holds true for the culture of care at QualCare LLC, dba Home Instead Senior Care. The senior care company’s culture of extraordinary care and family warmth toward its employees directly influences its overall success. 
That results in happy employees, and Home Instead’s biggest measurement of success is its retention rate. The industry national average in turnover per year is 110 percent, while President and CEO Therese Zdesar strives to maintain a rate under 40 percent.
She does that by taking care of employees. Happy caregivers tend to stay longer, and low turnover rates mean better care for seniors. Constant turnover can be confusing for a senior, especially if the client has dementia, while consistent care allows a level of trust to develop and gives the caregiver time to really get to know the client. 
Because Home Instead’s caregivers are in the field and not in an office, the company’s leaders work extra hard to connect and foster a culture of care.

Rock The House Entertainment Group
Mark Radicelli, partner, founder and CEO
“Do it right. Make it rock.” That’s the mission statement Mark Radicelli, founder, partner and CEO of Rock The House Entertainment Group, put forth to achieve the goals of the entertainment company. This past year, Rock The House also organized its core values into three directives — radiate friendliness, think big and highly valued.
Each of those values promote the culture of the collective team. In fact, around the Rock The House office, employees use the phrases we, us and our to accent and showcase teamwork and mutual accountability. You’ll rarely hear people using I, me or my.
To keep the team working together, all-team meetings are held every Monday, at which employees share good news from the past week and review upcoming events and client evaluations before “clapping it out” together to start the week.
In addition, team members regularly meet with their direct supervisor, which positively affects the culture because they are encouraged to be vulnerable and have an outlet. This open communication allows team members to build and maintain meaningful connections and grow both personally and professionally.
Rock The House also started a monthly employee newsletter to highlight seasonal updates, celebrate a ROCKstar of the Month, recognize birthdays, share upcoming team events and trainings, and usually includes a hefty dose of humor.

The SpyGlass Group LLC
Brad Clark and Ed DeAngelo, co-presidents
Creating a good workplace culture requires more than installing ping-pong tables, slides and nap pods. 
The employees at The SpyGlass Group LLC ask for more from their employer. The company’s culture is defined by employees who take pride in their workplace and by creative guidance from Co-Presidents Brad Clark and Ed DeAngelo. 
SpyGlass is a relatively young company, both in terms of years in business and the age of its employees, and its people are in a unique position to navigate through the growth of the business along with their own personal and professional growth.
Empowering employees to take an active role in the company’s growth has been a great way to drive personal and professional development and improve the overall culture at SpyGlass. Initiatives such as training and open forum sessions have made employees feel more engaged and valued, and supporting a growth mindset coincides directly with the culture.
The company also supports a positive, fun culture with activities such as monthly breakfast and lunch events, happy hours, a three-on-three basketball tournament, a chili cook-off, a holiday charity party and more.

Squirrels LLC
Andrew Gould, CEO
Squirrels LLC is a company of doers — people with big ideas, boundless enthusiasm and an endless supply of creative energy. The company creates wireless presentation products that help people share information and bring ideas to life in conference rooms, classrooms and anywhere people meet.
In addition to fostering a culture of collaboration, creativity and hard work, Squirrels knows how to play just as hard. CEO Andrew Gould leads the team in summer cookouts, company retreats, mid-day movie outings and catered lunches. Gould is constantly looking for new ways to reward his team members for their commitment. 
The Squirrels team also receives several days off in the summer and takes annual retreats to exercise traditional team-building activities, but more important, they take time to relax, recharge and plan for the coming year. The team has traveled to places including the British Virgin Islands; Outer Banks, North Carolina; Lake Tahoe, California; Destin, Florida; and Hocking Hills, Ohio.
Squirrels offers a lot of great perks, but those don’t always equate to a great workplace. That’s why an employee-centric culture is the basis for everything Squirrels does. The company shapes its culture by investing in employee development, promoting health and well-being, and making the office an enjoyable place to do quality work.

Willoway Nurseries Inc.
Tom Demaline, president and CEO
Willoway Nurseries Inc. is the largest plant nursery in Ohio and ranks among the top 50 in the country. In a tough industry, in which weather determines much of the business’ success and employees work outside in all conditions, Willoway has demonstrated a uniquely positive culture and has been referred to as “a cornerstone in the community.” 
Willoway — with 150 full-time, year-round employees and 200-plus seasonal workers — has a diverse workplace, where employees from the local area work alongside employees from Texas and Puerto Rico, and Mexico and the Dominican Republic. These employees return to work for Willoway season after season because they all share the same purpose — growing for generations and cultivating relationships for a lifetime. 
Willoway, a third generation, family owned business with Tom Demaline at the helm as president and CEO, has branded the business with the tagline Rooted to Grow. This tagline summarizes the primary business of growing and selling high-quality landscape plants for end users to develop beautiful outdoor living spaces. 
Willoway’s collaborative culture has influenced the success of the company by ensuring employees, at all times, know if we are winning or losing and why.

World Group
Michael Smith, CEO
At World Group, creating a culture that empowers employees to grow and develop both personally and professionally has been imperative. Michael Smith, CEO of the logistics and transportation company, has found that the success of the company is directly driven by the development of its people, so he’s invested in creating a culture of high performers. 
In 2019, World Group launched World University, a system steered by core values tailored to the training needs and interests of employees and aligned to the strategy of the organization. World University offers personalized skill development programs for all employees through high-performance coaching, team-building sessions and e-learning. 
World Group also has a full-time high-performance coach and a director of employee training and development on staff. Having a member of the team lead these efforts elevates World Group’s approach from the typical boilerplate online programs most companies use. It’s been incredibly valuable to have training, development and HR resources on site that employees can go to with new ideas, questions and career development needs. 

No one at World Group believes in going half speed, and World University is helping the company move full steam ahead in setting the standard for excellence in providing opportunities for its employees to feel connected, confident and inspired. It’s what they call going the extra mile.