Ingrams Best Companies to Work For


Best Places to Work


This is the second year that Ingram’s has honored the Best Companies to Work For in Kansas City. At right, we remember and recognize the 2008 winners, who will be eligible to submit entries again in 2011. And in the pages to follow we salute to 2009 winners and finalists, all of whom share a few common traits—a dedication to open and honest communication with their employees, a generous benefits package and, in many cases, a commitment to work-life balance and healthy living.

How priorities have changed in a few short years. It wasn’t long ago, especially before the dot-com bubble burst, that being a Best Place to Work might have entailed employees napping on couches, riding scooters down hallways or playing pinball machines in the break room.

This year, let’s face it—one of the most important factors in being named a Best Place to Work is the company’s good health, and a commitment to keeping their employees employed. No doubt there has been a sea change among workers—forget the pinball machines; at most places, employees appreciate being part of a team, they appreciate having their voices heard, and they appreciate open and honest communication from the people in charge on a regular basis.

In other words, good, sound business practices are every bit as important to employees as they are to customers and stockholders.

Congratulations to all of our 2009 honorees.


Large Companies


Assurant Employee Benefits

Joi Tillman “grew up” with Assurant. “I came to work here one summer prior to college so I could make some money, and here I am 20 years later,” says the Vice President for Customer Advocacy. She appreciates that Assurant has always challenged her by giving her “stretch assignments.” Interim President and CEO John Roberts says that in 2007, Assurant set four goals for what it wanted to be known for by 2010: growth, customer service, speed of execution and people. “We’re dedicated to investing in people who are fully engaged in our business. Everyone knows where they fit in and how they benefit the customer. We did an employee survey recently and got a 97 percent response rate, They said a lot of good things, including that management is accessible.” Communication is provided in myriad ways, including quarterly employee and monthly management meetings, broadcast voice and email messages and an online newsletter. “Our employees know we expect them to do the right thing by the customers. They jump in and fix things.” As an incentive, every quarter Assurant gives a Making a Differ-ence Award, which comes with a $1,500 cash prize, “for just doing the right thing.” And, Roberts adds, the company knows how to have fun. It hosts numerous social events, and 95 percent of employees have created gamer tags and avatars for themselves.
Assurant Employee Benefits
Above Front row, left to right: Marc Warrington, Senior V.P. Sales; John Roberts, Interim President and CEO; Joe Sevcik, Senior V.P. - Marketing; Tim Knott, Senior V.P. - Voluntary. Back row, left to right: Sylvia Wagner, Senior V.P. Human Resources and Deveolopment; Dianna Duvall, Senior V.P. Risk Operations; Joi Tillman, V.P. Customer Advocacy; Ken Bowen, V.P. and General Counsel; Miles Yakre, Senior V.P. - CFO; Karla Schacht, Senior V.P. - I/T, CIO and CSO. Not shown: Matt Gilligan, Interim Pres-ident, Disability RMS; Sheryle Ohme, Senior V.P. - Claim Management.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of KC

When Sherri Enright asked employees at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City what makes it a great place to work, “The key reason came through loud and clear,” she says. “Our employees know the mission of this company, they know the goals and the objectives, and they believe in those goals and objectives. They understand that these goals lead to a successful company now and in the future. They get a real sense of engagement from these goals, they know that what they do contributes to the success of the company.” Open communication is vital, she says, noting that the CEO knows approximately 80 percent of the employees by name and sits down with all employees three or four times a year to keep employees informed about how the company is doing. “This is a company that puts its money where its mouth is. We support them in their charity work. We have a very strong devotion to our health and wellness program. We have a free fitness center and numerous advancement and development programs.” Work-life balance is encouraged by closing the office every day at 4:30, and educational opportunities include on-site master’s degree program exclusive to employees through Bellevue University.

Above, left to right: Shane Decker, Change Manager, Information Services; Tom Browser, President and CEO; Sherri Enright, Vice President, Human Resources; Michael Gilkey, Human Resources Information Specialist

Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP

Shook, Hardy & Bacon Chairman John Murphy says the key to the success of his firm—which was established in Kansas City in 1889—is that “we recognize and communicate on a regular basis that every single person is important to the success of the firm.” Also, he says “we communicate as much as possible, which includes Town Hall meetings four times a year where people can ask me anything they want.” Finally, SHB is dedicated to breaking the mold typically associated with “law firm culture.” To that end, the firm is among the most progressive employers in the legal industry, Murphy says. “While SHB’s revenues grew during a down economy in 2008, the firm promoted to partner an attorney working an alternative schedule, was recognized for its diversity efforts with a national award from The Coca-Cola Company, and launched programs that address quality-of-life issues for its attorneys and employees.” The firm’s commitment to diversity is more than just good business, “there’s a moral imperative,” Murphy says. SHB has taken a proactive approach to healthy living—wellness coaches are available to support employees, and the firm offers on-site exercise classes, Weight Watchers meetings and discounted gym memberships. The firm recently launched the SHB Commuters Program to support employee interest in making more responsible transportation choices for the environment and their pocketbook and encourages the use of mass transit and carpooling.

Above, front row, left to right: Bruce Tepikian, Gene Williams, Marty Warren, Madeleine McDonough, Walt Cofer. Back row, left to right: Mike Gross, John Murphy, David Thorne, Edwin Hudson, George Wolf, Frank Kelly, Bill Johnsmeyer
Children’s Mercy Hospital
Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, says President and CEO Randall O’Donnell, is “first and foremost a mission-driven organization. We have one focus here and it’s children. We’re devoted to the health care needs of our patients and families. Every employee believes, supports and upholds the primary focus of the organization.” Beyond that, he says, “employees love working here, there’s a self-selection process. Some people love working around children and others don’t. We’re very fortunate to attract people who love working with kids. Our employees are, by nature, caring and many volunteer at the hospital on their days off.” Working with children, in and of itself, makes Children’s Mercy a great place to work. But there’s much more. “Transparency and communication are priorities,” O’Donnell says. “Our leadership team provides numerous opportunities for department leaders and front-line employees to interact and keep informed about the hospital.” O’Donnell encourages employees to approach him in the hallways. “If you have a question, just ask, and many employees do just that. Because everyone in the organization knows I have that attitude, it increases and improves communication across all levels.” To remain competitive, he says, Children’s Mercy targets its compensation packages to the top one-third of the relevant market and participates in at least 10 local, regional and national salary surveys every year.

Above, left to right: Chris Sawyer, Physical Therapist; Jessica Salazar, Media Relations Manager; Dr. Howard Kilbride, Neonatology Section Chief; Katherine Lopez, Medical Records Representative; Barbara Kendall, LPN; Lindsey Vaughn, Clinical Nutrition Specialist; Lori Turner, RN; Christy Burton, RN; Troy Bortz, Hematology Lab Supervisor
Truman Medical Center

It takes special people to work at a “safety net hospital,” says Vicki Smith, Vice Presid-ent of Public Relations and Marketing for Truman Medical Center. “One of the more unique characteristics about us, like our mission says, is that we are a quality health care organization to everyone who walks through the doors, regardless of ability to pay.” Smith says. “Not only do we have a diverse work force, but we have diverse clientele. It takes special people to handle that. Because we are a safety net hospital, we usually see people when they’re really sick. It is amazing to me how many employees work here for the mission of the hospital. Many employees choose to work here, because it’s more than just a job. They are dedicated to the mission.” Valerie Fulbright, Vice President of Human Resources, has noticed a trend through the years—employees who leave, for whatever reason, frequently come back. “It’s a compassionate place to be. We not only take care of the patient, but the patient’s family. We also have an extended social work network.” And TMC offers great educational opportunities: it partners with 15 area businesses to create the TMC Corporate Academy, offering bachelor’s and master’s degree courses on-site and online.

Above, front, left to right: John W. Bluford, TMC President/CEO. Back row, left to right: Al Johnson, TMC Chief Financial Officer; Marsha Morgan, TMC Behavioral Health Chief Operating Officer; Cathy Disch, TMC Corporate Executive Vice President, TMC Hospital Hill Chief Operating Officer; Valerie Fulbright, TMC Vice President of Human Resources; Harold Siglar,
TMC Lakewood Chief Operating Officer
University of Kansas Hospital

Being a great place to work “starts with the organization’s focus on the patient as the top priority, and that gets woven into everything we do,” says Dwight Kasperbauer, Vice President Operations and Chief Human Resources Executive for the University of Kansas Hospital. “From an HR standpoint, we try to hire right for that culture, and that involves team interviews.” Preceptors, managers as coaches and evaluation and feedback mechanisms are used to ensure new staff are competent and comfortable to deliver exceptional care. “These approaches are supported by a strong compensation and benefits package” which includes paying for employees’ professional certifications—$500 up front then $300 a year to maintain the certifications. “Education ensures the ability of the staff to succeed. A generous tuition reimbursement program encourages staff to continue their education and move into more challenging positions. A career ladder is in place in many parts of the organization to recognize advanced skills and training and to ensure talented individuals remain within the rganization.” Perhaps the greatest proof that employees appreciate working at University of Kansas Hospital is the fact that more than 30 percent of new hires come from an employee referral program. “People feel good about working here and are excited about having friends and colleagues join us.”

The University of Kansas Hospital Heart Walk unites most of its dedicated employees

Large Companies

Alliant TechSystems, Inc.

In the nine years since ATK started operating the Lake City Am-munition plant, it has grown the site from 650 to more than 2,550 employees. Vice President and General Manager Karen Davies is committed to leadership development, diversity and frequent and open employee communication. She holds quarterly off-site “All Managers Meetings” includes influential speakers, recognition events and transparent communication to team and functional leaders. ATK is committed to promoting from within—currently 18 percent of the salaried work force has advanced from a previous position within the company. ATK offers an on-site medical clinic, and medical plans offer built-in wellness and health education programs, tobacco free premiums and dependent coverage to age 26. More than 50 employees are currently taking advantage of tuition reimbursement programs.
Deloitte & Touche LLP

The list of benefits and workplace initiatives at Deloitte is lengthy and impressive, and has deservingly led to a host of local and national awards, including being named to Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list for 15 years, Business Week’s Best Place to Launch a Career in 2008, and Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work For nine consecutive years. Marketing Manager Chris Beckley says the company has earned high praise for fostering a supportive culture and for its dedication to women’s ad-vancement, diversity and inclusion, professional development and workplace flexibility. Flexibility initiatives include parental leave, adoption assistance programs, childcare resource and ref-errals, emergency backup dependent day care, lactation support program, elder care consultations and referrals, generous paid time off, and the Personal Pursuits Program.
Faith Technologies, Inc

Training and development are key to the success of Faith Technologies, an electrical contractor. In 2008, more than 75,000 hours of training were provided throughout the organization, representing an in-vestment of $1.7 million. All that training helps ensure the opportunity for promotion. The majority of senior management started their careers with Faith Technologies working in the field as apprentices or electricians. The company encourages com-munity involvement with organizations such as the United Way, Juvenile Diabetes, Habitat for Humanity and Project Hero. The commitment to health is also strong through an on-site fitness center, a health and wellness specialist, and a wellness program. Fruit, bottled water and healthy snacks are provided to employees either free of charge or at a reduced cost.
Harrah’s Casino

Harrah’s conducts an annual employee opinion and supervisory feedback survey submitted anonymously from all team members at all of the company’s dozens of locations. Harrah’s NKC came in second in the entire com-pany with the highest scored question, “I am proud to work for this casino.” It shows in ways other than surveys. The company set a community service goal in 2008 for employ-ees to contribute 2,000 volunteer hours. The actual number came in closer to 6,000 hours. The company also provides time for family picnics, golf tournaments, pep rallies, and reward and recognition events. Those who apply for employment experience an “American Idol”-style panel interview. Once hired, they are trained and offered advancement opporunities—there have been 180 local promotions in the past two years.
QC Holdings

The Overland Park-based QC Hold-ings delivers short-term consumer loans through 590 retail locations in 24 states across the country. But it’s the company’s dedication to the local community that earns it high marks. The Neighbor of Choice program makes a difference in the neighborhoods where QC employees live and work by donating time, effort and money to local causes. Employees identify worthy community needs and QC matches employee donations of time and money. Employee benefits include well-ness programs, tuition reimbursement, employer matching of retirement investments and an employee stock program. President and COO Darrin Andersen says, “Happy customers create success. Success creates happy employees. Happy employees deliver excellent customer service. Our culture has been built on customer service and satisfaction.”
US Bank

U.S. Bank gives its employees a number of resources to plan and man- age their careers, including tuition reimbursement, performance reviews and the Development Network, which promotes the personal and professional development of employees by encouraging teamwork, networking and community service. The company provides a self-directed mentoring program that connects employees across the company through an innovative web-based tool. The company recognizes com-munity service through the Five-Star Volunteer Award program. A number of employees serve on the boards of directors for numerous local non-profits. Benefits are generous, including dependent care, parking reimbursement accounts and a transit plan, as well as health, pharmacy, dental and vision care, adoption assistance and discounted banking products and services.

Medium Companies


The way BKD Partner Barry Davis sees it, in this day and age, with this economy, one of the best things any employer can do is to give their employees a feeling a confidence in their future. “Most people want a strong place to work that’s going to be there in the future, and it’s important people understand we do a good job of maintaining our business fundamentals,” he says. “One of the things I have done since September when the economy went south is I try to be very upfront with people and give them an honest assessment of what’s going on with the business. Most people appreciate that openness and candidness. I try to lay it out for everyone.” Davis says the Kansas City branch of the nationwide accounting firm has been in existence for 86 years. The company strives for work-life balance for all employees by providing a coaching program for career growth, giving overnight travel awards, decreasing health care premiums and giving back to the community. He added that the company has become “a lot more involved the past few years in public service, and we have pushed our employees to do the same by giving them time off to support those causes.”

Above, front row, left to right: Kathy Laursen, Partner; Vicki Graft, Partner. Middle, left to right: Barry Davis, Managing Partner; Phil Brummel, Partner. Back row, left to right Kevin Cook, Partner; Abraham Cole, Partner
BNIM Architects

Steve McDowell, president of BNIM Architects, prides himself on the sense of family shared by all who work there. “People who go to design school and choose to have a design career are pretty passionate people to begin with,” he says. “One of the reasons people like to work here is that their own personal core values line up with the core values of the business, which include commitment to sustainability and environmental concerns.” BNIM-ers know they are going to work on interesting projects. “For the most part, we can say the same thing about our clients. Our values tend to line up with their values.” Another benefit, McDowell says, is that the firm is deeply entrenched in sustaining and building community. “The approach that we use and the types of projects we pursue are all about strengthening communities and neighborhoods.” To that end, employees are given paid time off to donate to their favorite charities. The company also encourages healthy work-life balance by offering part-time work, flexible schedules, telecommuting and a phased return to work for individuals coming back from medical leave. The company pays for bus passes for those who leave their car at home. “Everyone here are caring people, who are looking after people, trying to inspire people and supporting people.”

Above, front row, left to right: Steve McDowell, FAIA; David Immenschuh, IIDA; Kathy Achelpohl, AIA; Kimberly Hickson, AIA.
Back row, left to right: Doug Stevens, AIA; Bob Berkebile, FAIA; Rod Kruse, FAIA; Laura Lesniewski, AIA; Mark Shapiro, AIA; Casey Cassias, FAIA; Craig Scranton, AIA
Neal Harris Service Experts

Neal Harris Service Experts has been operating in Kansas City for nearly six decades. But it’s been just the past few years that something really special has been happening for its employees, thanks to a change in management and, thus, a change in corporate philosophy. “You try to create an environment where people can thrive, not just survive,” says General Manager Brian Otte. “You try to give employees empowerment to gain certifications. There are so many different ways for someone to improve their skills, and we have an excellent field support staff to go to for a mentor. We prefer to hire people new to the trade and train them in our way of doing business, which is customer-focused, problem-solving where a quality experience for the customer will not only generate new revenue, but bring that customer back.” Otte says that employee buy-in to that philosophy not only makes the company successful, but makes it a great place to work. “We reward employees with numerous commission and bonus opportunities, contests and profit sharing. When your turnover is low, your absenteeism is non-existent, your employees grow professionally and financially, and your safety record continuously improves, you know it must be a great place to work.”

Above, left to right: Mark Hayward, Facility Manager; Gary Legg, Planned Service Manager; Tina Hamilton, Customer Service Manager; Kate Gleeson, Marketing Director; Darrell Wilhelm, Service Manager; Lori Myers, Accounting Manager; Matt Arenhol, Installation Manager; Owen Faulkner, Sales Manager; Brian Otte, General Manager

Midwest Mechanical

Contractors, Inc.

Midwest Mechanical Contractors has, in recent years, returned to its roots. “We were a family owned company many years ago,” says President Michael J. Kotubey, “and through our employee stock ownership program, it has helped return us to that family atmosphere. Although we’re part of a larger corporation, we’ve managed to keep that small company feel. We really have the ownership culture becoming a part of our fabric.” Kotubey says everything starts with basic core values: “Right People. Right Solutions. Right Results. We hire the right people, we work with the right people and we work for the right people. We strive to provide the right solutions for our employees’ personal needs and for their professional development, and we seek to do the same for our customers.” Midwest promotes healthy living through a wellness program, free health screenings, health coaching with a personal trainer, monthly chair massages and an on-site fitness center. When the company recently built an addition, it included a company “gathering room” that features fresh fruit, company subsidized juice and two large TVs. “Some people wondered why we built in ‘wasted space.’ But it’s the best wasted space anywhere. It’s really helped foster a sense of community and provides a place for people to come together with great ideas.”

Above, left to right: Kim Caddell, Jim Lanning, Mike Kotubey, Keith Flowers, Tom Gann, Karen Mills, Brent Hawley, Owen Withrow, Keith Andrews
Pioneer Financial Services, Inc.

Pioneer Services, the military banking division of MidCountry Bank, has been part of the Kansas City community for 77 years. Being a great place to work is nothing new, says President Tom Holcom. “We are a values-based company. We have 320 people, and I have 320 people who could reach in their pocket and pull out our values card, which cites integrity, honesty, compassion, excellence and fairness. It’s an open-book envir-onment with all associates and me.” Management, he says, empowers associates and encourages them to act like owners. They encourage associates to take an entrepreneurial attitude, go outside their comfort zone and not fear failure. Benefits include free soda, hot chocolate and tea, casual Fridays, a workout room and a cash associate referral plan. Pioneer encourages community involvement by providing 16 hours of paid volunteer time. “We’ve been working for years on improving transparency through open communication,” he says. “The chairman of our board will host regular listening circles, periodically sitting down with 15 to 20 associates. I host brown bag lunches in which we answer every question that’s on employees’ minds. We also believe in recognition. We’re about 12 years into a series of programs that catch people doing things right. We wrote almost 5,000 on-the-spot thank you cards to the associates for doing the right thing.”

Above, front row, left to right: Laura Stack, CFO; Joe Freeman, COO. Back row, left to right:Wendy Woodson, Director of Human Resources; Doug Allen, CIO; Tom Holcom, President and CEO; Karen Von Der Bruegge, CMO

Medium Companies

ACI/Boland, Inc.

ACI/Boland is a 30-year-old design firm with 100 employees in three offices in Kansas City, Leawood and St. Louis. Tenure and loyalty are high “which we believe is a result of our efforts to allow staff to assume responsibilities at their experience level and support them in an environment of good professional job satisfaction,” says Manager Paula Cart-wright. “Professional opportunity and growth are nearly limitless. You are not restricted or held to a single role or job description. You decide your future and the principals and mentors will support you.” Even in tough economic times, the company continues, as it always has, to provide health insurance at no cost to the employee and at a discount to family members.

Foxwood Springs
Living Center

Employee turnover at Foxwood Springs, a Raymore senior living center that’s part of the Brookdale Senior Living family of companies, “is exceptionally low. The work environment and corporate culture is open, professional and team oriented, and everyone understands their role,” says Wendy Lemos, Director of Marketing at Foxwood Springs. “A participatory style of management is the key to success. Weekly cabinet meetings include all departments where efforts and ideas are shared. All employees are encouraged to identify opportunities to provide exceptional service. Management decision-making is inclusive and transparent. The entire management team helps maintain a customer-focused culture.” An industry exceeding benefits package in-cludes generous tuition reimbursement and the ability to don-ate paid time off to other associates.
George Butler
Associates, Inc.

Employees at the company formerly known as George Butler Associates enjoy a range of financial and educational bene-fits common to great companies. They also enjoy a less-common benefit: the company’s very own competitive barbecue team. The Genuswine Brisket Authority caters company gatherings and community and client events. Earlier this year, the team took mounds of pulled pork to Phoenix Family Housing low-income retirement community where the group helped 70 seniors kick off the new year. Aside from barbecue, team members have ample opportunities to improve their education and their careers through leadership development programs, continuing education programs and one-on-one coaching. Harvesters, Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House are just a few of the charities that benefit from GBA throughout the year.


McCownGordon believes in open communication and rarely makes decisions without input from associates. The company holds weekly meetings for project teams, monthly staff meetings, bi-annual companywide meetings, and has an open-door policy. The environmentally conscience company is also health-friendly, offering onsite Weight Watchers, smoke cessation programs, flu shots, a fitness center, yoga classes, and a kitchen stocked with fresh fruit and healthy snacks. For fun there’s a roof-top deck, foosball and a pool table. The company contributes to Toys for Tots, United Way and Ronald McDonald House.
Midway Ford Truck Center, Inc.

Midway Ford has been in business in KC for 48 years and has been profitable each year, something the company owes to its “talented and loyal work force.” Of 224 full-time employees, more than 50 percent have been with the company 12 years or more. Employees enjoy a 100-percent company funded stock ownership plan, options for health insurance and a variety of benefits. “We believe that a successful career at Midway starts with training,” says Kathy Mandacina. “From orientation to retirement, Midway people obtain support and guidance from the management staff” through mentors and a Technician Apprentice Program. Ongoing training helps ensure employees are given first consideration for promotions.
Quantum Health Professionals

Employees at Quantum Health refer to owners Kelly Ranallo and Troy Robert as “approachable, respectable and knowledgeable … and that they lead by example.” Education is key to employee growth and satisfaction. Quantum offers development opportunities to the management and administrative staff through tuition reimbursement and off-site training programs. Community involvement is encouraged as a way to meet the company’s vision of fostering life balance for its employees. Another way the company encourages work-life balance is by offering flexible scheduling, giving employees the chance to work as much or as little as they like.

United BioSource
It’s the little things that add up for the employees at United BioSource Corporation, such as great coffee and treats including visits from the popsicle man. Employees appreciate bring-your-child- to-work day as much as bring-your-dog-to-work day. The company encourages work-life balance with a generous paid-time-off schedule. Chair massages are provided regularly. Melissa Schabel appreciates management’s open and thorough communications efforts, and “enjoys working among bright, talented professionals. And the work is dynamic and challenging.” On-the-job training and ongoing education play an important role in the development of employees.

Small Companies


Coleman Industrial

Construction, Inc.

Coleman Industrial Construction, Inc. is a specialized, highly technical general contractor serving Class I railroads. Crews travel throughout the West providing locomotive services such as oil/water separators, treatment plants and inspection pits. In an industry where accidents can happen easily and with tragic consequences, says company Chairperson Stephanie Freeman, “the safety and well-being of our employees is a top priority.” Going the extra mile to protect its employees, every summer Coleman shuts down all jobs and the entire work force heads to Kansas City for at least one week of safety training and recertification at the company’s expense. “The foundation of a good company is a good culture,” Freeman says. “We try to provide a good learning experience for our employees. We have an opendoor policy. We give candid feedback on a regular basis. We pay our employees at the top of our industry and offer benefits that most companies don’t offer.” Among the myriad benefits are full tuition reimbursement, safety bonuses and generous profit-sharing. “We know that our employees have charitable causes that are dear to them. We fully support taking time off for the purpose of donat-ing time to various causes, and we match contributions dollar for dollar. We encourage our employees to take an active role in the community.”

Above, left to right: Brian Thompson, Richard Hausmann, Kevin Driver, Paul Freeman, Stephanie Freeman, Don Coleman, Jon Porting, Jacob Woolsey
Excel Constructors, Inc.
It’s a classic chicken-and-egg question: Do employees of Excel Constructors, Inc. remain at the company for a lifetime because it’s such a great place to work, or is Excel a great place to work because of the longevity of its work force? Either way, President Michael Johnson is extremely proud of the “relatively small group of individuals who create the company. It’s a tribute to the people who work for us. We’ve been able to acquire good people. We have no turnover. That stability has been a key to the dedica-tion and longevity of our people. The whole attitude toward business is based on honesty and integrity.” The Overland Park-based construction company has been operating since 1991. Nearly half of the current work force has been with Excel 10 or more years. “I’ve always felt that it starts at the top,” Johnson says. “People emulate leadership. You have to set good examples in the way you want things done. We’re a small company so we don’t have a lot of hierarchy. My background is that I am from the field, and I’m still out there working along side everyone each day. We encourage and empower em-ployees by involving them in management decisions through open discussion, staff meetings and open door policies.”

Above, left to right: John Hess, Mike Johnson, Konnee Cook, Jerry Katlin - Excel Constructors Management Team
Hollis + Miller Group

Hollis + Miller Architects has been around since 1950, with offices in Lee’s Summit and Overland Park. John Wisniewski, President/Managing Partner, attributes the company’s longevity to the employees. “We give our staff and associates a great employment experience. We really push them very early into active roles with clients and projects, even if you’re an intern, the first day you’re here you have a team meeting and you have a voice on the team. Also, we foster a great family atmosphere.” While work comes first, there’s plenty of fun at Hollis + Miller. “We have a group of people called Ministry of Fun who plan events throughout the year, and they take their mission very seriously.” Events include summer activities and sports teams, “Thirsty Thursdays” gatherings at local establishments after hours, and quarterly “Break-aways.” “Another thing is that we have a high level of communication with our staff. We have a first Wednesdays meeting. We make sure our staff knows what’s happening with the office, with new technology, with accounting, with projects. When it was clear the economy was going south, we had a meeting. We have so many young people who haven’t been through something like this, we wanted to assure them that we’ve seen this before, we’re prepared and we know what we’re doing.”

Above, front row, left to right: John Brown, AIA, DBIA, Vice President; Ed Alexander, AIA, Vice President. Back row, left to right: John Wisniewski, AIA, President and Manag-ing Partner; Kirk Horner, AIA, Vice President; John Southard, AIA, Vice President. Not pictured: Keegan Jackson, AIA, Vice President
Redemption Plus

The team at Redemption Plus made a bold prediction: that it would be the leading source for redemption and incentive merchandise in North America by 2010. That’s no stretch for the 13-year-old company that has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks largely to its motivated work force. “We want people to be better for having worked here. We work hard to make sure people feel like they’re part of the decision making, and play a role in helping to make our customers more successful and profitable,” says Jason Kort, Director of Marketing. “One of the things we try to do with our manager practices is get feedback. Employees are encouraged to say what they mean and provide good communication to upper management. It’s really about making people feel like they’re being listened to.” Kort says his company firmly believes in the importance of finding balance between work and personal life. “To support this, we offer such perks as flexible work hours, a playroom, and items of convenience such as dry cleaning services, a full-service kitchen, postage allowance and accommodations for children on in-service and snow days.” The company is also dedicated to healthy living, offering employees a toning class, heal-thy lunch groups, health screenings, a fitness room and participation in Live Healthy KC.

Above, left to right: Steve Jordan, Barb Suter, Jason Kort, Dewey Kendal, Jason Patterson, Julie Annett, Cheryl Wood, Ron Hill, Doug Stokes
Spidertel, Inc.

SPIDERtel, says President Joe Lieberman, is a unique company. “For as small as we are, we act and behave like a large company. We have a well-defined culture and treat our employees as we try to treat all of our customers, with utmost respect and the desire to transform their lives in the most positive way possible.” One of the keys to the company’s continued growth even amid the tough economic times is that every single employee “believes in our cause,” which is completely satisfying customers, seeking continuous improvement and “acting like we own the place.” The cause, he continues, “is our mission, our reason for being here. It’s much more than just being a place to work or making money. It’s about helping our customers, helping businesses transform themselves. Our focus is on web solutions. We spend a lot of time ensuring that the employees understand that all the work they do has an impact on our customers.” Lieberman says SPIDERtel is an inclusive organization with an open-door policy. “All employees are encouraged to provide input and talk to management, including the president, whenever they desire.” SPIDERtel’s values include “honesty and integrity in everything we do, and the embracement of change for improvement and opportunity.”

Above, left to right: Joe Lieberman, Mark Siegfried, Jeremy Walla, Derrick Woolworth, and Alex Bach
Worldwide Clinical Research

Sometimes, you can tell the most about a person during difficult times. “It’s almost embarrassing to be considered for an award like this in this environment when we’re having to have a layoff,” says Worldwide Clinical Research, Inc. President and CEO Barb Geiger. “We had to do a small layoff in October and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. These are people’s lives we’re dealing with. But we had to do it to ensure the viability of the company going forward.” Despite that difficult task, WWCR is clearly valued by its multi-cultural, multi-lingual em-ployees as a great place to work. “We had to cut back on some financial rewards, but we added benefits, including adding Martin Luther King Day as a holiday. We wanted to be able say to our employees that we’re doing everything we can to do right by you. We also added a new sabbatical policy this year. We value the employees we have, they’re incredibly valuable to us and we don’t want to lose them over a few dollars. We have employees who ‘get it’ and are doing everything they can to weather this storm and doing everything they can to be successful. Every single person has put their head down and said, ‘What can I do?’”

Above, left to right: Dave Witmer, Sr. Director, IT; Tim Freeman, Sr. Director, Operations; Barb Geiger, President/CEO; Mike Engsberg, Sr. Director, HR

Small Companies

MoKan Title Service

Tami Esteban came to MoKan Title Services 10 years ago after working for four other companies and knew she had found a home. “This is not just a place to come to work, it’s a place where the management tries to enrich our lives and make this a fun place to work.” A “Fun Committee” helps see to that by planning monthly pot luck lunches, a staff appreciation day, a family company picnic, and Halloween and Christmas activities. They also take nominations for the Piece of the Puzzle (POP) awards, recognizing employees who go above and beyond normal job duties. Among the generous benefits program, Esteban says, is a focus on healthy living, including gym memberships, flu shots and smoking cessation programs.


Just Right Restoration

In the two short years that Tim Schaefer has operated a pair of ServiceMaster Clean franchises in the area—under the names Just Right Restoration and First Class Restoration—he has earned high marks from customers and employees for being “a man of faith and a man of his word who demonstrates his dedication to extra-ordinary customer service, ethical business practices and per-sonal growth among his team members,” says Mark Allen of the Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Centers. “The Golden Rule” applies to every aspect of Schaefer’s businesses. “We develop the unique skills and strengths of our people and promote from within,” Schaefer says, “and we embrace the team concept in that all positions are important to our company.”

Muller Bressler + Brown

Muller Bressler + Brown has grown rapidly in a few short years, attracting talent from larger ad agencies to this 30-person shop on the Plaza. The reason, says Lori Burbidge, is because of new owners Phil Bressler and Jim Brown “who are notoriously known around the office as a couple of nice guys. They have built a community of respect, teamwork and creativity.”
MBB is dedicated to helping employees reach their full potential. “The MBB Literary Society is a training and development pro-gram that encompasses everything one needs to know about the agency from employee orientation to professional development.” Participation pays, too. “As employees read industry information, they are invited to submit a ‘Literary Exercise’ on what they learned—and receive a bookstore gift card to use for a personal purchase.”
J&J Logistics

The core philosophy at J&J Logistics, says Julie Thornton, is centered around creating an environment where em-ployees want to come to work. Even those who recently had a baby, like Thornton. “The company took unprecedented steps to accommodate my need to be close to my first child. I was provided a private office and allowed to bring my newborn to work while I continued to work my accounts and generate new business.” Her co-workers shared in the love, many of whom would bypass the company’s game room and fitness room during free time for a chance to come hold her baby. “The environment is nothing short of a place to realize your true potential while optimizing the opportunities to have fun and connect with others.”
The Judges
Paula Hahn

Paula M. Hahn has been with EFL Associates since April 2007 and currently serves as vice president and consultant. Her responsibilities include pairing clients with executive recruiting needs, as well as candidate
evaluation, search strategies, client management and project closing. Hahn obtained her Juris Doctorate from the University of Kansas. She holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas, Master of Science in Contracts and Acquisition Management from the Florida Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of Wisconsin. Hahn also holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification. Additionally, she has served as adjunct faculty with Baker University and the Keller Graduate School.
Gene Brown

Gene Brown is the CEO and founder of Market Intellect, a marketing services company. He is responsible for the development of marketing plans, marketing audits, sales and promotional plans, as well as conducting seminars and focus groups. Additionally, Brown is the Valentine Radford Professor of Marketing at the Bloch School of Business and Public Administration at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Brown earned his Ph.D. in Business Administration with a major in marketing and minors in statistics and quanti-tative methods from the University of Alabama. He holds a Master’s Degree in marketing from the University of Alabama and a Bachelor’s Degree in marketing from the Florida Institute of Technology.


Call for Submissions:
Ingram’s “Best Companies to Work For”


Ingram’s newest award, “Best Companies to Work For,” showcases local workplaces that have won the loyalty of their employees and the respect of the business community. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to submit your company for Ingram’s 2010 “Best Companies to Work For” competition. To nominate your organization, send us information focusing on elements that distinguish its workplace:


Management practices • Educational and advancement opportunities • Benefits
Atmosphere (spirit of teamwork, cooperation, and public service) • Financial outlookSend your nomination, along with any relevant company brochures or other literature to, or to:

Special Projects Editor
Rebecca Wessler,
c/o Ingram’s Magazine
Attn: Best Local Workplaces
2049 Wyandotte
Kansas City, MO 64108


« March 2009 Edition