SMALL COMPANIES: FINALISTS
Louis Williams is right up front: No, you won’t find pool tables or video games for the staff at Bank of Kansas City. But the 89 employees share something the bank holds in higher stead: A corporate culture of integrity. Parent company BOK Financial, based in Oklahoma, was the largest bank in the country to de-cline federal TARP funding during the 2008 financial crisis, and it posted record revenues in 2010. So on an organizational level, it’s doing something right. Louis Williams, senior vice president, says the leadership’s commitment to creating a high-energy, happy place to earn a living has distinguished Kansas City operations. Dynamic work teams, employee engagement, responsive management and a fun atmosphere—pool tables or not—complement a full menu of benefits and a competitive pay structure.
Chuck Gragg has a plan. He intends to build a $200 million specialty advertising company by 2015, which would be less than a decade removed from gross revenues of $3.5 million in 2006. He knows he can’t get there alone. So Gragg has built a training-based organization that institutionalizes the need for employees to expand their skill sets. Most organizations with training budgets set annual targets for employee attendance; Gragg Training courses are mandatory for every employee—every month. “Our staff is on the cutting edge of our industry, and it shows in our work,” says marketing brand specialist Lauren Henson. Teamwork, constant communication, and heavy reliance on internal promotions are other hallmarks of the Gragg experience.
The four-year-old construction sector downturn has claimed 30 percent of the architects in many markets, and salary cuts have become an industry norm. Yet at Hoefer Wysocki Architects in Kansas City, not one of the 70 employees has seen even a dollar in pay reductions. In fact, over the past five years, the staff has grown 75 percent, with revenues up 63 percent, testament to the founders’ business-building acumen. In addition, HWA also provides a casual work en-vironment with flexible summer schedules, monthly First Fridays on the veranda that can include industry updates or a Wii Rock Band competition, shared costs of professional memberships and a training allowance equal to 1 percent of base salary for professional development.
Two tables, each 24 feet long, make up the work space at Manica Architecture. The collaboration sprouting from that setup, combined with a lack of organizational titles, ensures a flat structure. But trust us: Nothing else about Manica Architecture is flat. Certainly not output; the company’s staff of 15 is engaged in stadium design projects that span the globe. Manica rewards those contributions with above-scale salaries, a full range of traditional benefits, and perks you won’t find at far larger employers. A few of them: company-paid iPhones with unlimited voice, data and texting; bonuses paid twice a year; flexible scheduling; holiday gift cards for employee spouses; and year-end, weeklong all-expenses-paid trips to such luxury venues as Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta for the entire staff.
As president of Paragon Capital Management, Craig Novorr makes his living with numbers—including a certain kind of calculus: Low turnover equals superior client service. Therein lie the foundations of compensation structure, its benefits plans and the workplace environment for the Overland Park-based company. On a small team, he notes, there are no water boys. “With only seven full-time employees, it is imperative that everyone understands their roles and expectations,” Novorr says. Hence, five of those full-time associates are equity partners, who enjoy competitive wages, bonus programs and benefits available to all. Paid travel for industry conferences, health insurance to all for $25 a month and time off for community service are also tools for helping employees meet the demands of managing $315 million in assets.
A highly regulated, highly competitive business sector can be a recipe for burnout and turnover. The Rolofson family, at Worldwide Wine and Spirits in Lenexa, combats that burn and turn with equal parts trust, respect and support. Now 10 years old and still rapidly growing, its staff of 24 is up 50 percent since Worldwide broke into Ingram’s 2008 Corporate Report 100 list of the region’s 100 fastest-growing companies. Account managers chart their own levels of success, working on 100 percent commission, supported with a line of top-quality products. Small though it is, Worldwide offers medical coverage plans, 401(k) plan matches, covered expenses from gasoline to cell phones and, given the product line, some perks you will find at few businesses.