Happy employees should equal happy customers and, therefore, equal higher profits. At least four companies in the Metro-D.C. area have mastered this.
By Colleen Sheehy Orme / photography by Dwayne Freeman
It’s a proven equation in business. Happy employees should equal happy customers and, therefore, equal higher profits. At least four companies in the Metro-D.C. area have mastered this. Despite an otherwise dreary economy these innovators are thriving and growing. Could it be their dedication to the human capital that represents their brand?
B.F. Saul Company Hotel Division
The energy at The Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tysons Corner is infectious. The employees of the B.F. Saul Company Hotel Division have gathered for the Third Annual Housekeeping Olympics. It is International Housekeeping Week and a very important event for this hospitality-based company. And the gang’s all here—everyone from general managers, marketing, human resources and housekeeping personnel to Senior Vice President Mark Carrier.
Employees from 14 of their Northern Virginia locations have gathered to compete, dressed in color-coded shirts, to announce which B.F. Saul Hotel they are representing. David Makarsky, vice president of operations, ignites the crowd as he plays Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything” and announces, “That’s what you are to us … our everything. What an awesome workplace family.” The forever-smiling crowd roars in agreement.
There are life-size mascots, more music and even The National Anthem. Timers are set as employees scramble to compete. The first event involves full-size basketball hoops with toilet bowl lids replacing the rims. Rolls of toilet paper fly as the whistle is blown. Next, management competes against one another to see who can properly make a bed within a three-minute time span while their staff cheers them on. This company has clearly created a culture of happy productivity.
• Founded in 1892
• Employs over 1,100 people
• One of the largest private real estate and banking companies in Washington
“Big Three” quality pledge–standard of excellence employees are held accountable to
• Big Three University, an online leadership development program
• Big Three report cards to monitor progress
• 10 steps to living the Big Three
• Annual team member award banquets
• Celebratory luncheons
• Free vacation days
The Crowne Plaza at National Airport has just been voted one of the top three Crown Plazas in North America
“I have been here 10 years … I am very happy the first year through today because of the care and special treatment from the leaders. They provide incredible opportunities for their employees to grow with the company.”
-William Quintana, operations manager of the TownePlace Suites in Gaithersburg, Md.
The B.F. Saul Company, founded in 1892, is one of the largest private real estate and banking companies in Washington. They employ over 1,100 people. In an industry where the turnover rate averages between 60 and 100 percent, they maintain an impressively low 28 percent.
Makarsky is passionate about human resources, and it is evident. He led the charge implementing an extensive program around the company’s “Big Three” quality pledge. As Makarsky says, “I took on the role of being the Big Three Ambassador. We created a Big Three University as an online leadership development program, Big Three report cards to monitor progress, our Big Three mascot and our 10 steps to living the Big Three. We have fun while we are living it. This is the standard of excellence we hold our employees accountable to.”
Employees enjoy annual team member award banquets and celebrate Team Members of the Year. There are celebratory luncheons, free vacation days, dinners for two and a trophy that passes from winner to winner. They even produce an annual page-a-day calendar with different themes that include individual team members and their quotes. They calculate management incentives every four months. Makarsky explains, “If the hotel as a team has not earned a minimum of 100 percent on their Big Three report card, they have not maintained a good balance between guest, owner and team members.”
The Crowne Plaza at National Airport has just been voted one of the top three Crown Plazas in North America. Makarsky says, “You know the formula is working. There is constant messaging and building a culture.” Makarsky writes personal birthday and other congratulatory cards to every manager in the company. Visit a B.F. Saul Hotel and the exceptional experience will illustrate the attention spent on employee development.
David Attardi, assistant vice president and director of interactive marketing, says, “The B.F. Saul Company is truly a family business in every sense of the word. From the history of its ownership to the culture of our team members, everyone feels like a part of the family.”
“I have been here 10 years,” says William Quintana, operations manager of the TownePlace Suites in Gaithersburg, Md. “I am very happy the first year through today because of the care and special treatment from the leaders. They provide incredible opportunities for their employees to grow with the company.”
“Our motto is to know it, then to share it and then to live it,” says Makarsky. I make people realize that we can make a name for ourselves in the community, increase business, network and share best practices, and see how other people are doing business as well.”
• Founded in 1998
• Employs over 50 individuals
• Provides project portfolio management (PPM) solutions
Two-week boot camp on-boarding program
• Unlimited Leave Policy
• The Hundred Dollar Bill Club
• Acts of Excellence Awards
n. Calling; vocation
“I am privileged to work for a forward-thinking company; one that presents challenges and opportunities daily in an amazing culture that you won’t find anywhere else.” -Sara thompson, Senior marketing associate, Métier ltd.
Douglas Clark and Sandra Richardson created their projects portfolio management solutions company Métier Ltd. in 1988. The Arlington-based company helps organizations navigate their portfolio of projects by managing not only the health and metrics of individual projects but of the entire company. They employ over 50 individuals and have just launched their California office.
Métier offers some surprising employee perks. They have an Unlimited Leave Policy. (Yes, you read that correctly.) There is also flying with the CEO if employees meet or exceed goals, The Hundred Dollar Bill Club if managers witness an employee doing something really great, and Acts of Excellence Awards.
Richardson, chief operating officer says, “Our human resource strategy is one of continuous coaching. We do a lot of really different things here. Sometimes it’s money or time off or education. Doug and I have really just tried to unplug from the traditional sense of how you act in a human resource activity. We focus on how do you get employees’ feedback quickly and what gets them motivated?”
Clark, chief executive officer, agrees, “We started the company and asked ourselves, ‘What type of company would we want to work for?’ ‘What do we want to create?’ I spend more time on culture than probably anything else I do. I believe that culture is a management device. I will say that the proof of what we are doing here is a very simple statistic. The other three leaders in this company all started at entry-level positions. They bought into the culture and have extended the culture in many ways. We tell everyone here that we want them to be the most incredible professional that we can make them.”
Senior marketing associate Sara Thompson says, “I am privileged to work for a forward-thinking company; one that presents challenges and opportunities daily in an amazing culture that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Métier has set the bar high. They have an extremely structured two-week boot camp on-boarding program. Their energy is astounding with cow bells announcing sales demos and train whistles blowing to reveal new clients. There is constant communication with virtual water coolers keeping the East and West Coast offices connected. And there are fun rewards of amazing holiday parties involving skits, the Douglas Clark Choir and employee gifts such as an extra week of pay.
Clark puts it best when he explains, “We strive for excellence, we strive for the best of what life can offer, and we have a blast getting there.” Ask why they chose the word Métier for their company and Richardson responds, “The word Métier means your calling, what you were meant to do.”
VISTA Technology Services Inc.
Even with torrential downpours outside, VISTA Technology Services Inc.’s receptionist greets customers with zest. It is an employee-owned IT consulting firm located in Herndon. David Baxa, president and chief executive officer is warm and approachable. He speaks with passion about the company that he has led for the past seven years, and the 50 or more employees that comprise it.
“I was very intentional in terms of establishing a culture that was open and inclusive, and that provided mutual respect for anyone in the company regardless of their role,” he explains. “As a CEO, I have three principal constituencies: the shareholders, customers and employees. The key is getting the priority straight. My view is that you have to put your employees first because the customer experience is what is going to make or break your business. And if your employee is unhappy, how is that going to affect your business? The second is the customer. If we take care of these first two items, then the third, the shareholders, will fall into place.”
VISTAtsi has established a thorough on-boarding program. A Harry & David basket is sent to each new employee as soon as an individual is hired. On the first day of work the employee is assigned a buddy for the day who also takes him or her to lunch. The new employee’s work space is sure to be in perfect order with computer, telephone and training packet—not to mention assistance from Human Resources.
• 50+ employees
• Employee-owned IT consulting firm
RPEP (Resource Pool Expansion Program)
• Employee put on rotation for 90 days
• Spends time with different project teams
• Employee of the Year awards
• Employee reimbursments for buying green cars
• Wellness program
• Tickets to Wolf Trap events
• Charity matching programs
“I’ve been here almost three years, and I absolutely love this job, this company and the people here. David Baxa is great. He is a people person with an open door policy.” –Cyndi Chieppa, financial services administrator, VISTAtsi
They offer select employees a program called RPEP (Resource Pool Expansion Program). The employee is put on a rotation for over 90 days so that they may spend time with different project teams and employees in order to develop a broader sense of VISTAtsi. They are given assignments and mentors. There is a 100-percent retention rate for employees in the program.
The Director of Human Resources takes each new employee out to lunch after 90 days in order to garner more information. Baxa himself sits down for an hour every year on the anniversary of an employee’s hire date to conduct a one-on-one exchange. He feels it not only helps him get to know his employees better but to gain perspective on his business.
VISTAtsi promotes telework, flex time and they recognize work well done through their Spot Awards and Employee of the Year Awards. A green company, they will reimburse you X amount of dollars over several years if you buy a green car. They have kicked off a wellness program, and twice a month it’s Bagel Day. Stakeholder meetings are held three times a year. They also have charity matching programs, annual picnics, holiday parties … and a staff favorite would be the company’s tickets to Wolf Trap events.
When asked how he has accomplished this positive work environment, Baxa responds, “Ten years ago I didn’t envision myself being the CEO of a company. I did have this mental list that I had accumulated over many years of experience and I found myself saying that it doesn’t need to be this way. I have been on a tear for the past seven years to learn about leadership.”
Cyndi Chieppa is VISTAtsi’s financial services administrator. “I’ve been here almost three years, and I absolutely love this job, this company and the people here. David Baxa is great. He is a people person with an open door policy.”
Baxa reflects, “A lot of things we choose to do come from our association with other companies that are of [a] like mind. We are constantly in touch with other leaders, sharing and exchanging information and ideas. I’ve had more fun in the past seven years than I have [had throughout] my whole career.”
JustinBradley, with offices in McLean and the District, specializes in providing financial staffing. In 2002, president Beth Monroe, executive vice president Andrew Chase and vice president Khristie Andrus dedicated themselves to becoming a specialty recruiting firm that places a significant value on human resources. Between their full-time staff and consultants, there are approximately 50 employees.
It is an active office with tremendous energy. They, too, have an elaborate two-week on-boarding program. Andrus says, “In the first two weeks a person establishes their feelings one way or another about their new employer.” On an employee’s first day they will find a huge welcome sign on their desk, business cards and a syllabus outlining their first two weeks. They will be taken to lunch by their manager. JustinBradley puts an emphasis on people; they focus strongly on the individual strengths of each of their employees. Therefore, the new hire rotates the first two weeks, to sit one-on-one with each employee and learn their unique strengths.
Andrus explains, “We place a lot of emphasis on sharing knowledge between employees. We have brown bag lunches based on industry topics; or, if we feel that someone is really doing something especially well, then we will have them come in and show us their top tips. We devote a lot of resources to internal training.”
• Approximately 50 employees
• Provides financial staffing
“Managing up Classes”
• Helps staff better understand managers’ perspectives
• Helps to communicate wants, needs, how to get what’s desired from job
• Direct line to firm’s president
• Contest “Leaving Early and Loving It!”
• Dressy holiday parties
• Summer Excursions in D.C or Old Town
Finalist for The National Captial Area Business Ethics Awards
“Everybody says, ‘I have to tell you this is one of the best places I’ve ever worked.’… I think they feel like we invested in their success in the firm.” –Khristie Andrus, Vice President, JustinBradley
Another exceptional perk is that employees have a direct line to the firm’s president, Beth Monroe, whose door is always open. There is also an intensive three-day sales training program conducted by Monroe herself.
They also have fun contests. One is called “Leaving Early and Loving It!” A green felt golf course collects golf balls as employees meet their placement goals. If goals are met, then each Friday in August it is not unusual to see employees enter their morning meeting dressed in golf attire and then leave for the remainder of the day. The winter contest’s highest scorers can win free iPods or other fun rewards.
There are dressy holiday parties in private rooms and sneak peeks at the kitchen table of a favored restaurant. There are active summer excursions around D.C. or Old Town.
“Everybody says, ‘I have to tell you this is one of the best places I’ve ever worked’,” says Andrus. “I think they feel like we invested in their success in the firm. We ask ourselves, ‘What else can be done to make this employee successful?’ Every year we look at our training, exit interviews, employee surveys with likes and dislikes, tuition reimbursement, benefits packages, and we are always, constantly, self examining.”
JustinBradley has leadership training for their management as well. A unique program they have recently conducted is “Managing up Classes.” Michelle Horrify, director of human resources, says, “The classes [were designed] for the staff so that they could better understand the perspective of managers. ‘How do you better communicate to your manager what you want, your needs and how do you get what you want out of your job?’ We measured the feedback before and after this training and saw a huge improvement in employee and management satisfaction. One year after implementation, feedback showed that 90 percent of the staff rated management as ‘significantly improved.’”
The partners at JustinBradley are involved in continuous professional evolvement as members of numerous boards and professional associations. The company has also just been listed as a finalist for The National Capital Area Business Ethics Awards. Andrus adds, “You always want people to have a new approach to their job. If you are not constantly reenergizing yourself, I don’t know how you can be effective after a certain amount of time.”
Four companies with a common thread among them. They are led by visionary leaders that welcome business challenges and do so with an exuberant spirit. They have established a core value system within their companies, and that value system is people. They are superb branders with a clear vision of who they are, what they offer and how they execute it. They value constant communication and respect regardless of corporate rank. They are forward thinkers who are constantly progressing in education, round-table discussions, award programs and the overall exchange of ideas within the business community. They are inspiring.