Join Us - Get In The Flow

Role Models Is Not A Newsletter
Role Models Is Not A Blog
It is Stories Written By Companies That Wish to Share

November, 2016


You really do want to spend time with this issue of ROLE MODELS©

Twenty-three ROLE MODEL companies were invited to select an employee to say “why they love their job”.  These are beautiful people that represent their positive and inspired workplaces.  With each photo and quote there is an excerpt from their company’s ROLE MODEL article that’s talks about how they honor their employees.

Table of Contents

Will Yowell, Zion and Zion


Featured in July, 2016 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“The thing I love most about Zion & Zion is that I feel like the company believes employees are its most valuable asset. They invest heavily in our professional development by bringing in industry leaders for in-house training, send us to the top conferences in our respective fields and regularly coordinate and fund social and team-building events.” Will Yowell, Web & Mobile Applications Developer, Phoenix, Arizona.

Each year the company sends every employee to at least two national conferences in their field or a related field. And every team member returning from a conference presents the learnings from that conference to the entire agency. Specifically, what the team member feels Zion & Zion is doing well based on the conference; where Zion & Zion could improve; etc. Of particular note is that each time a team member presents, they need to make the presentation understandable and relevant to EVERYONE they are presenting to be that person from the social media team, the creative team, the web development team, the strategy team, etc. It’s no small task, but it does result team members truly thinking about the agency as a whole.

Zion & Zion’s culture ensures that no one is restricted to the immediate function of their job title. In stark contrast to other agencies, team members are encouraged to step outside the lines (there actually are no lines) and work closely alongside neighboring departments to create the best end product possible.

Team members cracking stone crabs for at the annual CrabFest.

Team members cracking stone crabs for at the annual CrabFest.

As part of that playful culture, the team regularly gets together to celebrate company events and milestones throughout the year. For instance, the annual “CrabFest,” now in its eighth year is a big deal at Zion & Zion. It’s a celebration in which the agency flies in hundreds of stone crab claws overnight from Miami Beach for a fun filled day of eating, drinking, and an array of outdoor games in the courtyard of the Zion & Zion building.

Whether it’s a company sponsored happy hour, a trip to Lake Pleasant, or a BBQ at the home of the Zion’s, there’s always something exciting around the corner that allows employees opportunities to bond and blow off a little steam.

Back to top

Ryann Bouchard, Dixon Schwabl


Featured in November, 2015 Culture ROLE MODELS


“Our motto at Dixon Schwabl is ‘We Make It Happen.’ It is empowering to work for an agency that has this culture and spirit.” Ryann Bouchard, Public Relations, Dixon Schwabl, Rochester, New York.

Dixon Schwabl regularly recognizes employees with impromptu celebrations marking birthdays, pregnancies, anniversaries, professional news, account wins, awards, client happenings—you name it. Employee efforts are applauded every week during the agency meeting, and all employees participate in a profit-sharing program.

The peer-nominated Jaz Janie Award celebrates the Dixon Schwabl employee of the month, and a spouse of the month is recognized for his or her support. The agency also thanks clients for being such an important part of all that we do by sending them a branded birthday gift and card signed by all team members.

It isn’t uncommon to walk through the agency’s front door and find a party. With activities, impromptu fun, Ice Cream Tuesdays, Columbus Day Clam Bakes, holiday office decorating, Super Bowl squares, baby pools. Everything is celebrated at Dixon Schwabl! When the agency learns of big client or agency news, it isn’t unusual to find employees gathered for an all-agency celebration in the lobby.

Whether employees are cheering on the house band, an agency scavenger hunt or the team that will help win the Super Bowl squares, there’s fun around every corner at Dixon Schwabl. The agency’s sports teams rival those of major corporations, with indoor soccer, indoor beach volleyball, softball, yoga and exercise clubs, as well as an indoor putting contest and impromptu games.

Every week, all employees gather for an agency meeting to share recent work, thank other team members and hear agency news. Employees also gather once each quarter for a town-hall meeting led by CEO Lauren Dixon and President Mike Schwabl, who answers employee questions and address any concerns.

Employees jump with joy with the award.

Employees jump with joy with the award.

The company is also committed to the Rochester community, and supports a number of key charities in the region and nationally. The agency donates nearly 10,000 hours annually to area not-for-profits, and employees are encouraged to share their charitable endeavors with the entire agency at meetings.

Music also has a role at Dixon Schwabl. As personal and professional lives shift, so does the agency’s rock-band roster. At varying times (and sometimes all at once), the company has housed a rock band, a ska band and an acoustic duo/trio/quartet, depending on the day. While the members may change, the bands’ popularity among employees and clients has remained.

Employees are encouraged to balance their personal and professional lives, so all families are invited to join in on any of Dixon Schwabl’s on- and off-site activities, as well as the agency’s sports teams and rock band.

Back to top

Nisana Decimus and Esther Remy, Haiti Partners


Featured in May, 2016 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS

Nisana Decimus


“I love working in teams that are filled with fun, joy and mutual respect.”  Nisana Decimus, 1st Grade Teacher at Haiti Partners Children’s Academy, Haiti. 

Haiti Partners believes that how they do things is just as important as what they do. If they want to be successful at changing the violent, authoritarian aspects of Haitian culture, they have to approach their work with values that counter them: respect, collaboration, accountability, joy, compassion, empathy, love and others. For Haiti Partners, these values are mission-critical as they nurture a quiet revolution in Haiti’s education and leadership paradigm.

In the education that Haiti Partners promotes, each person in the class or group has the right to speak … about anything they feel that needs to be addressed. People listen to each other, and they’re at ease to discuss any subject, even if the subject can be heated sometimes … And it’s always on this basis that decisions are made. It’s not just the person at the top that makes the decisions.

Esther Remy


“In Haiti Partners I love the way we build a shared vision and plan for accomplishing it together where each person fully assumes responsibility for his or her role.”   Esther Remy, first grade teacher at Haiti Partners, Haiti.

Haiti Partners is about working in teams that are filled with fun and joy. It’s the mutual respect and spirit of learning and wanting to constantly improve that nurtures this. It makes you want to give your best self in the work you’re doing.


Over the years, Haiti Partners has partnered with other like-minded organizations to help them clarify their values and use methods that assure that they are on the right track. Barrett Values Centre guided them in the development of their organizational values. They regularly discuss WorldBlu’s principles of organizational democracy to consider how they are working together. Their discussion circle approach is an adaptation of Touchstones discussions, and their meetings and conferences use Open Space Technology. Church groups use Lectio Divina.

Back to top

Antinea Ascione, Real Truck


Featured in July, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“There are many things I love about, especially their unwavering commitment to positive company culture. Aside from creating a fun and comfortable work environment, their commitment makes me feel like I matter and have a voice.” Antinea Ascione, Marketing, Real Truck, Jamestown, North Dakota.

President Jeff Vanlanginham of Real Trucks notes, Valuing employees as individuals, focusing relentlessly on guiding principles, and the wisdom that if you treat your customers the way you want to be treated.

Real Truck’s culture is centered on six guiding principles that encourage employees to be better people, both at work and home: Transparency Rocks, Be Humble, Deliver More, Include Fun, Take Risks, and Improve.

President Jeff Vanlanginham notes, “Valuing employees as individuals, focusing relentlessly on guiding principles, and the wisdom that if you treat your customers the way you want to be treated, they’ll keep coming back.”


Every Friday, employees spend a few hours practicing one of the aforementioned Guiding Principles. An example was employees helping the community by going and cleaning the Ronald McDonald House.

CEO Scott Bintz identifies himself as “CEO, occasional janitor and chair spinner.” He says “We are a fun, passionate, dedicated, exciting and slightly wacky group of people where every employee plays a vital and important role.”

Back to top

Lorin Brust and Stephanie Cranford, Graphik Dimensions Ltd.


Featured in March – April, 2016 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS

Lorin Brust


“I love that people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds are appreciated and nurtured to be the best they can be.  Plus it’s a really fun place to work! Did I mention everyone here loves to eat so we do potlucks all the time?” Lorin Brust, Business Services Specialist, Graphik Dimensions Ltd., High Point, North Carolina.

When Lauri Feinsod became the CEO of Graphik Dimensions Ltd. (GD), the parent company of and a suite of creative brands, she invited passionate, self-selecting employees to join her in a co-discovery of the company values – the very highest qualities they aspired to as a community. This organic roundtable bubbled into what they refer to as C4 values: Consciousness, Community, Collaboration & Creativity. These values have become a “north star,” for catalyzing GD’s evolution. “It’s a litmus test for how we discuss anything, from leadership, to manufacturing, to strategic planning, to cost management, to workflow management. It always comes back to this,” says Lauri.

GD represents over two dozen nations, a wide range of religious and political beliefs, and is simultaneously a tech company, design group, call center, manufacturing operation, and more. It’s such a diverse group of people, but these values – these four words – mean something to every single person. And, every one of them has been invited to embody what’s most meaningful to them in that landscape – those four words let everyone out of the box.

Stephanie Cranford


“One of my favorite things is having a voice in our C-4ums. The company listens to our creative ideas and makes them happen. We support each other and work together to offer creative feedback and turn ideas into reality.”  Stephanie Cranford, Account Fulfillment Specialist, Graphik Dimensions, Ltd., High Point, North Carolina.

As Stephanie noted, GD’s C4ums are passion-driven, employee-led, cross-departmental teams that amplify the company’s C4 values (Consciousness, Collaboration, Community, Creativity) into a next level of action. They simultaneously increase employee engagement, co-leaderfulness, unity, communication and, ultimately, happiness. And, a full third of the community at Graphik Dimensions Ltd. actively participates in one of the company’s C4ums that steward advancements in Sustainability, Celebration, Wellness & Community.

At GD there’s also wild permission to PLAY! Potlucks, crazy hat contests, team campfire outings, Halloween fright and kickball team victories, as well as shared space for life’s general happiness, in celebration of new marriages, babies, graduate degrees earned and other bright moments.

A critical facet of GD’s success, has been the complete re-engineering of its communication architecture. Some changes look like more conventional lunges at transparency – from very real-time updates, via dialogue, analytics and up-to-the-minute collaboration tools, to uncensored CEO Chats, a steady diet of team huddles and, most recently, cooking with the President.

Back to top

Sharlyn Konfrst, Farm Credit Services of America


Featured in video, 2015 at


“I love working for Farm Credit Services of America because of the opportunity to serve an amazing customer base, opportunity to work with fabulous teammates and the opportunity for personal development to be my best every day!”  Sharlyn Konfrst, Vice President, Facilities & Administration, Farm Credit Services of America, Omaha, Nebraska.

Farm Credit Services of America prides itself on an award-winning culture, one where 97% of team members say that they’re proud to be employees. It’s that pride that continues to drive the company to find new ways to innovate and engage its staffers.

Whether it’s through new technologies, employee benefits, beautiful facilities or well-being initiatives, engaging employees is a strategic imperative at FCSAmerica. Many new hires come to work there because current employees tell them about the culture and inclusive environment.

At FCSAmerica, employees are teammates. Teams are the company’s way of thinking, working and acting, all based on the idea that working together, anything is possible. Apart, everyone is just a talented individual with good intentions. And they always find ways to make work fun!

At this company, everyone’s a leader; there are no positions. Instead, “Leadership is Everyone’s Business.” Each team member strives to bring out the best in those around them and compete to be the best in the industry.

Some of the industry’s foremost experts work at FCSAmerica, and each employee strives every day to become an expert in their respective field and share their expertise with each other and the company’s customers.

Employees also consider themselves proud servants. The farmers and ranchers that FCSAmerica serves are the reason it exists, and the team finds rewarding purpose in devoting themselves to local communities. They volunteer as teams and are given work time to volunteer on their own. Every day employees focus their talents, technologies and passions toward serving customers — and each other.

There’s something special about working at FCSAmerica — employees would say you can feel it the first time you step through the door. It’s a culture like no other, and one team members are proud to be a part of.

Back to top

Ella Koonce, Drake Cooper


Featured in May, 2016 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“What I love about Drake Cooper is how we embrace the montra that a good idea can come from anyone, anywhere, at any time. I love my coworkers – their passion and willingness to be team players is extremely inspiring!”  Ella Koonce, Junior Creator, Drake Cooper, Boise, Idaho.

At Drake Cooper, employees aren’t afraid of failure. Instead, risks are planned for and evaluated after the fact so that employees can learn from every experience and decision. Did a campaign not work perfectly, but the sticking point was identified? Perfect. The Drake Cooper team will band together to tweak the strategy and get it right during the next iteration. By embracing revision in a supportive way, team members are awarded a unique opportunity to learn and craft new skills.

The company hosts annual company retreats where the agency closes its doors for a day and staffers meet off-site to reflect on the previous year’s work. Employees discuss last year’s successes, failures, milestones, and passion projects.

Team members in the agency believe that a good idea can come from anyone, at any time. This open and collaborative environment results in employees that always feel empowered to ask questions, teams that bring others in for diverse opinions, and an organization that can quickly adapt to change. Staffers know that their contributions are respected, so they’re always inspired and supported to push themselves to develop new skills and assume leadership roles.

Boise Idaho

Boise Idaho

Drake Cooper hosts a Dream Big program in order to give back to the community. As part of the program, the company donates its marketing services to a chosen 501(c)3 organization for one year. Staffers volunteer to develop and implement strategies and provide support wherever possible for the nonprofit organization.

Many define culture as being made up of trust retreats, dogs at work, yoga at lunch, weekly happy hours, and napping pods. While these things may be fun or enticing, Jamie Cooper, Drake Cooper’s CEO, believes these perks do not define a culture – rather, they are benefits of a healthy culture. Drake Cooper thrives through utilizing ways of working that allow teams to collaborate, interact, inspire and support each other.

Back to top

Kelly Strupp, Vibrant Credit Union


Featured in May, 2016 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS.


“The thing I love most about working at Vibrant is that we have a true desire to change the banking industry. We care about creating a unique and genuine experience for our members. I also have the pleasure working beside amazing people everyday!” Kelly Strupp, VP of Branch Experience, Vibrant Credit Union, Moline, Illinois.

At Vibrant employees start each day out with a motivational moment. That could be anything from a game of bags to Just Dance to a llama kissing booth or even just chatting about their weekend- the only rule is no shop talk. It’s not out of the ordinary to have Vibrant’s President or CXO stop by an employee’s desk just to check in or (probably more frequently), to play a prank. They truly believe that creating a happy work environment will translate into better business.

Banking doesn’t have to be boring, and that means working at a credit union doesn’t have to be, either.

For each employee that kissed the alpaca Vibrant donated $10 to March of Dimes

For each employee that kissed the alpaca Vibrant donated $10 to March of Dimes

To best provide employees the opportunity to be happy and healthy the credit union has a 24 hour gym in its corporate center. All employees have access and are welcome to work out before work, after work or during their lunch.  Not only does working out make employees healthier, it also creates camaraderie. Many times employees can be found working out in a group– it’s a whole new way employees get to know each other rather than through the normal work day experience. New friendships are formed and employees actually talk to each other about real things.

Back to top

Chris Caruso, Vail Resorts


Featured in July, 2016 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“I love my job because Vail Resorts has given me the tools to succeed in my career path as a Ski instructor. Without their help and guidance, it would have taken me longer to get to where I wanted to be.” Chris Caruso, Children’s Ski School Supervisor, Vail Resorts, Boulder, Colorado.

Each year, 15 employees are chosen for an award called EpicService. Out of thousands of nominations by guests and employees, these particular employees are chosen from across the company’s resorts and lines of business for demonstrating extraordinary guest service. The top employees are given an all-expense paid trip to one of the resorts as a reward for their service. Their Experience of a Lifetime trip is filled with activities with the other winners and a private dinner with CEO Rob Katz and other leaders from the company.

Employees take accountability for living the company’s foundational values every day and in everything they do: Serve Others, Do Right, Drive Value, Do Good, Be Safe, Have Fun. These values are not merely words in the company manual, but are also part of the company’s formal annual review and performance evaluation. Every year, employees are asked how they have embraced these values.

Vail Lift Operators Enjoying a Blue Bird Workday

Vail Lift Operators Enjoying a Blue Bird Workday

Every employee at Vail Resorts is a leader. Leaders are defined by how they act and what they do rather than the title they hold.  The company believes that authentic leadership at every level is the key to driving re-imagination, innovation and superior results for stakeholders.

Vail Resorts’ approach to developing leaders is unconventional in that it is heavily biased toward creating a sophisticated level of emotional intelligence and agility through an intense focus on self-awareness, candor and vulnerability.  A few leadership program/initiative highlights include:

  • “Higher Ground” | An intensive six month series of leadership programs for high potential employees from Camp I (first level high potential leaders) through Camp III (senior level high potential leaders) designed around the organization’s leadership competencies of Re-imagine, Drive, Out Front, Connect, Develop and Passion.
  • Continual alumni meetings with graduates of the programs mentioned above including a 1:1 development meeting with CEO Rob Katz after graduating Camp III. 
  • Annual Leadership Summit for 600+ of the senior leaders throughout the Company, celebrating leadership and featuring timely development opportunities including TED-type talks given by leaders at various levels, candidly sharing their pivotal leadership moments. 

All Vail Resorts employees – both season and full time – have the opportunity to receive up to 40 hours of paid time off to volunteer for the charity of their choice, anywhere in the world. Employees taking part in the program included working with groups such as Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, the Wounded Warriors Project and Conservacion Patagonica, which is building national parks in Patagonia.

Back to top

Beth Wade, VML


Featured in August, 2016 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“I have the honor to work every day with so many passionate and talented team members at VML. From the love of their work to the way they support their friends, families and communities, I am consistently inspired.” Beth Wade, Chief Marketing Officer, VML, Kansas City, Missouri.

VML emphasizes many emplyee programs inlcuding inlcluding these HR type benefits:

  • Highly subsidized medical insurance
  • Fully paid dental benefits
  • Fully paid EAP benefits
  • Matching contribution on Medical Flexible Spending or Health Savings Accounts dollar-per-dollar up to $1,000.
  • Matching contribution on Transit Flexible Spending Account contributions dollar-per-dollar up to $50 per month.
  • Fully paid basic life and AD&D insurance
  • Fully paid short term disability and long-term disability
  • Adoption benefits up to $5,000
  • Parental leave benefits
  • 401K match
  • Technology allowance of $60 per month
  • Free beverages and snacks
  • Week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day
  • 15 paid holidays

Employees who have dedicated more than ten years of service can apply to VML Flight Plan: a month-long sabbatical during which they commit to spend four days volunteering with a group or organization they are passionate about. They can do this anywhere they’d like – tying a dream vacation and a service project together; the remaining days are all theirs.

All employees get up to 16 paid hours of volunteer time to use as they wish – volunteering at a local soup kitchen, pitching in at an animal shelter, doing a neighborhood clean-up project, reading to students in their child’s classroom, etc.

All-agency meetings, known as “The Tuesday Morning Meeting” at VML, keeps employees plugged in to work going on throughout the agency.

All-agency meetings, known as “The Tuesday Morning Meeting” at VML, keeps employees plugged in to work going on throughout the agency.

The Community Contributor Program recognizes VMLers who are active in the community, awarding them a “Giving Card” to donate to the charitable organization of his or her choice.

VML’s “Ministry of Fun” plays a big role in its culture. Each office has a group of volunteers who plan events such as annual holiday and summer parties, VML Day at the K, Sporting KC game, pop-up parties, chili cook-offs, photos with Santa, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, to name a few. Often these events have a charitable tie-in.

Back to top

Ariel Lenia Sit, Mindvalley


Featured in July, 2016 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“I love the fact that everyone has the equal opportunity to suggest ways for improvement. This is great as this culture allows the company to evolve faster with the accumulative effort of the employees.” Ariel Lenia Sit, Joint Venture Manager for Partnerships & PR, Mindvalley, Malaysia.

Mindvalley’s A-Report is designed around the spirit of fun, happiness and gratitude. It’s like a talk-show  version  of  a  town  hall meeting that celebrates   personal   accomplishments – someone  may  have  just  launched  a  blog,  had  a  kid,  or received  a  certificate  for community service.  And when someone or a team has broken a company record, they get to ring the Bell of Awesomeness.

At Mindvalley, the first Friday of every month is Learn Day, where everyone’s calendars are cleared of regular meetings so that each and every employee gets to go through learning, training or teaching sessions.

In the morning teams sit down and hack systems and processes, brainstorm ideas to grow their roles and meet goals. 

The afternoons are used to conduct training or sharing sessions open to anyone who wants to share a recent training, skill, research or case study that they have.

Everyone gets to sign up for their chosen session or training on a shared Learn Day schedule that is planned a week in advance by managers and training hosts.

The A-Report

The A-Report

Every Mindvalley  employee  is  introduced  to  the  concept  of  “life-planning”,  so  that  they consider the quality of their life over their career. This is done through an exercise called the “3  Most  Important  Questions  To Ask  Yourself”.  With this employees list out their goals, visions and desires based on the questions: What do I want to experience in my life? How do I want to grow in my life? How do I want to contribute to humanity and the world?

These  lists  are  printed  out  and  posted  up  on  the  Mindvalley Dream Wall, a blueprint into their souls as they map out their journey for the company to see.

The beauty about this exercise is that many end up ticking things off their list much sooner because they’ve now showcased it to the world as a form of commitment to themselves, and have a support system from the rest of the company to encourage them.

Managers also use these lists to get to know their team members so they understand better how to lead and grow their team members based on what motivates and drives them.

Back to top

Stephanie Roob, QLI


Featured in September, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“One of the best things about QLI is that every day I am in amazement at how much unbelievable talent I am surrounded by.” Stephanie Roob, Director of Nutrition Services, QLI, Omaha, Nebraska.

You can’t force employees to adopt a commitment to excellence. QLI’s team members make this choice, however, based on feeling valued, accountable, capable and proud to be a part of such a superlative organization.

QLI is relentless about its seven leadership principles:

  1. Leaders maintain a never-ending focus on mission, culture, and the pursuit of excellence.
  2. Leaders create an environment where staff feel proud of their company- and know that their company is proud of them.
  3. Leaders work hard to help staff be successful at work and in life.
  4. Leaders protect the right of good staff to work with good staff.
  5. Leaders encourage and promote open discussion and analysis as a predicate to decision making.
  6. Leaders deal effectively with conflict.
  7. Leaders encourage others to enjoy their work.

Building and sustaining an organization that can live up to such laudable standards is the challenge of leadership. According to Stephanie Roob, RD, LMNT, director of nutrition services and a member of QLI’s leadership team, “Leadership is responsible for setting a vision for the type of company you want to be. But every employee has the opportunity to ensure the company is living up to its standards and values.” Stephanie adds, “That’s why we focus so much energy on creating a culture and a company our staff will be proud of. When your employees take genuine pride in their work and their company, business success almost becomes a foregone conclusion.”

Rose Theater

Rose Theater

An example of Team QLI’s unique efforts include its commitment to the Omaha community. For 13 long-term residents at QLI, going to the Rose Theater in Omaha is not just about seeing a fun play or musical – it’s their job. Residents from QLI’s Assisted Living Apartments and Summit long-term care center are able to donate their time to the theater by greeting play-goers, handing out programs or standing guard at the stage.

Back to top

Brittany Snow, Radio Flyer


Featured in October, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“I love that our teams work naturally.  Naturally means we organically engage and have fun with each other.”  Brittany Snow, Radio Flyer, PR, social media and overall marketing strategies, Radio Flyer, Chicago, Illinois.

Having fun at Radio Flyer isn’t just another perk, it’s a job requirement! Employees are committed to a culture that embraces positive energy and believes in celebrating the successes of the company and each other. The company makes time to celebrate important milestones in the lives of their “Flyers,” such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and baby showers, along with company specific events. The result: every individual feels appreciated, engaged and part of a successful team.


Through Radio Flyer’s selection process, they strive to find a match between what candidates love to do and what the company needs them to do. They only hire candidates who are a good fit, so it’s easy for employees to love their jobs.

Back to top

Eric Marcel, Auto Mate


Featured in December, 2015 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“The thing I love most about working for Auto/Mate is that everyone in the management team wants to inspire and promote their employees. No idea is unheard and we are all made to feel we can take any career path we want within the company.” Eric Marcel, Auto/Mate, Product Knowledge Expert Team, Auto/Mate, Albany, NY.

Auto/Mate President and CEO Mike Esposito has dedicated himself to building a culture focused on employee satisfaction. “Many business leaders believe that customer satisfaction is the most important priority, but it isn’t,” said Esposito. “The facts show that customers will never love your company unless your employees love your company”.

“Many leaders believe that employees care most about money and perks,” said Esposito. “But what really motivates employees is more complicated than that. They crave autonomy to be in control of their own projects and goals; opportunity to improve their skills; recognition from upper management; potential for career advancement; and the desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.”

Core values are important because they are the essence of a company’s identity. Core values define our philosophy, support our vision and help in the decision-making process,” said Esposito. Auto/Mate’s core values include passion; customer centricity; honesty and integrity; family; and loyalty and commitment.

Back to top

Wendy Kelly, WD-40 Company


Featured in September, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“What I love most about my job is the freedom we have over our day-to-day responsibilities. It makes me feel trusted and appreciated”. Wendy Kelly, WD-40 Company, Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, San Diego, CA. 

According to CEO Garry Ridge, in the long term, values are arguably the most important aspect of working at WD-40 – more important even than performance. This is an organization that’s committed to a specific set of values, the most important of which is doing the right thing. There’s little ambiguity there, and this concept allows team members to question what’s going on and always return to that core guiding principle.


The company is also based on democratic principles, and with these principles, comes accountability. To that end, the company asks every “Tribe member” (what they call their employees) to own and act passionately on the Maniac Pledge, which states: “I am responsible for taking action, asking questions, getting answers, and making decisions. I won’t wait for someone to tell me. If I need to know, I’m responsible for asking. I have no right to be offended that I didn’t ‘get this sooner.’ If I’m doing something others should know about, I’m responsible for telling them.”

The list of corporate values that drive the company include:

  1. Doing the right thing. This includes asking critical questions, being honest in word and deed, being reliable and acting on the company’s core values and beliefs.
  2. Creating positive lasting memories in all relationships. The WD-40 Company team believes in leaving every interaction with a positive memory. This attitude applies to fellow tribe members, shareholders, customers and everyone else they come in contact with.
  3. Making it better than it is today. The company strives for continual improvement, always looking for new ideas, solutions and ways to progress.
  4. Succeeding as a Tribe while excelling as individuals. The company is committed to collective success, but prides itself on individual excellence and team member’s unique contributions.
  5. Owning it and passionately acting on it. WD-40 company tribe members put their hearts into their work, and believe that all are owners of the company’s treasures.
  6. Sustaining the WD-40 economy. The company exists to create and protect economic value for Tribe members and stakeholders, and all involved accept that responsibility.

As far as work environment, Tribe members work hard and laugh a lot, taking their work seriously but not themselves. Making memories is a key element of the WD-40 company experience.

Back to top

Erin Viermann, Happy State Bank


Featured in August, 2015 issue Culture ROLE MODELS


“The one thing I love about my job at Happy State Bank is how the bank’s unwavering values are lived out every day and ingrained in us from the top down.  Family first is a reality at the bank.  I am attend all of my children’s events, and have flexibility to get my job done.”  Erin Viermann, Commercial Banking, Happy State Bank, Happy, Texas.

When employees come to work at Happy State Bank, they’re not just joining one of the Best Companies to Work for (2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013); they’re joining the “Happy” family. The day an employee starts, they’re immediately inducted into a work family that’s all about supporting each other.

One way employees are able to show support is through “For Happy Sake,” a program funded by employees, for employees. Contributions to the fund can be made by payroll deduction and include a dollar-for-dollar bank match. In 2014, total employee contributions exceeded $35,000. A board of employees prayerfully discusses submissions and how to best help alleviate financial burden for those employees who are in need. Most companies ask that employees leave their issues at the door; Happy has created an open forum for employees to share their burdens so that they can be prayed over and uplifted.


Words of encouragement are another way employees can support one another. Through the “Pat on the Back” program, named after Happy’s CEO, Pat Hickman, Officers can nominate employees who they feel have done something exceptional and deserve praise. An e-mail is sent out to let everyone know how that particular employee is exceptional, and the employee is literally given a “Pat on the Back” from the nominator. See the photos of employees with pat on the back patches.

However, there’s more to joining the Happy family than just supporting one another; more than anything, Happy supports putting family first – all the time, every time. Employees are not just allowed to take time off to be with family, they’re expected to. In fact, “Family First” is one of the twenty core values that guide employees on how to be present and active in building the “Happy” culture. Any employee will gladly report that these core values are more than words on paper – they’re the Happy way.

Back to top

Victor Corella, Nearsoft


Featured in December, 2015 Culture ROLE MODELS


“I’m able to be myself.  To yell if I want to.  To sulk if I need to.  And to be completely honest with the people around me with no repercussion since they know me for who I am not who I’m expected to be.” Victor Corella, Programmer, Nearsoft, Mexico/California.

Roberto Martinez and Matt Perez, the co-founders, aren’t the kind of heroic activists who get featured on the front of business magazines by force of will, command and control, or by building an emotionally charged personality cult. They’ve figured out none of that is a good idea for building a great company in the emerging work world of the participation age.

Nearsoft promotes self-management and runs their company without any managers. Everyone decides for themselves what needs to be done. Lack of control is the illusion people have. But when you give people true freedom to make decisions, become leaders, and solve problems, it makes them more responsible, not less. Everyone at Nearsoft is completely free to take care of the important things.

In 2007, Nearsoft was founded based on two simple but profound assumptions: everyone is an adult and should be treated that way, and everyone wants to be responsible, not just a very few who are “in charge” of others.

Clear roles and well-defined processes are consistent with self-managed companies. The difference is that instead of having roles, responsibilities, and processes foisted on them by top-down command and control structures, the staff themselves determine who will do what and how it will get done. Development of roles and processes by those who will have to carry them out guarantees ownership of the result. Traditionally managed companies only hope for such “engagement.”

Nearsoft runs on five core values: leadership, commitment, teamwork, long-term relationships, and being smart and getting things done. And they have two corresponding principles: transparency and honesty. These are not filler for annual reports, but values that everyone at Nearsoft believes in.  Nearsoft makes all their decisions based on whether they are aligned with these five values.

Part of being an adult is deciding where to work. Sometimes working at home is best and other times coming in to the office to collaborate is more effective. Nobody manages that, the teams decide for themselves according to Nearsoft’s working from home manifesto.

Back to top

Jon Wedel, Namaste Solar


Featured in November, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“The democratic process that Namasté Solar embraces and uses is my most loved part of our workplace. I love working with a group of people fully engaged and committed to making sure all voices are heard prior to, during, and after decisions are made”.  Jon Wedel, Namaste Solar, Operations & Maintenance and Commercial Service, Boulder, Colorado.

Namasté Solar’s mission is to propagate the responsible use of solar energy, pioneer conscientious business practices, and create “holistic wealth” for the company’s team and the community at large.

“Holistic wealth” means emphasizing the importance of the whole and the interdependence of its parts. This concept benefits all stakeholders equitably – customers, employees, investors, communities and the environment. This multi-stakeholder approach is one of the characteristics that allowed Namasté Solar to become a certified B-Corp, a prestigious certification given to companies with a deeper purpose that includes benefiting society and the environment, not just maximizing financial returns.

Namasté Solar strives to make the company’s core values a part of daily vocabulary. These core values include distributed leadership; a co-ownership mentality; F.O.H. (frank, open and honest) communication; fun; long-term thinking; accountability; safety; holistic perspective; entrepreneurialism; and stakeholder balancing.

As an employee-owned cooperative, Namasté Solar’s “Co-Owners” each own a single share of voting common stock. In order to become a Co-Owner, long-term employees must complete a one-year “candidacy” period during which they complete a specialized training curriculum. After completing their candidacy period, Candidates can then petition for Co-Ownership and buy one share for $5,000 via cash or a 4-year share purchase loan. They then receive an equal percentage of the company’s profits based on time spent as a Co-Owner, can participate in democratic stockholder votes, and can run for the company’s Board of Directors.


2015 Retreat

Fostering a healthy and fun culture is also very important to all “Namastaliens,” and the company has its own language, fun rituals, and history. In addition to the one-year candidacy training curriculum (with a 20-point checklist) that helps Co-Owners learn about the culture, the company provides regular forums for open group interaction, an internal “intranet” bulletin board, and an internal book club that reads and discusses books and articles on relevant business topics.

One of the company’s core values, “Distributed Leadership,” relies on everyone throughout the organization to positively recognize contributions to the company’s mission and operations. Big Picture Meetings include the reading aloud of positive customer feedback, plus the opportunity for team members to express appreciation for each other’s efforts. Each office also has recognition bulletin boards, where kudos and congratulations can be posted.

Back to top

Phil Cunningham, Firespring


Featured in January 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“I love working with creative, energetic, good-humored people that genuinely enjoy helping one another succeed. Getting work done while laughing with your fellow team members—who doesn’t love that?”  Phil Cunningham, Account Executive, Firespring, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Firespring is obsessed with its clients’ success, and actively believes each client has the capacity to change the world. The company’s highest priority is to create an abundance of positive social impact, and it uses the greatest resources it has to leverage the company as a force for good: technology, money and people. This is called the Power of 3 program, wherein Firespring gives back 3% of its human resources (team members volunteer 1 day every month with local nonprofits), 3% of products (3% of clients are nonprofits that receive free products and services) and 3% of profit (cash contributions to local nonprofits).

As part of its Power of 3 program, Firespring and its founders donated more than $1 million to seed-fund the Nonprofit Hub in Lincoln. The Hub is Nebraska’s first collaborative workspace exclusively for nonprofit organizations and social entrepreneurs.

In 2014, Firespring became the first Certified B Corporation in Nebraska, joining TOMS Shoes, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia and more than 1,500 other companies leading a global movement to redefine success in business. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

At Firespring, core values are more than just platitudes posted on a website: they represent the reality of how people within a company operate, rather than being aspirational. The list is simple, to the point and unfiltered:

  1. Bring it. Every day.
  2. Have each other’s back.
  3. Give a shit.

These values, when combined with the company’s purpose of being a force for good, has created a vibrant work culture at Firespring. The average adult spends more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, so CEO Wilkinson wanted team members to work at a place that energized them, rather than sucking the life out of them.

Daily meetings are held here at 11:11 a.m.

Daily meetings are held here at 11:11 a.m.

Every business day since 2007, all Firespring team members have gathered at 11:11 am for a meeting that never lasts longer than 11 minutes. At this meeting, they recognize one another for living their values and highlight key numbers that drive the business. Everything, including financial results, is shared with team members. Once a month, they gather at an all-team meeting and dig deeper. Three team members are inducted into the culture hall of fame every quarter.

Back to top

Mara Ferguson, Zingerman’s


Featured in August, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS


“I love working at Zingerman’s because I get to be an Owner. In every sense of the word. I get to own (and take responsibility for) my own talents, my personal development, my vision of the future, my role in the success of our businesES and an actual share of the Zingerman’s Community of Business.” Mara Ferguson, Zingerman’s Training, Keynote Liaison, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Once called “The Coolest Small Company in America,” Zingerman’s is unique. Started as a small corner deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the food purveyor has earned international accolades for its remarkable company culture. Today, Zingerman’s represents a community of nine businesses, each focused on its own specialty, from baked goods to mail order items to coffee.

Team members are encouraged to share ideas and work together towards the collective success of the organization. As many people as practical are involved in the operation of the business, and each employee’s abilities, creativity, experience and intelligence are identified and utilized. The result is a growing team of happy, healthy and motivated employees—and equally happy customers.

Open book management, which Zingerman’s practices, is not a spectator sport—it’s not just about showing people the numbers. Transparency is important, but open book management involves everyone participating in running the business. It’s about people understanding how the whole organization works and their roles within it; it’s about accountability, collaboration, and taking initiative; it’s about looking forward and working together to win. An open book organization is more fun, more interesting, and, bottom line: it just plain works.

Zingermans also shares their knowledge with the outside world with a variety of different training programs.


They publish a series of books called the Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, and the company even has its own publishing arm, Zingerman’s Press! With nine businesses, healthy profits, happy staffers and a superlative international reputation, Zingerman’s is a true model of success.

Back to top

Victor Lujan, GSD&M


Featured in January, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS.


“My coworkers are like family. We laugh, cry and sometimes argue with each other. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot of love in my workplace.” Victor Lujan, GSD&M, QA Analyst, Social Club Leader, Austin, Texas.

The leaders of GSD&M consider no assets more valuable than its people and its culture. In the Words of the agency’s leadership team: “the company is built on love and momentum—without love, it would be just another business, and without momentum, it would wither.”

This philosophy started with the entrepreneurial spirit of the company’s creators. It was simple: They wanted to stay in Austin, stay together and make a difference. And these goals—which have created a strong foundation for the organization’s growth—are ones the team still shares today.

Wall of Clients

Wall of Clients

“Our culture didn’t happen by chance,” says SVP/People Dorian Girard. “Our founders were grounded in the golden rule and knew that how you act and treat each other is what’s important. We have great people here at GSD&M—some of the most caring, talented, passionate, collaborative, restless and curious people out there. All this makes for a great culture to create ideas that make a difference—together.”

And as important as it is for the company to build its agency community, it values helping maintain the local community as well. Annually, GSD&M helps over 26 non-profits with creative and design assistance and its 4Ward Program gives each employee up to four hours of PTO a month to volunteer for an organization of their choice. Not only does it allow staffers to build a relationship with their community, but it also lets them experience important and humbling causes together.

Team members love what they do, where they do it and who they do it with, and the culture allows for individuality and freedom. Whether new to GDS&M or not, the company wants to insure staffers feel at home, so this year they launched Join In, a program to provide employees with the opportunities and resources to build relationships across the agency.

Of course, while the GSD&M team works hard, they play hard, too. The group takes what they love about their hometown, Austin, Texas, and fully embraces it—from breakfast tacos, kegs of locally brewed beer and private performances by Austin musicians, to the annual South by Southwest 4,000-person bash. For 2015, Adweek deemed the 5th Annual GSD&M SXSW Party “one of the best parties at South by Southwest”.

Back to top

Jim Licko, Ground Floor Media


Featured in the December, 2015 issue of Culture ROLE MODELS.


“The culture at GroundFloor Media starts with trust and mutual respect throughout the entire team, which leads to an extremely high level of autonomy. When it matters less about where team members do their work, what time of day they do their work or exactly how they did their work, and more about the quality of their work product, you have a culture that supports a unique “work life blend” and a team that is happier, healthier and more driven in their work.” Jim Licko, Ground Floor Media and Co-Founder of CenterTable, Denver, Colorado.

The company enjoys a unique culture based on celebrating accomplishments and encouraging camaraderie. Leaders treat team members more like friends than people on the payroll, and this commitment to employees has resulted in a remarkably low attrition rate – about two percent annually.

GroundFloor Media has no set “office hours” – GFMers can work at any time, from anywhere, provided they get their work done. This allows team members to attend children’s school activities, get a haircut, go to doctor’s appointments, etc., without having to use personal time, which ends up making them more productive as employees and happier as individuals.

GFM has always been committed to giving back. Since its inception, the agency has donated the equivalent of nearly 15 percent of annual revenues back to the community through cash contributions, pro bono public relations, reduced billing rates for nonprofit clients and staff time committed to community organizations.   

GFM also believes that one of the cornerstones of a strong culture is the ability to celebrate both success and failure. The team has an annual Groundhog Day “holiday” celebration over Ground Hog Day— a getaway for employees and significant others at various cool locations, most recently at Denver’s Union Station, complete with a cocktail reception, dinner and overnight accommodations. They even flew everyone to Las Vegas to celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary a few years ago.

The company has Outward Bound Professional team-building days including high ropes course, rock-climbing and an eco-challenge course featuring river crossings, rock-climbing and rappelling with an overnight stay in a luxurious mountain home and a catered dinner by a personal chef; surprise “free/fun” days out of the office including a Rockies day game, spa day, a trip to a casino via a stretch limo, and a “choose your own adventure” day where GFM paid for everyone to go enjoy their favorite activities in downtown Denver; and Beer Club – the company’s graphic designer is also a home brewer, and hosts regular “GFM Beer Club” sessions in which he teaches team members about different styles of beer.


GFM also offers health and wellness benefits including a monthly $50 “active lifestyle allowance” that can be used for a variety of purposes from gym membership and yoga classes to therapeutic massages or new skis; an on-site gym featuring a treadmill, elliptical trainer, free weights, balance balls, an Apple TV and a treadmill desk; Free B-Cycle membership (Denver’s bike sharing program) to encourage employees to bike to meetings or lunch; and walking meetings, to keep everyone active.

Back to top

Bud Bartholomew, HomeAdvisor


Featured in January, 2017 issue of ROLE MODELS.


“Working for HomeAdvisor is an awesome experience every day!  I am amazed at the talent, drive and sense of adventure our employees have.  I truly love being a part of a team that takes pride in everything they do, every day!” Bud Bartholomew, HR Program Manager, HomeAdvisor Corporate, Golden, Colorado,

As the nation’s largest online home improvement marketplace, Home Advisor has connected more than 35 million homeowners to their network of pre-screened home service professionals which was started in 1999. Because planning is integral to the completion of any great home project, they offer design inspiration, budgeting tools and advice.

Great people make great companies. They know how fortunate they are to employ the intelligent, diverse, dedicated, and hard-working individuals they have on staff. That’s why they make it a point to foster a positive culture and energetic atmosphere where everyone knows their contributions are appreciated. And since all work and no play makes for one boring place to work, their HR Culture and Wellness team works hard so they can play hard.

The sky’s the limit when you work at HomeAdvisor. They have great leaders who encourage employees to learn and grow, they have got cool perks like on-site bikes and basketball, and lots of chances to feel good about doing good for the community. It’s fun coming to work. The company offers extras too – tuition reimbursement, discounts on everything from sporting events to mobile plans, and employee appreciation events that put the traditional company picnic to shame.


Back to top