Top Workplaces: Here's Columbus' No. 1 large company, according to employees
Before he launched his first business venture, Dan Snyder spent 10 years working for others in the financial industry. He saw decisions made and policies implemented that he considered smart, and he saw plenty of things he disagreed with.
He observed one constant, though, and fixing that common workplace flaw has become a priority at Lower, the two-year-old New Albany-based financial technology company that has created a one-stop shop for customers who can save for a home, find a real-estate agent to help them locate it, get a mortgage with favorable terms and a competitive interest rate, and buy insurance.
There was never enough communication at the other places he has worked, Snyder says, so as Lower’s CEO and founder, he tells employees to offer feedback about anything and everything. “If you don’t like something—if you don’t like the coffee we’re serving—don’t tell your neighbor,” he says. “Tell someone or leave a suggestion. We’ll do something about it if we can.”
Strong, open communication is all part of the Snyder’s mission to create an unshakable workplace culture that he says not only helped the company survive the disruption of COVID-19 but allowed the venture to thrive through it. Lower added 300 employees to its payroll in 2020, he says, and it currently brings in about 50 new employees for training every other week.
Companies that overthink their culture often end up creating inauthentic environments that simply make people roll their eyes, Snyder says. Companies that do it right—and doing it right means belief, buy-in and commitment from the people in charge, too—attract and retain top talent.
“Culture needs to be top-down,” he says. “If I don’t believe in it, no one will believe in it.”
Lower had been in business for just 15 months when the shift to remote work occurred, Snyder says, but employees didn’t miss a beat. Weekly standup meetings turned into 500-person Zoom calls. Although Snyder insists culture isn’t built on happy hours and workplace ping pong tables, team leaders initiated online games and contests to maintain some sense of camaraderie.
It all helped the startup company capitalize on pandemic-fueled growth in people’s acceptance of remote business. In December, Lower added savings accounts and other services to its original focus on mortgage loan origination. In January, the company launched an app for its customers that makes its services even more accessible.
He says many of Lower’s new employees either lost jobs or left companies where the pandemic made them feel insecure about their future. “We picked up so many good people that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For Snyder, workplace culture is built on trust. At Lower, which ranked as a Top Workplace in the midsize category last year, trust has been built on principles such as promoting from within, rewarding people’s hard work and—counter to the pop-culture portrayal of startup environments—not punishing those who do their jobs well but don’t care to climb a corporate ladder, he says.
Snyder also believes that Lower built enough “culture capital” with its workforce during its short time before the pandemic that employees kept their faith in the company when the world became uncertain.
“This is why you build up a strong culture from the beginning,” he says. “Culture builds trust.”
Lower employees who filled out Energage’s Top Workplaces survey touched on nearly every facet of their jobs—from pay and training to coworkers and managers to opportunities for advancement and belief in the company’s mission—to explain why they like their jobs.
“Everyone listens to everyone,” one employee wrote. “If you see a problem, bring it to someone’s attention and it gets discussed and resolved quickly.”
Chelsea Wagner was one of Lower’s original employees, one of eight people who built the company while working for Homeside Financial, a home-loan company Snyder founded in 2014. Today, she’s the company’s regional vice president of lending.
She says her biggest fear was that Lower’s vaunted workplace culture would get diluted by rapid growth, but it never did. After expanding to a second floor of its original home on Walton Parkway in New Albany, Lower’s growing team relocated to Smith’s Mill Road.
Wagner says she has found, however, that people buy in quickly to Lower’s contagious culture. Yesterday’s new employees have become team leaders for the next wave of hires. Employees also tend to recommend Lower to friends and sell them on the workplace to begin with.
The happy hours and company outings and subsidized cafeteria weren’t listed by any of the Lower employees surveyed by Energage. Photos are all over the Lower’s social media and job-search sites like Glassdoor, but the perks are first brought up by Snyder as perks that the company’s culture isn’t built on.
Bob Vitale is a freelance writer.
8131 Smith’s Mill Road, New Albany 43054
Business: The 2-year-old company uses technology to help people save for, find, finance and insure their homes.
CEO: Dan Snyder
Revenue: Would not disclose