Here's how Top Workplaces do it better

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Columbus CEO's Top Workplaces 2021

To be named a Top Workplace is no overnight feat. Instead, it takes time and true dedication to creating an environment that a team can truly thrive in, and for nearly a decade, companies have adjusted, listened and grown to continuously meet and exceed expectations.

Here are the ingredients for success as shared by three companies that have won the Top Workplaces award from Columbus CEO for several years in a row.

More:Top Workplaces 2021: Here are the best places to work in Columbus

Rules of the road

To be named a Top Workplace is no overnight feat. Instead, it takes time and true dedication to creating an environment that a team can truly thrive in, and for nearly a decade, these three companies have adjusted, listened and grown to continuously meet and exceed expectations.

Ricart Automotive has placed as a Top Workplace for nine years, but president Rick Ricart is the first to admit the road wasn’t always smooth. Just over a decade ago, the company faced the challenge of redemption, not only for customers, but for the team.

Ricart credits his understanding of the company to his father and uncle, who started him at Ricart Auto at the very bottom of the totem pole. In a period called “the gauntlet,” Ricart jokes, he was required to work more hours than any other team member and pull the best numbers, with little credit. 

For the eight years he worked alongside other employees, he valued the authentic feedback he would get from customers. Still, he recalls feeling shocked when a 2010 Nissan survey revealed that while Ricart Auto was the closest Nissan dealer to many, they still wouldn’t choose to give the company their service—67 percent credited this to poor reputation or past experience. 

“We knew we had to do something on a monumental change to redirect the entire culture of the company,” Ricart says. 

Soon after, Ford Motor Co. unveiled the “customer experience movement,” which included a survey for employees to assess the quality of the workplace. Something like that would usually have been overlooked by Ricart Auto, Ricart says, but the company decided to survey over 500 employees on how they felt about management. The feedback was less than ideal.

The need for change at this point was unquestionable, and it started first with having the humility to look in the mirror and admit there was room to improve. Because the team spent such a long time working at the company, it was crucial to make it known that they are family, Ricart says. 

Ricart Automotive employees (pre-pandemic)

Ricart credits his understanding of the company to his father and uncle, who started him at Ricart Auto at the very bottom of the totem pole. In a period called “the gauntlet,” Ricart jokes, he was required to work more hours than any other team member and pull the best numbers, with little credit. 

Ricart recalls the dealer’s founder, Paul Ricart Sr., was famous for saying: “You take care of your employees, your customers and vendors—in that order.” Channeling that energy, Ricart first notes that the team began to stick up for employees more, understanding that sometimes, the customer may not be right.

Next in the series of changes was the switch to hourly pay versus commission, a rare model for a car dealership. Regardless of the day an employee had, it is fundamental that they still get paid, Ricart says. Under the new system, after 18 months team members can switch to commission if they choose. The schedule also changed to allow employees four days on and three days off. A weekend free each month became a promise.

More advances in workplace culture followed, including a dedicated “Rules of the road” guidebook, and just two years later, Ricart Auto placed as a Top Workplace, a title it has held ever since. This is the highest honor for Ricart, for whom the team is the top priority. 

“Our staff is more than advocates. They’re more than just ambassadors of our brand,” he says. “They truly are family. And they take pride in that, they take pride in telling their family.”  

S-S Bendure Hartwig employees (pre-pandemic)

From the inside out

With good seed in fertile ground, there will be growth. 

That’s how Jim Surace, owner of the S-S Bendure Hartwig insurance agency, describes not only the company, but the staff, who have nominated the agency eight years consecutively as a Top Workplace. Goodness starts from the inside out, and the workplace reflects that belief, he says.

It wasn’t in Surace’s plan to work in life insurance, but rather a calling from God, he says. Prior, he worked in real estate. It was 1983 when he started working for McKinney, Texas-based American Income Life Insurance Co., and within two years, he became the agency owner for what is today known as S-S Bendure Hartwig. 

In 2006, Surace brought on Marcus Smith as a partner. In 2018, Pat Bendure and Dan Hartwig joined the two. Each partner brought a strong work ethic, Surace says, and as employees first, they had an opportunity to learn about the company’s top values: mind, body and spirit. 

Those three values are seen in all facets of the company. Employees, or “business athletes,” as Surace calls them, commonly carry with them a competitive nature, nurtured by sports or other activities. The competitive drive they offer is a gift that can be adapted perfectly for the business setting, and the team teaches them how to market themselves both on and off the clock.

Surace and the executive team also work to ingrain a service mentality in team members. S-S Bendure Hartwig is one of few insurance agencies that still offer in-home consultations, and to take that personalized service further, the team is raised to have a serve, not sell, approach that many lack. 

“It’s not just all about making the money,” Surace says. “To us, money is more a symptom of a better mission, which is to serve people.” 

With a focus on the spiritual side, Surace also offers a monthly meeting designed to relate life lessons to the Bible to help his team understand their personal journey. While voluntary, about 80 percent of the staff attends, he says.

For partner Bendure, maintaining the mind, body, spirit concept is a must. The team is like family, and that status is achieved by always making himself available to the nearly 130 employees, something many executives forget to do, he says. 

After nearly four decades with the company, Surace spends most of his time mentoring his staff and working to ensure they are becoming their best selves—dedication he believes contributes to the company’s status. 

“I know that if our people are standing on solid ground, if they’re pouring into their mind and they’re keeping healthy,” Surace says. “If they’re spiritually in a good place, they’re more undaunted by those things life will throw at them and don’t succumb to the valleys of life.”

Be real, go beyond and help someone

Amber Walton speaks to fellow employees during RevLocal's "Prime Time Live" monthly meeting photographed on Thursday, April 8, 2021.  (Photo by Rob Hardin)

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has ushered in hardship and new operations for many businesses. However, for RevLocal CEO Marc Hawk, the virus also brought something good for the digital marketing company. Despite a pandemic year, the company placed as a Top Workplace for its seventh consecutive year.

The company’s Granville headquarters was filled with a high-energy, inviting culture before COVID-19, and while the office remains largely unoccupied today, the energy has not shifted. Instead, the team has adapted and come together in a new way.

“COVID has become a high point for us because it became a fire that we all had to walk through together,” Hawk says. “Once you’ve done something really difficult together, there’s a bond there.”  

The shift to at-home work changed the operations of the company’s 180 salespeople and the entire staff’s day-to-day. In such a crucial time for adjustment, Hawk shares that the secret to maintaining a positive environment is to be an active listener. Instead of a top-down model, leadership sought guidance from all levels. 

Changes included an increase in daily communication and virtual one-on-ones, offering continuous recognition and remaining dedicated to providing a workplace the team looks forward to returning to. Together, the team has also managed to earn back the losses that resulted from the first three months of the pandemic.

Much of the stress of these sudden shifts was eased by the longstanding values at RevLocal: be real, go beyond and help someone. These three values were established thanks to a survey of customers and staff that questioned what people think about the company, Hawk says, and it was fundamental to establishing the current culture. 

To the team, being real encompasses transparency and honesty, even when the truth isn’t ideal, both internally and externally. To go beyond is to do the scrappy work that others shy away from, a value Hawk says creates a better version of ourselves, which also ties into the value of stepping out of the convenience of comfort zones to help others. 

“With a culture like that, we can manage a lot of the change that’s happened to us,” Hawk says. “And that will continue to happen. It’s not stopping.” 

Over time, the strategies of RevLocal have grown and changed vastly to meet the needs of a growing market. However, the values the company exhibits have largely stayed the same. In this way, as the company grows, those who serve it also can grow. 

“We believe if our people live those [values], then our clients will feel value, our clients will be loyal to us,” Hawk says. “If we treat each other in these ways, we’ll also be loyal to each other and have a great working environment.”

jdeyo@dispatch.com