I'm sitting with Amy Ruud inside
Central Perk, drinking coffee and talking about stand-up comedy.
No, this isn't Friends: The Next Generation, this is the main
employee lounge at ePrize,
the interactive promotions and brand marketing company located in
Pleasant Ridge, MI.
We've all heard the fantastic stories
about how great it is to work for Google and all the perks their
employees have unlimited access to (free food, laundry, child care,
massages, fitness equipment, and even a giant slide to get between
floors). Ann Arbor may host its own incarnation of Planet Google's
offices, but ePrize is our homegrown contribution to the Michigan
Business & Professional Association's "101 Best and
Brightest Companies to Work For."
Multiple floors all
done up in greens and purples, with a contemporary design and an open
floor plan conducive to conversation and paper football, the home
offices of ePrize were designed with the intention of creating a fun,
relaxed, inviting environment for the hundred or so creatives who
work inside the hive. This is the team responsible for putting
together over 6,000 promotions in 36 countries - for the likes of
Yahoo, Microsoft, GM, and Facebook.
Inside Central Perk is a
flat-screen television (with digital cable) hooked up to a Nintendo
Wii and an Xbox 360. There is also a pinball machine, a foosball
table, and a giant stuffed banana.
"It is not uncommon
to find this banana sitting at your desk in the morning," Amy
tells me with a grin. This is definitely the kind of place where they
like to have fun, and are encouraged to do so.
Amy is a
Senior Producer on the Client Solutions team, and she is also part of
the "Team Satisfaction" focus group which monitors exactly
that - just how satisfied team members are in the workplace. "Because
of some cutbacks made during the economic downturn, overall team
satisfaction was down. We wanted to boost morale, to make people
The goal was to address some of
the frustrations people were feeling and try to alleviate them; one
adjustment included having Amy, who moonlights as a stand-up comic,
"emcee" the last staff call to make it more fun.
satisfaction is vital to an organization such as ePrize, which is
considered the worldwide leader in interactive programs and has won
numerous industry awards for their work. "The Power of 'e'"
is the cornerstone of their cultural values - thinking big and always
innovating - and their employees readily adopt it.
employees, we initiate change ourselves," Amy states. "People
hear you, listen to you, care about you and what you have to say.
They hired you because you're smart and you take initiative; they
don't want to hold you back from that."
As Amy gives me
the full guided tour of the building, we stop in and say hi to
Josh—as in, Josh Linkner, who founded this company himself 11 years
ago. Josh's door is open and we are greeted warmly. With a broad
smile he asks Amy about the stand-up show she was performing that
evening; jokes ensue. And this guy's the owner.
not just what the building looks like, it's what we stand for,"
Amy emphasizes later. "The founder is completely accessible; I
can email him directly and he'll actually respond to me. He genuinely
cares about this company. He cares about the people who work here. We
can walk right up and pop in to his office and say 'hi;' that
doesn't happen at most places."
"I always wanted to
work for a company like this but thought I had to move out to
California to find it; I never thought it was here all this time just
three miles from where I lived!"
The enthusiasm with
which she speaks of the company is infectious. ""I've been
here for four years and every day I learn something new. There are
moments I want to pull my hair out and scream, but at the end of the
day I'm still excited I get to come here every morning and I will
preach it to anyone who will listen!"
Amy continues to
evangelize the "Power of 'e'" by stating, "As a
company, we're very transparent - there's not a lot of secrecy. When
things are going wrong in the company, they tell us." Employees
are treated as people, not numbers, and that difference is evident in
the quality of the work they produce. ePrize has handled promotions
for 75 of Fortune's Top 100 companies and continues to lead the
industry in web-based interactive marketing and promotions. "It's
just a great place to work. And it's in Michigan! And I work here!
ePrize is just one place that
recognizes the value of their employees as assets to the company's
The big "O"
At Organic Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Senior Copywriter Nathan Rogers has a flexible
schedule, gets to wear jeans to work, and participates in the
"infamous beer bash" on Friday afternoons. "We have
people who are in bands or are comedians or have dentist appointments
to go to and Organic doesn't really stop any of that from happening.
In fact, your boss is likely to end up in the audience for your
Nathan notes that while there is a hierarchical
structure, it's not readily apparent. "Everyone's approachable.
Sure, some of the higher-ups have offices, but I think they'd say
they have an open door policy - if they were cheesy enough to say
something like that."
Organic Inc. is considered the
world's first digital advertising agency, and is headquartered in San
Francisco with satellite offices in New York, Toronto, LA, and
Detroit. They are credited with creating the Internet's first banner
ads, and since launching in 1993 they have become a fully multi-media
agency which is one of only a handful of agencies that can deliver
accurate predictive intelligence (which predicts the results of a
marketing campaign before it happens). Organic is widely regarded for
delivering the best design and creative work in addition to utilizing
the most cutting-edge technology to optimize their
While creative and technology-driven fields tend
to be a bit "geeky" in nature, Nathan surmises that "maybe
Organic has more geeks because we're treated well, so that's more
incentive to stick around and do great work."
are encouraged to learn the Organic philosophy at "Camp
Organic." Think Project Runway for advertisers: teams are flown
out to Las Vegas a couple of times a year to "come up with the
best pitch and sleep as little as possible." Camp O is kind of a
back-to-the-basics approach to delivering campaigns, which includes
personally interviewing members of the core demographic and even
getting tips for better presentations from live storytelling groups
like "The Moth."
was the most trying professional experience I imagine I will ever
have, but somehow I want to go back," Nathan says. "You can
work for Organic without going to Camp O, but it really does feel
like an initiation."
And another employee takes the
Food, glorious, food
But a business doesn't have to be in the creative or
technology industries to have fully-invested employees. Take
Zingerman's in Ann Arbor: They've developed such a rigorous training
program for their own staff of individual experts that they have made
it available to other companies via seminars, custom training, and
DVDs. It's called the "Zing Train", and it's easy to jump on.
approach that they have found to be particularly successful is "Open
Book Finance," which means employees are well-versed in the
company's finances, making them more invested in the company's
It is no doubt that the Zingerman's empire has been
successful in this approach, but is it practical elsewhere? Ben Hall
When Ben Hall and Jason Murphy took over ownership
of Eastern Market's Russell St. Deli a little over two years ago, they
had a very specific objective in fostering a positive relationship
with their employees. "If your staff is running your system they
will truly care. We take a pragmatic approach to operations - if this
thing isn't working, let's try this instead."
at ePrize and Organic, the employees at Russell St. are treated as if
their opinions matter. They are also given incentives almost unheard
of in an independently-owned restaurant: Medical insurance, a dental
plan, and an IRA which ownership contributes to at the maximum level.
"We have extremely low turnover here," says Hall.
"Ultimately, we develop really strong loyalty in our staff which
translates to great craftsmanship and consideration regarding the
food, which of course translates to really happy customers."
is extremely important to Hall and Murphy that they also keep their
employees up on every decision they make regarding the business. "One
of the problems business owners have is not being able to teach their
employees how these [business decisions] work," Hall explains.
"We talk about these things in meetings so people know why we
make these choices—we don't want there to be a huge separation
between [our decisions and the] employees' understanding."
let you know exactly what's going on from top to bottom - from the
money being made to the broom in the corner," says Ray Wagner,
Kitchen Manager. "Every six months they present us with a
pamphlet that has a breakdown of all the money coming in and going
out, letting us know exactly where the business is. No [other
business] is open like that and lets you know what's what."
For Hall and Murphy an effective business model is one that
promotes both education and good will. The end result is that in the
28 months since they acquired the deli they have taken what was once
a struggling business that had trouble breaking $600,000 with little
or no profit and made it a $1 million/year business that has grown
35% during the worst economic conditions in the last 25 years. They
are also committed to greening efforts with a zero-waste policy, and
implement year-round fundraising efforts for Gleaners Food Bank.
Whether it is in the way employee knowledge is incentivized
through various perks and cushy treatment, or the way in which vital
information about the company is shared openly with the staff in
order to increase awareness and make them more invested in the
business's success, it seems obvious that the more an employee is
treated as a valued team member -as a person- the happier they will
be, and the more successful the business can become as a result.
Nicole Rupersburg fancies herself an expert too.
She likes Detroit, eating, and writing her blog
diningindetroit.blogspot.com. Her prevoius article for Metromode
was Turn Up The Heat: Salsa Dancing In Metro Detroit
All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here
Balloon day at ePrize
game room at ePrize
Organic Inc. employees
Russell Street Deli
Diners at Russell Street Deli