The 5 Best Places to Work in the Meetings Industry for 2019
By Sarah F.J. Braley & Loren G. Edelstein
Now in its eighth year, M&C's annual selection of Best Places to Work cites companies in the meetings industry that prioritize employee well being just as much as bottom-line profits. To determine the honorees, our editorial team reviews lists and ratings from respected sources such as Fortune and Glassdoor, combs local business journals, and solicits suggestions from meetings industry sources and readers. Discover why five enlightened companies are this year's chosen standouts.
Chris Nassetta likes to think of Hilton as a family of 400,000. When he joined the hospitality giant as president/CEO in 2007, though, that familial vibe was somewhat lacking.
"When I got here 12 years ago, I realized there was something we weren't doing well," he told M&C in an exclusive interview in February. "We weren't really building a global culture that was focused on purpose, and giving everybody in our organization something to believe in that was bigger than them, and that they were a part of."
Owners are always happy to invest in hotels for the sake of customers, said Nassetta, "but what about the people who take care of the customers? What about where they live, and the locker rooms and the cafeteria where we feed them? What about making it brighter and cheerier, and making sure they know that they matter?
"We're a service industry," Nassetta added. "We're in the business of serving people. That has to start with serving our own people. So, I began — with a lot of help — on a journey to build our culture and to embrace our employees and treat them the way they should be treated. Over that 12-year journey, we have done many things to invest in our people, in our culture, and to make Hilton a very special place."
Under Nassetta's watch, Hilton launched a number of employee-centric initiatives. Among them:
• In addition to generous maternity and paternity leave, Hilton reimburses up to $10,000 in adoption expenses per child, with no limit to the number of adoptions.
• The "Heart of House" program was launched in 2015 to create inviting back-of-house environments that rival the hotels' front of house. Among the improvements: new locker rooms, upgraded WiFi and a transition from cafeteria-style to restaurant-style staff dining.
• After Nassetta tried on a housekeeping jacket and found it stiff and uncomfortable, Hilton launched a partnership with Under Amour last year to design a custom line of hotel uniforms made of performance-grade fabrics.
That sense of caring extends to charitable programs at all levels of the organization throughout the year, but especially during the hotel chain's annual Global Week of Service. In 2018, team members in 93 countries participated in 4,926 charitable projects through the corporate Travel With Purpose initiative.
"We've done those things and a whole bunch of others to say, 'You are part of our family. We want to take care of you. You're part of our purpose,' " said Nassetta. "Knowing that, they are inspired to take even better care of our customers."
In hotels and at company headquarters, locals are invited to join the family. At Hilton's global headquarters in McLean, Va., the ground floor has been transformed into The Social, a 10,000-square-foot public gathering space for employees and the community. Designed to resemble Hilton's most modern hotels, The Social has a reception area, an international food hall, a full-service Starbucks, collaborative workspaces and an outdoor terrace.
That space was overflowing with celebratory balloons on Feb. 14 this year, when Fortune revealed this year's list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. One year earlier, the hotel chain was pleased to rank at No. 34 on the coveted list. This year Hilton was No. 1.
When asked how the chain made the leap to the top, Nassetta told M&C: "You'd have to ask all of our 400,000 associates!" Of the thousands surveyed by Fortune, 96 percent called Hilton a great place to work.
"Nothing we've done in my time here has made me more proud," a beaming Nassetta added. "Frankly, I doubt I'll be more proud of anything for the rest of my career."
Specializing in meetings, incentive programs, and corporate and personal travel, this La Jolla, Calif.-based third party started in 1995 with three employees, including founder and CEO Wendy Burk. Cadence now has 54 full-timers in nine states and three countries, as well as a host of independent contractors. The heart of the operation is tucked into a former print shop in La Jolla Cove, surrounded by trendy restaurants and shops, including a well-loved independent bookstore.
"We think about staffing like adding an ingredient to a recipe," says Burk. "What matters most is not its independent quality, but how it makes the whole dish taste."
Burk doesn't hesitate to say Cadence puts its clients second to its employees. "We invest greatly in every employee and constantly look for ways to support them and nurture their success," she notes. "We give them a safe environment in which they can freely move and grow. The result is that our clients get better care and service than anyone else provides."
Every employee at Cadence, all of whom have a designated mentor within the company, is empowered to do everything possible to make their customers feel well cared for.
Home-based employees are encouraged to visit the headquarters any time, says John Knob, director of sourcing and proposal development for the firm, who is based near Philadelphia. One perk of dropping in at the right time is a weekly class for the staff, led by La Jolla Yoga and held on the lawn behind the nearby Grand Colonial Hotel.
Cadence has embraced videoconferencing and is upgrading its systems to integrate phone or video calls at the touch of a button. In a typical conference call, says Knob, "it's hard to know when to jump in, but now, with video, everybody participates. It makes for a great interactive dynamic that has changed the experience of working from home."
Burk's caring heart — which Knob says she often demonstrates by sending out cards and books to members of the staff — extends to several charities. Cadence has partnered with ECPAT-USA, a network of organizations dedicated to ending the sexual exploitation of children, and Generate Hope, which houses people who are rescued from sex trafficking. At the annual holiday party last December, proceeds from a silent auction, an impressive $20,000, went to Generate Hope.
"We take a lot of pride in hiring the right fit for our company," says Michelle Wyatt, one half of the husband-wife team that owns this Forest Hill, Md.-based event technology and management firm. "Everyone with a stake in a new employee's success is included in the hiring process," she adds. "It's crucial to our culture as a work-hard/play-hard, family-friendly and employee-focused company."
That philosophy pays off when Wyatt periodically asks the staff why they love working for the company. The answer is always the same: "the people."
CadmiumCD's employees, a 65-person team, are charged with improving and selling the company's suite of event-tech tools, as well as servicing clients using the technology, which features mobile apps, websites, floor plans, survey tools and more. The company was founded in 2000 by Michelle and her husband, Peter. When marketing manager Michael Doane joined five years ago, the firm occupied about 25 percent of their two-story building; by this fall it will fill the whole space.
"One thing that's great about this location, it's in a business park that has a hiking trail that connects to a lake and goes through a forest," says Doane. Lunch breaks often are taken outdoors.
Flexible schedules and comp time are among perks the staff appreciates. "If you work a 12-hour day, you get a 12-hour day off; if you usually work 40 hours, but are at a show and worked 62 hours that week, you will accrue 62 hours on your sheet," Doane notes.
While nearly 20 years old, the company retains a start-up mentality, says Doane. "We're always trying to figure out ways to improve. We are technically a flat organization; everyone can contribute to long-term opportunities and drive the company forward." A group of people working on such a project are on a "tiger team." Anyone, including a new hire, can jump in with ideas.
Meetings industry certifications, conference attendance and association dues are paid for, and courses taken to achieve advanced degrees are reimbursed, provided the employee continues to work at CadmiumCD for a set period of time.
Charitable endeavors change year-to-year, but volunteerism is so prized, the staff is incentivized to go out and help others. Employees can donate up to 40 hours of their time each year to earn an extra week's vacation.
Internal mobility is encouraged. Doane started out working on websites for the company, he says, "but we weren't doing much marketing at that time, so I moved over."
Now that's a flexible workplace.
FLIK Hospitality Group
With more than 10,000 associates, it's impressive for a company like Flik to show up on Glassdoor's top "100 Best Places to Work" list for 2019. Part of the Compass Group, a British multinational contract food-service company, the Rye Brook, N.Y.-based firm provides F&B operations for venues and hotels, as well as full management of such properties. The company has associates in more than 800 locations throughout the United States.
"We are so proud to be featured," says Neil Gardner, senior vice president of Flik's conference centers and hotels division. "Unlike other awards, there is no self-nomination or application process for the Glassdoor citation. This is entirely based on the feedback of our employees, which makes the recognition that much more remarkable."
Founded by Rudi Flik in 1971 as a strictly food-services company, Flik's mission hasn't changed: to serve fresh, seasonal and authentic ingredients with a foundation in nutrition. Today, the company runs an in-house hospitality-development program called Platinum Service that emphasizes the importance of employees going above and beyond to enhance guest satisfaction. In return, associates can earn Platinum Service Bucks that can be exchanged for rewards such as laptops, iPads, appliances and more.
"Our culture is really based on the development of our people and ensuring that they have plenty of opportunities to learn and grow," notes Sharon Richner, senior human resources director for the hospitality group.
"Simply put," adds Gardner, "if you don't take care of your team, how can you expect them to take proper care of your guests?"
Among the robust benefits Flik offers are a discount marketplace featuring extras like pet, home and auto insurance; identity-theft coverage, and travel discounts. Training options go beyond hospitality to wellness and nutrition, social media and more.
There's plenty of on-the-job fun to be had, as well. Halloween, in particular, is an employee favorite. "We work with our clients to decorate our locations and run special promotions," says Gardner. "Internally, we host a social media contest for our employees called #FLIKorTreat. We encourage associates to share their favorite Halloween treats with us on Instagram — the treats could be made at home or at work. We had a ton of people participating last year, and it was a great way to get them excited and engaged."
With its passion for feeding the masses, it's no surprise that Flik participates in efforts such as Stop Food Waste each April. "It's a way for us to communicate our commitment to ending food waste and enforcing our philosophy on sustainability," says Gardner. "As one of the leading food providers, we really need to ensure our team is leading the charge to nourish a better planet."
Orbus Exhibit & Display Group
Working diligently behind the scene at trade shows, this display and sign company, founded in 2001, creates booth and fabric displays, banners, backdrops and more for dealers around the country. Now with more than 450 employees in its Woodridge, Ill., main office and satellite in Las Vegas, Orbus has been recognized as a Best and Brightest Company to Work For by the National Association for Business Resources for four years running.
As part of the Best and Brightest process, the employees have all been surveyed, giving managers a full snapshot of what their people think of the company's culture and whether they feel their voices are heard. Orbus has also gone through a full compensation review and has established a three-year plan of advancement for its workforce.
"We wanted to make sure everyone was compensated well, to make sure we attract and retain good talent," says Natalie Whited, vice president of marketing. "Potential employees should know we are a top company to work for; people want to work for the best."
One of the main perks at Orbus is very competitive health-care coverage. The company absorbs most of the expense, almost 90 percent, so employees don't have to pay much out-of-pocket. "We've done a fabulous job of negotiating this," notes Whited proudly.
Last year, a social committee that plans events organized a fundraiser for ProjectCAT, which preserves tiger habitats. "We raised about $14,000 by allowing people to pay for up to a month of casual-dress days, with the money going to the charity," says Whited, who calls the company's culture fun and fast-paced. Other community-minded efforts support the Andrew Green Foundation, which helps build schools in Haiti and assists single mothers there in starting small businesses.
Back at the home office in Illinois, expansion plans are in the works that will allow space to resume company ping-pong tournaments, which were discontinued to fit in more workstations to accommodate the growing team.
"Talking about all this makes me appreciate all that we have to offer that many companies don't or can't afford to do," says Whited. And that's precisely why Orbus is a Best Place to Work in the Meetings Industry.
This article first appeared in Meetings & Conventions Magazine on March 6, 2019.
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