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OC METRO BUSINESS magazine's annual list of workplaces that have found the secret to success: a happy workforce.

By OC METRO BUSINESS magazine staffPublished: June 05, 2008

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It's here: OC METRO Business magazine's annual list of workplaces that have found the secret to success – a happy workforce.

What’s the difference between a regular job and a dream job? Ask the folks who work at the companies profiled on the following pages, and they’re likely to tell you it has something to do with their workplace environment and the way their employers treat them. For some, the benefits that a big league company can provide make all the difference. For others, it’s a flexible work schedule. Some simply prefer a family atmosphere, while the younger crew of Gen-Y staffers looks for a lively, hip workplace to spend their days. The organizations we feature in this issue – and others on our Web site – have discovered that perfect formula. That’s why they make up this year’s annual list of Best Companies To Work For.

They have the hip factor

Headquarters: Irvine
CEO: Torin Pavia
Web site: arbitech.com
Number of employees: 68
Product/Service: Leading alternative distributor of servers, storage and networking equipment in the U.S.
Best benefit: A trainer offers classes during the day at the company’s onsite gym.

Arbitech sells tier-one brands such as HP/Compaq, IBM, Cisco, Kingston, Toshiba, Arcmail, iStor and Microsoft to national value-added resellers (VARs). Arbitech leads the way with its low costs, higher margin availability, broad access to products and abundant customer service. It also leads the way with its “cool” factor.

Lunches are catered daily, and the company has a nutritionist who manages the quality of food and regularly stocks Arbitech’s two kitchens with breakfast food and snacks. Also, nutritional e-mails are sent out every day.

An active lifestyle also is important here: Arbitech built a gym and works with a trainer who offers weight, cardio and spin classes during the day.

This attention to activity spans farther than just company property: Every year, Arbitech sponsors a retreat for employees and their families that has taken them to exotic locations such as Puerto Vallarta, Las Vegas and the Viceroy in Palm Springs. The company also has sponsored department-based retreats to Dana Point for jet skiing, off-roading in Glamis, boating in Lake Havasu and skiing in Tahoe.

Not your typical 9 to 5
Earthbound media group

Headquarters: Irvine
COO: Blaine Behringer; chief visionary officer, Damien Navarro
Web site: earthboundmediagroup.com
Number of employees: 34
Product/service: A technology-driven strategic marketing and creative communications agency
Best benefit: EMG offers a casual, collaborative work environment, while providing and supporting opportunities to practice social and eco-responsibility.

This company is anything but earthbound. With ’07 revenues up 300 percent from the previous year, Earthbound Media Group is shooting for the moon.

EMG has a deep commitment to its employees’ quality of life and job satisfaction, evidenced by its healthy work-life balance, resulting in a low 12 percent turnover rate. The company offers employer-paid medical, dental and vision insurance coverage, tuition reimbursement, an employee referral program and convenient perks that include onsite car washes, and discounts for movie passes and local hairstyling services. A 9/80 flex schedule results in three-day weekends every other week. It also helps reduce fuel, energy and materials usage.

Laptops are provided for telecommuting, and regular extended “healthy lifestyle” lunch breaks can be used for going to the gym, taking a walk or attending a nearby yoga class.

EMG’s offices have an arcade and a Nintendo Wii, and management provides healthy food, snacks, and coffee and espresso. Compensation plays a key factor in attracting and retaining employees, and EMG upholds a competitive pay policy to achieve success through competing for the most qualified professionals. Employer-paid technical training is offered online to all team members, paid onsite management training is offered for the leadership team, and EMG pays membership to professional organizations.

They have the hip factor
Boost Mobile

Headquarters: Irvine
CEO: Matt Carter
Web site: boostmobile.com
Number of employees: 470
Product/Service: Provides premium prepaid wireless phones and services
Best benefit: Employees can bring their dogs to work with them whenever they choose.

Boost Mobile is a division of Sprint Nextel Corp. that offers premium prepaid wireless phones and services. Boost-brand wireless phones and services can be found at national retailers and independent wireless dealers. With 4 million customers, most of whom are under 26, Boost fosters a young, active work environment to match its customer base.

The company break areas have videogames, such as PacMan and air hockey, and the lobby has flat screens that air MTV, FUEL TV and VH1, for both customers and employees to watch. Boost’s walls are decorated with paintings from graffiti artists, art murals, posters, skateboards, surfboards and a BMX bike. To top it all off, one office wall is painted like a subway restroom, complete with urinal and stall poetry.

But that’s not all – employees can bring their dogs to work with them whenever they want, and employees’ children are always popping in to hang out at this cool and innovative company.

Big leagues

Deloitte Tax LLP

Headquarters: Costa Mesa
CEO: Barry Salzberg; O.C. office managing partner, Rick Rayson
Web site: deloitte.com
Number of employees: 780 in Orange County
Product/service: Professional services in finance and management
Best benefit: Deloitte offers several development programs for employees to grow within the company.

Deloitte LLP is a global operation that provides clients with professional services in finance and management, including audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk-management and tax assistance. Deloitte also works hard to make its staff feel valued.

Employees can engage in a number of development programs, such as the Breakthrough Leadership Program for top-performing managers and Deloitte Career Connections, which focuses on the interests of any job position within the company. The Deloitte Learning Center Web site offers around-the-clock access to more than 5,500 courses, as well as guidance on career development and advancement.

Giving back to the community, and working as a team to do so, is encouraged at Deloitte LLP. United Way and Junior Achievement are only two of the many organizations the company supports. Paid volunteer time is given for charitable work, and every year on the first Friday in June, employees can set aside their work to volunteer during IMPACT Day.

Not your typical 9 to 5
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Headquarters: Newport Beach
President: Skip Fox
Web site: flemingssteakhouse.com
Number of employees: 107 at Newport Beach Fleming’s; 5,900 companywide
Product/service: Steakhouse known for its prime steaks, fresh seafood and 100 wines by the glass
Best benefit: Fleming’s principles of trust, fun, excellence, balance, respect and hospitality are factored into every associate relationship. “If you take care of your people, the business will take care of itself.”

How does an entrepreneurial startup steakhouse grow from one restaurant in Orange County to 58 national locations in a little more than nine years? By hiring and retaining the best people.

Fleming’s cultivates a strong company culture for all levels of employees. Operating and chef partners run the restaurants instead of a general manager and chef. Both sign up for a five-year commitment and make an initial investment, which gives them a stake in the restaurant’s success. Because of this, Fleming’s has one of the highest retention rates in an industry rife with turnover. This allows the company to focus on staff development rather than new-hire training.

Developmental opportunities for associates, managers and partners include Cultural Summits, SteakOuts, National Chef Partner and Private Dining Meetings, WOW (World of Wine), media training and online coursework. Completion culminates in an annual trip to Napa or Sonoma for the selection of the Fleming’s 100.

The Better Yourself Through Education (BYTE) program allows managers and partners to take courses online, at their own pace. And to ensure employee satisfaction, Fleming’s contracts an outside agency to conduct surveys, and the company acts immediately to address any issues voiced by associates and managers.

All in the family
Doggie Walk Bags

Headquarters: Costa Mesa
CEO: Chris Crosson
Web site: doggiewalkbags.com
Number of employees: More than 50
Product/service: Manufacturer of environmentally friendly dog-waste cleaning products
Best benefit: You can bring your dog to work!

Since credit goes to them for inspiring the founder to create this product, doggies are welcome at this office every day. You’ve seen the blue bag every dog owner should carry at all times. Well, Doggie Walk Bags manufactures and sells the earth-friendly, 100 percent degradable bags and other necessities for cleaning up after your canine friend.

Part of what makes this company so unique is its contributions to the community. In addition to supporting adoption clinics, special-breed events, veterinarian hospitals and animal-care centers, the company partners with the Huntington Beach Union High School District’s Vocational Training Program to give disabled students an opportunity to gain work experience.

The spacious office is decorated with dog mannequins and is perfect for the comfort of the employee and his or her furry friend.

Big leagues
Cox Communications

Headquarters: Rancho Santa Margarita
Senior VP/general manager: Duffy Leone
Web site: cox.com
Number of employees: 950
Product/service: Advanced digital video, high-speed Internet, voice and long distance, and data and video transporting for businesses, large and small
Best benefit: Employees receive chiropractor and massage services, and injury prevention “back school.”

More than 300,000 people in O.C. use the multi-service broadband communications and entertainment company’s services, and 950 employees provide these tools for them. Cox Communications has connected customers to the rest of the world, spearheading them into the digital-communication age.

In the process of delivering all that digital technology, Cox employees climb into some pretty tight corners and tiny crawl spaces. That’s why when the muscles tense and the back strains, the company offers injury prevention “back school” and has a chiropractor stop by two days a week. A physical trainer is available four days a week for yoga, strengthening and stretching classes.

And with the living “green” initiative in effect, not to mention the high price of gas, what better way to adapt than with vanpools and free bus passes? The company acknowledges the transportation needs of the employees, plus the needs for computers, electronics and health services, for which workers receive generous discounts.

All in the famlily
L&A Marketing

Headquarters: Irvine
President: Elliot Light
Web site: l-amarketing.com
Number of employees: 17
Product/service: Integrated marketing and advertising services
Best benefit: The company focuses on planning and saving for the future through classes, seminars and programs.

As part of the agency’s 10 Commandments of what makes a company successful, the one that sparks the most interest is “encourage laughter.”

L&A Marketing, which specializes in industries such as homebuilding, financial services and entertainment, incorporates a bit of laughter into the mix – every day.

Employee-appreciation days, in-office scooter transportation, brown-bag staff lunches on Fridays and an annual Mardi Gras party are only a few of the fun incentives. The company’s internal, playful spirit releases the staff’s creative juices, and that, in turn, is good for clients. A small staff helps to build an intimate, family-like environment, which allows for more personal growth.

As for education, the company gives each employee an annual credit of $1,500 for work-related classes, offers seminars and organizes lunches to discuss current industry trends.

Big leagues

Headquarters: Irvine
CEO: Keith Otis, general manager of the Southern California District
Web site: microsoft.com
Number of employees: 163 in the Irvine office
Product/service: Software, services and solutions for computers
Best benefit: Employees can choose when they come to work and when they leave.

Microsoft may be the leader in software, services and solutions, but the client isn’t the only one being led to great heights. The people who are hard at work behind the scenes are, too.

Work-life balance is key when it comes to the employees at Microsoft. The staff can call the 24-hour health hot line, join the Stay Fit Program and refill prescriptions at microsofthealth.com. The company also provides free resource and referral services, company discounts and free beverages from Starbucks.

Onsite training programs and tuition-fee reimbursement for work-related courses foster opportunities for advancement. And a commitment to cultural diversity inspired the company to establish diversity education programs and the Women at Microsoft program. Microsoft also gives grants that support the technological needs of people with disabilities.

And, of course, all employees want to create their own schedule. At Microsoft, they can choose when they go into work, and when they want to clock out.

Big leagues
Robbins Bros.

Headquarters: The company has stores in Fullerton and Mission Viejo (the corporate headquarters is in Azusa, Calif.)
Chief engagement officer/ chairman: Steve Robbins
Web site: robbinsbros.com
Number of employees: 623
Product/service: Engagement rings and marriage proposal consultants
Best benefit: Workers take a dance break in the offices.

Dance breaks seem well deserved during a day of planning the perfect marriage proposal. Behind the brilliant diamond clusters at the “World’s Biggest Engagement Ring Store” is a team of employees trained as experts on making the “big question” easy to answer.

Brothers Steve and Skip Robbins have conquered what some men believe is an impossible feat – figuring out the secret to a perfect proposal. But that’s not all they’ve conquered.

Robbins Bros. gives its employees what it gives its customers – opportunities. The company offers a 24-hour concierge service, Wonderful Outstanding Workers week, company culture classes, monthly catered lunches and a President’s Breakfast. And, of course, there’s always time for dance breaks.

All in the family
Echo media group

Headquarters: Tustin
CEO: Kim Long
Web site: echomediapr.com
Number of employees: 17
Product/service: A media intensive public relations agency working with a host of high-profile national and international clients
Best benefit: Work-life balance perks include a retreat with an all-expense-paid annual trip to a luxury spa resort, extended end-of-year paid vacation, a “zero weekend work” policy and a pet-friendly environment.

Echo Media Group’s growth has increased 36 percent since last year, yet the company continues to provide the same personalized, boutique service it has been known for from its inception seven years ago.

Founder Kim Long believes productivity increases when employees are happy – professionally and personally. So the company offers benefits such as 100 percent health care coverage, employer-matched retirement plans, competitive salaries, account commissions and quarterly bonuses.

The family-style atmosphere is nurtured by a creative workspace, casual Fridays, transportation to company parties, fresh flowers weekly, wedding and baby showers, and an unofficial “no shoes” policy.

Work-life balance is further optimized with a 9/80 flex schedule and telecommuting options.

Echo Media Group encourages its people to further their professional skills and offers opportunities for advancement, including an annual stipend for professional development, educational workshops and seminars, bi-annual reviews, and flexible scheduling for those advancing their formal education.

Echo Media Group has had only three employees leave the agency in the past seven years. During that time, the company has gone from a client base of three to 30 – and it continues to grow. As for staffing, the company started with three employees and now employs 17.

Big leagues
Orange Coast Memorial Hospital

Headquarters: Fountain Valley
CEO: Marcia Manker
Web site: memorialcare.org/orange_coast
Number of employees: 1,165
Product/service: Nonprofit hospital
Best benefit: Employees can plan and save for the future through the center’s classes, seminars and programs.

Caring for others is what Orange Coast Memorial Hospital does best, so the employees know they are in good hands.

There may not be time for dart wars or pingpong, because this place is filled with action 24/7. But there are plenty of opportunities and tools to help employees plan for their future.The medical center understands the importance of retirement planning and – equally important – preparing for their children’s education. So Orange Coast offers retirement and college savings plans.

For full-time employees, it also pays up to 90 percent of employee medical, dental and vision insurance premiums – and up to 75 percent for employees with families. Communication is golden when in the midst of saving lives. Employee-built teams are meant to keep the channel of communication constant, as well as oversee and initiate group meetings, discussions, fun activities and social events.

Living a healthy lifestyle is deeply instilled in the working environment and culture. The Good Life Employee Wellness Program at Orange Coast offers free twice-weekly yoga classes, an on-campus walking route and health-education seminars.

They have the hip factor

Headquarters: Aliso Viejo
CEO: Neel Grover
Web site: buy.com
Number of employees: 124
Product/Service: E-commerce company that provides its customers with online products, and a selection of high-quality technology and entertainment retail goods at competitive prices
Best benefit: Employees ride Razor mini bikes in order to travel easily to the different campuses.

Buy.com provides a large selection of consumer electronics, computer hardware and software, cell phones, books, music, videos, toys and bags. And it doesn’t just offer exemplary services to consumers. Its employees receive all kinds of benefits – from free food to talent shows.

Lunches are catered daily from restaurants such as Macaroni Grill and Baja Fresh, and complimentary Naked Juice is available – in every flavor. In case of a sweet tooth, 15 flavors of ice cream are offered every day, and on Monday mornings, a privately owned coffee company comes in with a bar of mochas, cappuccinos, espressos and flavored coffees. And if that isn’t enough, the In-N–Out truck delivers lunch the first Friday of every month.

So, Buy.com has food covered, but what about comfort? Comfort is key here: Employee work stations are equipped with quality Aeron chairs by Herman Miller, and best of all, Razor mini bikes are supplied to make traveling from the different campuses easier.

Not your typical 9 to 5

Headquarters: Irvine
CEO: Kevin Bowyer
Web site: sendio.com
Number of employees: 21
Product/service: Creators
of the game-changing I.C.E. Box anti-spam, anti-virus, anti-phishing network appliance; chosen as Product of the Year by Government Computer News
Best Benefit: The mission and values statement is kept front-of-mind – it’s incorporated into the office décor.

Sendio is a technology startup that strives for innovation in its products, and in its approach to business. CEO Kevin Bowyer employs an open-door policy to foster a team atmosphere and ensure that everyone feels comfortable walking into his office.

In an effort to make the most creative atmosphere possible, most of the staff, including all of the senior executives, participated in a large-scale painting project to bring bright colors into the workplace. Often, the musicians on staff hold impromptu jam sessions. And senior management cooks barbeque lunches and hosts other special events.

Full benefits – medical, dental, vision and a 401(k) plan – are immediately available to employees, with no waiting period.

Everyone – not just sales staff – gets paid days off for exceeding quotas or completing projects ahead of schedule. Plus, all employees get 10 days of personal time off (no wait period). Flexible work schedules help employees juggle their personal and professional lives.

Sendio also offers educational and advancement opportunities, including ongoing computer training and full reimbursements for job-related training programs.

Not your typical 9 to 5

Headquarters: Newport Beach
CEO: John G. Most
Web site: mostagency.com
Number of employees: 8 and growing
Product/service: Brand development and discovery communications company that offers account planning, brand development, creative concept development, broadcast and print production, interactive and Web design and production, media planning and buying
Best benefit: Employees work remotely or at home as needed – laptop computers and BlackBerry phones are standard issue.

MOST knows how to make the most out of a workplace environment. It offers full health coverage for employees and families; a 100 percent, dollar-for-dollar matching 401(k) program; long-term disability insurance; bonuses for the birth of a new baby; Christmas bonuses; and educational opportunities.

Management receives a pension plan, profit sharing, Equinox health-club membership – including locker and laundry charges – cell-phone cost and monthly payments, and a toll-road transponder.

Special events are designed to promote cooperation and fun – last year’s holiday party was at the Montage Laguna Beach. Rooms were provided for employees living outside the area, and everyone received gifts – including spouses and children. John Most hosts the summer party, and prepares steak and lobster, and serves wine from his cellar.

Equally special are the quarterly outings, like the MOST day at Pageant of the Masters, family day at Disneyland (including Club 33) and a La Costa Spa Day (two treatments, a day at the spa and dinner at Blue Fire Grill for the employee and a guest).

And the comfort doesn’t end there: The American Institute of Architects award-winning offices were designed by employees, for employees, to cultivate a comfortable, homey atmosphere.

Not your typical 9 to 5
Art Institute of California – Orange County

Headquarters: Santa Ana
President: Daniel A. Levinson
Web site: artinstitutes.edu/orangecounty
Number of employees: 250
Product/service: A design, media and culinary arts school providing bachelor’s and associate’s degree programs in a variety of creative disciplines
Best benefit: The staff and faculty are continually surrounded by creative minds coming from a variety of artistic backgrounds.

With myriad courses featured for multiple creative career paths, the faculty and staff at the Art Institute of California – Orange County come from colorful and diverse backgrounds.

Benefits are comprehensive, but flexible to fit any family or budget. Medical insurance offers a Lifestyle Returns Wellness program, which includes maintaining health and a work-life balance. A cash reward of $250 is given every year for participating.

Dental and vision are offered, along with the option to include critical illness, legal, identity-theft protection or pet insurance. Company-paid term life insurance covers twice an employee’s annual salary from the first day of employment.

The annual party celebrates the year with food, drinks, raffle prizes and entertainment. Quarterly events include Casino Night, Up til’ Tomorrow (pre-finals week stress buster), Welcome Week Barbeque and Stress Relief Week (free massages and special guest

Employees can nominate a co-worker for the Spirit of Excellence award to recognize those who have gone above and beyond to help a student, colleague or an entire department. And at the end of the year, four Spirit of Excellence Champions are selected, and presented with $500 and a trophy at a special luncheon.

These incentives contribute to the Art Institute’s current low 14 percent turnover rate.

All in the family
J.L. Patterson & Associates

Headquarters: Orange
CEO: Jacqueline Patterson
Web site: jlpatterson.com
Number of employees: 73
Product/service: Provides engineering design, construction management and staff augmentation services for public and private sector clients
Best benefit: Employees and their families receive 100 percent coverage of medical insurance premiums.

J.L. Patterson & Associates is a transportation-engineering firm that works with many companies in the rail industry. The firm has more than $12 million in revenue and expects to grow by 15 percent this year. And employees love it here – it boasts non-existent employee turnover.

The company pays 100 percent of medical, dental and vision insurance premiums for the employee, spouse and children. It also covers 100 percent of the life insurance, and short-term and long-term disability premiums for the employee; orthodontia insurance for adults and children; and professional liability insurance. It also offers discounts or contributions for health-club memberships.

If the insurance benefits don’t hook you, then try the company’s 100 percent tuition coverage for engineering and project management courses. It also covers 50 percent of tuition costs for any other degree.

There’s also a mentoring program for new hires and bonuses for obtaining a professional license or higher degree, Intranet-posted business and software skills training programs, and site-safety training programs.

They have the hip factor

Headquarters: Irvine
CEO: Eric Holmen
Web site: smartreply.com
Number of employees: 41
Product/Service: Voice and mobile marketing solutions for retailing and financial services industries
Best benefit: The company stresses feeling good and having fun with its foozball and pingpong tables.

In just seven years, SmartReply has become a leader of voice and mobile marketing solutions for retail and financial services industries. SmartReply attributes its success to its products, services and most importantly, people.

SmartReply stresses a feel-good factor. From the get-go, employees are welcomed into an environment that stimulates forward thinking combined with playtime – offices are furnished with foozball and pingpong tables, and there are relaxation areas for brainstorming.

SmartReply strives to make its workplace a hotbed of motivation, openness and balance – recognizing the value of employees’ personal lives is key. And there’s healthy intra-office competition, too. Software designers play against accounting executives during pingpong tournaments; customer relationship management employees plan monthly potlucks with database developers.

SmartReply also has its own soccer team, the One Kick Wonders. And the rotating role of “Captain of Fun” is in charge of organizing quarterly team events. The activities create teamwork and provide a fun outlet.

SmartReply’s executive vice president and co-founder, Mike Romano, says smart ideas come from smart people, and hiring smart people with a passion for what they do and a well-balanced personal life is key to creating a winning workplace.

Big leagues
Newmeyer & Dillion LLP

Headquarters: Newport Beach
CEO: Greg Dillion and Tom Newmeyer, founding partners
Web site: ndlf.com
Number of employees: 106 in Newport Beach
Product/service: Litigation and transactional services for companies or individuals in areas such as business, real estate, construction, insurance, land use, eminent domain, environmental and employment law
Best benefit: The company organizes a slew of fun events for employees, including summer river-rafting trips.

After expanding the facility by 10,000 square feet, Newmeyer & Dillion LLP has become one of the largest Orange County-based law firms offering litigation and transactional services to companies and business professionals.

Chosen as one of OC METRO BUSINESS’ “Green Teams,” the firm quickly adapted to the green-building principles it was teaching its homebuilding clients with its 20-member Green Committee. Those who participated in the committee are sure to be recognized during Staff Appreciation Week, which happens once a year and is filled with themed activities.

Then there are the monthly mixers, annual summer river-rafting trip and game room. But don’t leave out the monthly educational events, where employees can hear guest speakers. Also, the weekend comes early in the summer, with shorter hours on Fridays.

They have the hip factor

Headquarters: Fountain Valley
President: Mark Krebs
Web site: pacewater.com
Number of employees: 74
Product/Service: Provides engineering solutions “in partnership with nature”
Best benefit: A nine-hole putting course meanders through the office.

PACE is an advanced water engineering firm that focuses on aesthetic, environmentally sustainable and practical engineering solutions. The company specializes in storm water management, environmental water (water/wastewater) and recreational water (man-made lakes, fountains and pools).

That connection to nature is found throughout the office: The environment has a natural feel to it, with rock accents and a nine-hole putting course that meanders through
the office.

A relaxing environment has been created for employees in the Breakers Room, which is decorated like a coffeehouse, with peaceful lighting and restaurant-style booths. Here you can find complimentary fresh fruit (and breakfast on Fridays), a Nintendo Wii, and employees can watch movies and TV shows during lunch – except for Wednesdays, which are companywide Wii Wednesdays.

The serene environment fosters creativity and teamwork, but PACE brings that serenity elsewhere, too. Once a year, the staff is taken to a surprise location for a day of teambuilding, bonding, fun and challenges. Activities include kayaking, rock-climbing, indoor kart racing and bowling. OCM