Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the MetLife president and CEO.
During one milestone celebration, the employees of Avalon Healthcare Solutions brought in a karaoke machine and threw a party. Co-founder and CEO William Kerr performed.
“I think I did a Bon Jovi duet with my CFO. It was awful,’’ he said.
“But, you know, if the leaders cannot laugh at themselves, then the culture cannot relax.’’
That kind of thinking may be why Avalon is on the list of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces. It’s one of 14 companies in the Tampa Bay area to make the annual list for the first time. The companies, grouped by their size, are ranked based on employee surveys. Avalon, with 86 employees, is ranked 15th out of 45 small companies on the list.
First-timers who made the list this year range from the giant insurance firm, MetLife, with 1,850 employees in the Tampa Bay area, to InSync Healthcare Solutions, with 74. Others include the Pasco County Tax Collector’s Office, Ruth Eckerd Hall and Chadwell Supply, a maintenance supply firm.
Avalon Healthcare Solutions, which works with health care providers to organize lab tests – which ones are covered and when, who can perform them and what price should be paid – opened in Tampa in 2013. The company’s purpose, as stated in the company’s submission, is to “be an employer to outrageously happy employees, to positively disrupt the health insurance industry, and to ensure our clients are raving fanatics.’’ The key is to “hire smart’’ and “hire nice.’’
“Culture is incredibly important in any company, but especially in a small company,’’ said Kerr, a physician and former cancer researcher. “It’s not just what you get done, but how you get it done.’’
In the “smart’’ category, the company is lucky that the health care industry draws a lot of bright people, he said. But a few of them — former employees — fall short in the “nice’’ category. They got things done but in an abrasive way.
“That’s not a fit for us,’’ said Kerr.
He wants employees to be respectful toward each other, collegial, and to also have fun. A committee of employees called the “culture club’’ plans company celebrations for milestones. They came up with the karaoke idea. They also have gone all out on Halloween. On the survey, the company refers to the contests as “ridiculously competitive.’’
“We had one division that dressed up their cubes and themselves as the Addams family,’’ Kerr said. “That got a lot of attention. We had one department that turned themselves and their cubes into zombies.’’
For one charity fundraising effort, the top executive whose jar held the most money had to come to the party in a Coca-Cola polar bear outfit.
Company culture is key, too, at Creative Contractors, Inc., said Troy Powell, a senior project manager who has been with the Clearwater company for 15 years. It’s ranked 24th among small companies.
“The culture that we have is not just unusual among other participants in this industry, but I believe it’s unusual in general,’’ Powell said.
“We have a very, very clear path of development for our employees, to make sure that people aren’t in a position that they ever feel overwhelmed, that they don’t feel like they’ve been set up to succeed.’’
MetLife, also on the list for the first time, is ranked 19 out of the 25 large companies.
Kelly Dieppa joined the company two years ago and said she plans to stay with the company until she retires.
“I’ve been in the insurance industry for almost 25 years, and I can definitively say this is the best company I’ve ever worked for,’’ said Dieppa, vice president in charge of 800 claims employees in five states.
She said she feels the new energy brought by company president and CEO Michel Khalaf, who took the helm last May.
“He really makes a commitment to continue evolving to meet the needs of the customer, the employees and the shareholders all in one fell swoop instead of focusing on one.’’ Dieppa said.
Read more: Three companies that hear their employees
That, she said, “is a company that is going to secure its future.’’
Damien Cranwell, senior vice president and head of financial operations for MetLife, has been with the company for 20 years.
“I think it’s a great company to work for,’’ he said. “There’s a huge involvement of the associates and managers, as well, in doing things for the community, and I think that’s one of the things that stands out from other companies I’ve worked in.’’
He believes volunteering has a side benefit of team-building, giving employees a sense of camaraderie.
And the company also believes in fun. Cranwell said they throw a Super Bowl party every year that is very well-attended. They had a fashion show. And there is the annual cornhole tournament. Cranwell made it to the finals last time in the beanbag toss, but then lost.
“I’m still a little hurt by it,’’ he joked.
New to the list this year
MetLife (No. 19, Large)
Palms of Pasadena (No. 22, Large)
Protect My Car (No. 9, Midsize)
Pasco County Tax Collector’s Office (No. 10, Midsize)
Chadwell Supply (No. 17, Midsize)
Spoor Bunch Franz (No. 4, Small)
American Landmark Apartments (No. 8, Small)
Avalon Healthcare Solutions (No. 15, Small)
Resource Property Management (No. 19, Small)
Creative Contractors, Inc. (No. 24, Small)
Homes by WestBay (No. 26, Small)
PT Solutions Physical Therapy (No. 37, Small)
Ruth Eckerd Hall, Inc. (No. 39, Small)
InSync Healthcare Solutions (No. 44, Small)