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Top Workplaces 2020: At Ruth Eckerd Hall, employees find a second family

The Clearwater nonprofit ranks for the first time this year in the Times Top Workplaces.

CLEARWATER — You don’t have to be on the stage to work in theater.

It can be easy to forget that when watching a performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall. The theater and nonprofit’s president and CEO Susan Crockett puts it like this:

“We need accountants, too.”

Yet, even the most regular jobs seem to have a bit more razzle dazzle at Ruth Eckerd. From orchestra concerts and stand-up comedians to classic rock and naked magicians, there is a regular whirlwind of performances and stage changes at the local theater.

(The Naked Magicians came in March — right before REO Speedwagon.)

Read more: At this accounting firm, everyone is part of the team

“I think that’s something our employees love,” Crockett said. “It’s not the same thing every day. These aren’t just changes year to year. Every month something is different, every week something is different.”

This year marked Ruth Eckerd’s first time on the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces. They ranked No, 39 in our most competitive category, small businesses. The non-profit has 86 full-time employees.

Crockett has been with the organization for 31 years, but became CEO just under a year ago. Since then, she’s been steering the organization through a massive remodel and attracting new donors.

Ruth Eckerd Hall president and CEO Susan Crockett, poses in the new 6000 square-foot Grand Lobby in October, 2019. The area is part of a $12 million renovation and expansion of Ruth Eckerd Hall. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Crockett can easily relate to her staff and creates a fun and supportive culture in the office. She spent her prior three decades working nearly every behind-the-scenes job at Ruth Eckerd. She has worked in the box office, as business analyst, in human resources and as the chief information officer.

But Crockett said that’s the story for a lot of her employees: They move around in the company because it fosters growth.

Read more: Mentors help employees achieve their career goals

Most of the staff is made up creative types or artists. So Crockett and the rest of management say they focus on mentoring to ensure that those employees can also handle managing a staff or creating a budget. They don’t have a formal mentoring program because it’s so ingrained in everyday culture.

“We’re huge on promoting from within,” Crockett said, “which is why I never left. I never needed to.”

The theater also has a strong representation of female leadership: Just over half of its managers and directors are women and of its six senior staffers, five are women.

Before the coronavirus struck, it has been a bustling time at Ruth Eckerd: The bulk of the $12 million lobby renovations recently wrapped up and construction has been ongoing at the back of the building and its administrative offices.

Read more: Good bosses listen and make employees feel heard

Employees say they feel respected and valued by their managers, who are often looking for ways to interject fun into the workplace.

Last year, management threw its own version of “the Dundies” — the awards given to the fictitious employees of Dunder Mifflin in television show The Office. The awards were a mix of serious and funny. And the outfits? Leadership dressed like it was the Oscars in all evening gowns and tuxedos.

The staff has had Meditation Monday yoga sessions and team-building kickball games and sailing adventures. The holiday party could be a luxury dinner, or a more casual staff party with elves and Santa Claus. Come Halloween, the costume competition gets fierce.

“We work in theater,” Crockett said, “if were’going to do it, we’re going to do it in a big way.”

Workers complete the new donor board, right, and Dress Circle Lounge area of Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater in October 2019. The work is part of a $12 million renovation of the hall. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

It has some of the more typical perks of top workplaces — such as top-notch health benefits — with the added bonus of working with famous performers and sharing the theater with children and the community. The theater employees also volunteer with Ruth Eckerd’s community outreach, like when the non-profit buses in area school children to watch an acrobatic performance. It also teaches children the arts, a core part of its mission.

“I love the performing arts,” said director of operations Brianna Hoskins, “and being able to make money from my hobby and passions for my job.”

Hoskins has worked her entire professional life in the theater and has been at Ruth Eckerd for the last five years. She joked that she wants to be at Ruth Eckerd during her time “on” and “off.” She calls her coworkers family — a sentiment shared among most the staff.

Katie Pedretty, the public relations director, described everyone as parts of a whole with no task too small for anyone to jump in and help. It’s a collaborative environment.

“If you succeed, we all succeed,” Pedretty said.

ABOUT THE COMPANY

Ruth Eckerd Hall is a nonprofit performing arts center.

Employees: 104

Location: Clearwater

Website: rutheckerdhall.com

EMPLOYEE COMMENTS:

“I am respected and valued. Also it is a fun job to have working in the entertainment industry.”

“I get to contribute and be part of the arts, music and theater of our community even though I am not in anyway an artist, musician or actor. Also, seeing students, especially in the summer come and be part of the Arts is stellar!”

“I love interacting with our members to provide the very best experience for them as possible.”

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