For the leaders of the Tampa Bay Times Top Workplaces for 2021, the past year hasn’t been easy. From remote work to layoffs, systemic racism and political unrest, CEOs have faced immense challenges as they’ve tried to guide employees through 12 months of crisis.
We wanted to know how they did it.
Our annual Top Workplaces survey recognized three local CEOs — Charlotte McHenry, 59, of the Senior Connection Center; Robert Ritchie, 62, of American Integrity Insurance Group; and Thomas Feindt, 46, of Grow Financial Federal Credit Union — as Tampa Bay’s top CEOs for their leadership of small, midsize and large companies, respectively.
In survey responses, employees cited their openness and authenticity, their compassion and enthusiasm and their commitments to communication and inclusivity during a trying year. They had to provide, as one respondent put it, “a feeling of calm in the middle of this storm.”
In separate conversations, McHenry, Ritchie and Feindt shared a few of their experiences and lessons learned from one of the most trying stretches of their careers.
Feindt: Last year was my first year as CEO. It wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be.
McHenry: I can’t believe it’s been a year.
Ritchie: It’s been a litmus test.
McHenry: The main goal for me was to make sure staff were safe.
Ritchie: When we went remote, the entire leadership team got on Zoom every day for the first eight weeks. I said, ‘As much as I know them, I’ve got to be able to see their faces.’ Then I said, ‘Okay, we’re ready for three days a week.’ Then two days a week. Finally, about a month ago, I said, ‘All right, let’s do our huddles every other Tuesday, and staff meetings on Friday.’
Feindt: I hold two meetings a week, both on Wednesday, where I have an opportunity to talk to the entire organization. It’s a short 15 minutes. But it gives me a chance to push out what are the top three things on my plate. It also is a chance to bring in the other leaders across the organization, so as we become more displaced, we can use technology to help take down some of those barriers. Who is our CFO? Who is our chief information officer? Who are these people as people?
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Ritchie: What we’ve accomplished in a year as a leadership team would have taken years of leadership training and seminars and off-campus discussions. I thought I knew about their families, their hopes, their fears, their wishes, their dreams. On a scale of 1 to 10, I probably was at about a 4. Today, I’m at least an 8 with every one of them. And they are with each other.
McHenry: One of the things that has happened during this pandemic is the issue of systemic racism and racial injustice. And I did want to address that. We did a series of three sessions on racial injustice with a colleague of mine who’s exceptional in that area. I got a lot of positive feedback about that.
Feindt: I think I’ve talked to more than 100 team members about how racism has affected their lives. For me, it’s created a much greater sense of awareness of things that, as a white male, maybe I was never exposed to. Now I have the benefit of being much more informed and thinking, what else can we do to try to put our company, and our country, on a different path?
Ritchie: What I found myself doing, and still do, is remind everyone of who we are and who as a company we’re striving to be, and to try to help our entire leadership to lead by example. Also, to ensure that our leadership team looks like America, and is not all pale, male and stale.
McHenry: We have grown during this pandemic. We have about 70 employees now. What has kept me up at night was making sure the new hires knew our culture. We don’t want to lose that.
Ritchie: I’ve always done a quote of the week for all of my employees. I would borrow from all kinds of quotes, go deep, and tell folks what I think it means. Then I would try to take that quote and relate it to the crisis. I want to continue that. For me, that is probably the deepest thing I’ve done, the most worthy thing I’ve done for my mojo, and hopefully for my team.
McHenry: I’ve incorporated meditation. I take a lot of walks. I also try to laugh a lot and stay connected with friends that know me and know how I strive to be a better person and a better human. I know a lot of people are depending on me. But I do have that spiritual side that helps balance me.
Feindt: We try to have really rich, honest conversations with teams about the loads that we have on them. Even though as a CEO I did have to deal with these hundred-year events happening within six months, it was manageable. I don’t know that I did feel overwhelmed by it, because of the support system around me.
McHenry: If we do come back to everybody under one roof, I think now, when people meet in the hallway, it will be a deeper relationship. It won’t be just, Good morning, how are you doing?
Ritchie: We’re going to have some big celebrations — of course, at first, safe and socially distant. But people are yearning for a renewed focus on relationships. We’re going to have a holiday party again. Things will slowly begin to return. One of our corporate values is fun. I’m going to exploit fun.
Grow Financial Federal Credit Union
Established in 1955 on MacDill Air Force Base, Grow Financial Federal Credit Union provides an array of personal and professional banking services to more than 200,000 members.
Locations: Headquartered in Tampa, with 25 locations in Florida and South Carolina, including 22 around Tampa Bay
“(CEO Thomas Feindt) is a great leader and easy to understand and visualizes the goals set forth for our organization and people.”
“He knows what he is doing, has a vision and is running with it.”
“He is willing to listen to anyone that comes to him.”
American Integrity Insurance Group
Through a network of more than 1,000 agents, American Integrity Insurance Group provides residential and property insurance for more than 300,000 clients in Florida.
“Our CEO (Robert Ritchie) is wonderful! He is very thoughtful, considerate and makes us feel like we’re a part of something bigger. I commend him for his kind words and words of wisdom. Very genuine and truthful.”
“Love the quarterly meetings and frank, open discussions.”
“I have not worked for a company in Florida where the CEO and owner is so communicative with his employees. With something as disruptive as a pandemic hitting his organization, he showed his true colors in looking out for us first and not his bottom dollar.”
Senior Connection Center
Senior Connection Center provides assistance to elder adults and their caregivers through resources like a helpline, Medicare counseling, health and wellness programs and home meal delivery.
“Our president and CEO (Charlotte McHenry) inspires our team by having an open-door policy. I believe she is one that is open-minded and has the will to learn and expand in areas she is not familiar with.”
“She is calm and focused on our mission and vision. She is also prudent and an intelligent decision-maker.”
“Enthusiasm to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
Here are the recipients of our other special awards:
Direction ― I believe this company is going in the right direction.
Managers — My manager helps me learn and grow. My manager makes it easier to do my job well. My manager cares about my concerns.
New Ideas — New ideas are encouraged at this company.
Doers — At this company, we do things efficiently and well.
MGE: Management Experts, Inc.
Meaningfulness — My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful.
Values — This company operates by strong values.
Precision Garage Door of Tampa Bay
Clued in Senior Management — Senior managers understand what is really happening at this company.
Paramount Residential Mortgage Group, Inc.
Communication — I feel well-informed about important decisions at this company.
Appreciation — I feel genuinely appreciated at this company.
Work/Life Flexibility — I have the flexibility I need to balance my work and personal life.
Training — I get the formal training I want for my career.
Benefits — My benefits package is good compared to others in this industry.