Out of the 100 Top Workplaces in this year’s Tampa Bay Times survey, three stood above the rest.
Clearwater cybersecurity firm KnowBe4 finished first in the large workplace category, for companies with more than 500 employees. Home builder PulteGroup, which is based in Atlanta but has 224 employees in its West Florida division in Riverview, finished No. 1 in the midsize category. And Clearwater’s Precision Garage Doors of Tampa Bay took top honors in the small business category, for companies with fewer than 100 workers.
To learn more about what propelled these companies to the top, we connected with the three people who lead them: KnowBe4 CEO Stu Sjouwerman, PulteGroup West Florida president Sean Strickler and Precision Garage Doors owner Jim Rapp. Here’s what they had to say. These interviews have been edited for space and clarity.
Keeping employees invested in growth
In this year’s Top Workplaces rankings, KnowBe4 didn’t just rank No. 1 among Tampa Bay’s large companies. It ranked No. 1 nationwide among companies with between 1,000 and 2,500 employees.
“That really made us happy,” CEO Stu Sjouwerman said. “I’m standing on the shoulders of giants, obviously. Our corporate culture is a combination of a whole series of best practices of mostly high-tech companies over the last 30 years.”
It’s been a banner year all around for the Clearwater cybersecurity firm. The company launched an initial public offering last April, pulling in $175 million. It has added more than 200 “Knowsters” and acquired a California tech security company for $80 million. It recently announced a leadership change, with co-president and chief financial officer Krish Venkataraman transitioning to a role on KnowBe4′s board of directors.
“The fact that you’re a public company requires you to put even more best practices in place,” Sjouwerman said. “That just, in our particular case, strengthens the existing best practices. It’s not necessarily a burden. It’s a lot of work, but we were already on our way to get there from the get-go.”
Can you boil it down to a creed or a mantra or philosophy of what makes KnowBe4 a good place to work?
What I’m saying every day to my whole staff is, do it right the first time, do it fast, and have fun while you do it. That still holds. But if you would take the underlying, actual core values that this whole thing is built on, it really is radical transparency, extreme ownership and complete honesty. Those are the three pillars this whole culture is built on. That comes out in multitude of best practices, workflows, policies — the KnowBe4 way, how we do things and how we certainly also do not do things. Those are the three basic, core values.
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When you went public last year, were employees able to buy into the company in any meaningful way?
The vast majority of companies that roll out restricted stock units, only give (them to) middle and top management. The rank and file just doesn’t participate. That’s not the KnowBe4 way. We decided to have every employee first be an insider. That’s already unusual to begin with. And second, we include every employee into the RSU plan, which yearly gives them more RSUs. We are doing our level best to include every Knowster in knowing exactly what’s happening. What I’m trying to do is prevent this siloing effect, where instead of being aligned and continuing your expansion, people start turning inwards, and you get departments starting little fights with each other. That’s death for expansion and productivity. So we’re keeping all Knowsters in the know. Pun intended!
Have you been short-staffed at any point, or found it more difficult to retain employees?
In certain areas of the company, we see higher turnover. On the other hand, if you look at GlassDoor, and you look at our scores, it is also not that hard to find new staff. We do have a great reputation. If you’re a best place to work in the U.S., then people are interested and are willing to jump over.
A booming business where everyone matters
It’s no secret that Tampa Bay’s housing business is booming. For a home builder, that could lead to such rapid growth that some employees might feel left behind.
Not at PulteGroup. Employees in our Top Workplaces survey used words like “valued,” “empowered,” “included” and “respected” to describe how their company sees them.
“I am not a number,” wrote one employee, “and my voice is heard.”
“The team has the opportunity to build a home for a family,” said Sean Strickler, president of Atlanta-based PulteGroup’s West Florida division, which stretches from Ocala to Bradenton and out to Lakeland. “It’s a tangible, real product that we take a lot of pride in. It makes every day very interesting, because our families and these customers are going to raise kids in these homes, they’re going to start families. We take a lot of pride in what we do.”
Strickler has been with PulteGroup for 28 years, including the last seven in Tampa Bay. He led the division to 20-percent growth in 2021, with 1,400 homes built — this despite supply chain and labor constraints that hit the construction industry fairly hard.
Do the challenges of managing a workforce feel significantly different from this time a year ago, when we were only a year into the pandemic, coming off a very tumultuous 2020?
It feels pretty similar. It’s all about communication, sharing with your team on a frequent basis not only how you’re performing as a business, but how your approach to working in an office might be changing based on what’s going on with the pandemic. We know that if we want to reach some of our goals, whether it’s financial goals or quality goals, we’re not going to be able to do that unless we have an engaged and inspired workforce.
When you face an external challenge like a shortage of subcontractors, what can you really do to effect change in that area as the leader of the market?
A lot of it boils down to the relationships we have with our subcontractors. Clearly, they’re a critical component in delivering a quality home to our customers. We’ve got a trade-partner-appreciation event coming up to share a little bit about what we’re expecting this year, but also thank them and recognize them for their efforts last year. We understand there are other builders they could work for. But we want to be the builder of choice for them, and have a mutually beneficial and successful partnership.
Over the last two years, how has your approach to managing a workforce changed?
It’s focusing on ensuring that each and every employee has a development plan in place, and that our managers understand that one-on-one time that is spent discussing that particular employees’ career aspirations and growth. Everybody on the team should have a well-thought-out development plan that is revisited several times throughout the year. That is the No. 1 driver of engagement for us, and something we’re incredibly focused on.
Making work feel like family
Jim Rapp doesn’t do interviews. Not normally, at least. His employees are the heart of his company, Precision Garage Doors of Tampa Bay, and he wants to put them front and center as much as possible.
“I run the company as if it’s their company,” said Rapp, 70, Precision’s founder and CEO. “I just listen to what they need, and I try to supply that for them. I try to have them have the feeling, and create the reality, that they pretty much guide the company.”
Rapp started Precision Garage Doors in early 2008 after working as a builder and mortgage banker, and, after sticking out the Great Recession, built it into a regional leader in garage door installation and repair. Based in Clearwater, the company has 85 employees, and Rapp tries to see them as often as he can, organizing golf trips, providing party facilities for workers and taking workers and their families out fishing on his boats.
Said one Top Workplaces survey respondent: “I feel like I’m part of a family I never had. Management really cares about me.”
“Everybody has to win,” Rapp said. “The customer has to win a little, the employee has to win a little, they have to make enough to live in a safe neighborhood. If I make everybody win, then usually, there will be something left for me.”
Did you learn anything from the Great Recession that you could apply to the pandemic?
What I learned was, a garage door is a necessity. A stock market event or a pandemic can create a slight delay in people’s need for services, but it doesn’t stop it. People still need to raise their garage door and go to work or the doctor or the grocery store. To me, every business is a people business, whether it’s garage doors or widgets or whatever. Every business is about people. It’s about the employees, it’s about the customers, it’s about the vendors. The product is almost irrelevant.
So in 2020, when people stopped talking in person as much, how did you keep fostering those connections?
It caused a lot of challenges. We had to stop our weekly meetings, and that hurt morale a little bit, because they’re out in their trucks all alone. We try to get the employees together at the beginning of each day when they load up. But we got through it. They all turned on their TVs, and they all got on the internet, so we stayed in touch with our customer base that way. Life slowed down and changed a little bit, but it didn’t stop.
Because your techs are out and about so much, how are you able to see them enough to foster a connection with them?
We have continuous conversations going on throughout the day. They all wear headsets, and they can hear each other talk, and so even though they are all maybe 10 miles from each other, they have group talk sessions where they will listen to each other’s calls, they will ask each other questions, and it’s a live, ongoing dialogue all day long. They turn it on as they work and they can chat with their coworkers.
So it has the feel of an office?
Oh, very much so.
KnowBe4 focuses focused on the human element of cybersecurity by providing workforce training to help employees recognize threats like phishing and malware, and execute best practices accordingly.
Employee comments: “As a company we are productive but not overly serious. We can work in a serious industry without becoming humorless machines.”
“This is the most positive group of people I have ever worked with and for. We get real work done, at lightning speed, but I truly enjoy every minute of it. The company really cares about the employees, and want to make sure they are happy and doing well.”
“Each day I have the ability to talk and present new and old ideas, from the mundane to the wacky, without fear. Laughter, yes, but who doesn’t enjoy a little laugh? It certainly sets the tone for the day.”
Headquartered in Atlanta, one of the nation’s largest home builders has a robust presence in Tampa Bay. The company specializes in homes in new developments; its West Florida division built 1,400 homes in 2021.
Employees in Tampa Bay: 224
Employee comments: “I am equipped and given enough authority to do the right thing every day.”
“I matter. I am not a number and my voice is heard. My team is amazing and I never feel alone when facing daily struggles.”
“Pulte treats me like an adult. I am not micromanaged but I am fully supported. My job is fulfilling and interesting every single day and my team is the best team I have ever worked with. I love working here.”
Precision Garage Doors of Tampa Bay
Precision Garage Doors of Tampa Bay installs and repairs garage doors across Tampa Bay.
Employee comments: “It’s like going to work with my brothers every day. Every day we are passionate about the culture and how we take care of the customer. We get treated like we are family to the owner.”
“We operate as a big family and feel truly cared about. All employees’ concerns are addressed and handled immediately. We are (able) to express concerns and encouraged to come up with new ideas.”
“Positive working atmosphere. Hugs and high fives. Golf Outings, fishing, game room, koi fish, family atmosphere, appreciated. I can make a good living for my family.”