Kansas City is awesome. It’s like the older sibling that Omaha aspires to be.
Last year I did an article called I Visited 5 Super Awesome Places to Work and Here’s What They’re Like for companies in Omaha that received a lot of good feedback. It only made sense to bring this project to another city.
Around the same time, Glassdoor.com released an article with the 25 Best Cities for Jobs where cities were ranked based on job openings, job satisfaction ratings, median base salaries, and median home values. KC ranked #3 on that list and being a neighboring city, I set my sights there.
I combed through hundreds of companies on Glassdoor.com- meticulously reading through reviews and checking external sources to ensure they were as great as they were portrayed. I came upon a short list of companies I would even consider and was fortunate enough that 5 of them said “yes”.
As I’ve stated before, be warned. You may read about these companies and decide to quit your job (and/or move from Omaha to KC) and pursue opportunities at these companies. They’re really phenomenal companies and no one would blame you if you did.
Take a look around wherever you are and I can almost ensure that most, if not all, the goods around you came on a truck. America runs on truckers (sorry Dunkin’) and TAFS provides services for those truckers to keep them going.
TAFS (Formerly Trans-Am Financial Services) does freight factoring. What is freight factoring you might ask? I wondered the same thing. They essentially provide accounts receivable financing (AKA factoring) for truckers by purchasing invoices which gives them cash flow to do their jobs.
I met with their Marketing Manager, Rob McCutcheon, at the start for a tour around their facility. It is a newer office building adorned with artwork that pays homage to truckers and their important role in our economy. We went through each department and he explained the roles of each group, but what impressed me the most were a few things: 1.) How pro-technology they are for an industry not known for being progressive; 2.) How diverse and female-prevalent their workforce is and; 3.) How casual their employees dress (think house slippers).
My eyes were opened to an industry I had no idea existed, and the more I learned, the more I was convinced that their work is crucially vital to our economy. In their industry, they are the only ones that are able to purchase invoices and have the funds transferred to their clients within 1 hour whereas competitors take anywhere from 6 hours up to several days. And it’s because they wholly embrace technology to improve their processes and create internal efficiencies not realized by competitors. TAFS really is a technology company “disguised” as a freight factoring one.
The tour provided understanding into the logistics of their business, but it was the employee feedback during our sit-down session that really gave insight to what it was really like working at TAFS. Client empathy is huge. Most of their employees did not have a background in freight factoring, much less the trucking industry, so it was important for them to understand the business and develop client empathy that drives how service is delivered. This carries over to how they treated each other as well. Several employees were telling me how accessible leaders are and how teams are eager to help one another. These strong relationships between employees and leaders often lead to professional development which means more promotions from within.
When we moved on to talking about the perks and benefits, the employees raved about their company activities, spirit week, casual attire, and other tangible benefits such as discounted memberships (Costco, holler!), and monthly award ceremonies in which company recognition and gift cards are given. This was a group of people who love working together, love who they work for, and see their jobs as a greater calling to serve an underappreciated industry.
I remember when I first came in for an interview they asked me if I knew anything about “Freight Factoring” and I had no idea, but I was hired despite that. They really invested into me and I was promoted within 6 months of starting. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here, if you’re doing well then you’re recognized and promoted.
Industry: Freight Factoring
Location: Olathe, KS
Company Size: ~150 People
If you want a place to feed your intellectual curiosity, then Spotlight is it. Their employees have access to information, trends, and industry knowledge not available to the general public. While the work is interesting, the culture is what has staying power.
Spotlight Analyst Relations is yet again one of those industries in which I was unfamiliar and even with research before my visit, still unsure what they did. The easiest way to explain it is to think about the movie Hitch. Much like Will Smith in the movie they’re not puffing up information or creating false links but rather highlighting strengths to encourage meaningful dialogue between the founders of technology companies and the industry analysts that cover them.
My visit first started in their conference room with a small group of employees and immediately they were eager to tell me why they loved their jobs. A very thoughtful culture. You work in a place where you’re surrounded by coworkers who were more like family, an environment where you’re set up to succeed, offered amazing perks, and work for two owners that care deeply for you personally and professionally. No wonder it’s hard to get people to use their PTO.
The founders, Rick and Andrew, came up several times in our discussion. There was story after story about how they’ve stood up for employees, displayed honesty/transparency, and humbly adapted strategies from employee feedback. It’s easy to work for people who lead this way.
One interesting thing that stood out to me is how one of the employees commented that you experience a “weird shift” working here. There’s no politics, no fear in speaking up, and raising your hand for help was a sign of strength, not weakness. When someone was being buried by work, it was all hands on deck to make it happen. The corporate dance you might have once performed while working for “the man” didn’t exist here.
But their perks were pretty dang incredible, too. On top of the standard health and 401k matching perks you get free lunch every day, tons of work flexibility, free snacks, frequent Happy Hours, career development, philanthropy, and lots of opportunities for “forced fun”. All of this fosters a deep culture of camaraderie that extends to genuine friendships outside of the office. Spotlight is a company that works to fulfill your professional, intellectual, and personal ambitions. Sure you can leave, but why would you want to?
When we got the plans for our new office space, Rick and Andrew sent it out to the employees to review. At the time, I was pregnant with our first and noticed there was no mother’s room. I asked them if they would build in a “pumping room” and their response was “Yeah, absolutely!”
Industry: Analyst Relations
Location: Kansas City, MO
Company Size: 25 People
What comes to mind when you think about a bank? Maybe a stuffy office, outdated furniture, business suits, and possibly an industry that’s single-handedly keeping the fax machine relevant? nbkc is destroying those stereotypes.
nbkc is a “non-bank” bank, you know? So yeah they provide actual banking services: Personal banking, Home Mortgages, and Business Loans, but they behave and operate differently. And trust me, it’s for the better. I walked into their headquarters and was welcomed by aesthetic beauty in every room; wood accents mixed in with high-end office furniture and a very clean, minimalistic appeal. You wouldn’t know you were in a bank headquarters unless someone told you.
My tour started by meeting with their CEO, Brian Unruh, who is an incredibly down-to-earth and humble leader. We chatted a bit about their history and how when the founders set out to create an innovative bank, they meant every word. During 2012, there was a focus on culture- discovering it, creating it, and nurturing it. What they did then is still innovative for banking now in 2018.
The group of employees I got to meet couldn’t wait to share about working at nbkc. The cultural highlights were a strong sense of teamwork, autonomy, community (through employee-led clubs), and their relationship with executive leadership. Their turnover rate is less than half of the industry average and many people commented that they intend to retire at nbkc. These statements are a testament to their truly incredible culture.
The tangible benefits were attractive as well. Among them included a game room on each floor, high-end/modern workspaces, mothers’ rooms, fitness areas, and likely the only bank to offer employees a sabbatical. Additionally, there are several professional development opportunities including scholarship money, quarterly speaker series’, and an internal university called “Banked”.
One interesting thing you may not associate with banks is their investment into technology, but nbkc has strong involvement in the fintech industry. They recently invested in an up-and-coming startup called Greenlight which provides debit cards for kids that are funded and managed by parents through an App. Not only that, they’re launching an accelerator program in the near future where 5 start-ups (in the post-product phase) will be selected to receive space, mentorship, access to investors, and 50k to kick start their ideas. Interested in applying? Email this dude.
If thinking about a traditional bank bores you then you’re in good hands. nbkc thinks the same.
I’ve never worked for a bank where everyone works for the common cause. There’s this teamwork approach that I’ve never seen before. We all work together to get a loan closed. You know when you put a file in the system, somehow/someway it’ll get closed on time. And when that happens, we make huge leaps and bounds in our relationship with realtors.
Location: Kansas City, MO
Company Size: ~300 People
Having a healthy lifestyle is huge at Pro Athlete. Though recognized as the fourth healthiest company in 2017, their cultural health is what really stands out.
The entrance into Pro Athlete is something I won’t soon forget. The entrance hall walls were painted to resemble a baseball field, even having actual baseball glove leather to capture the smell. I hit a ring-like doorbell and a pre-recorded baseball announcer’s message welcomed me in. My first thought walking through that door? Baseball everything. There was no confusing what industry they were in.
I was greeted by a group of 3 guys including Andrew Dowis (COO), Austin Hall (HR Manager), and Brett Olson (Fulfillment Manager). They walked me through the the core values, history of the company, and even highlighting a “Hall of Fame” wall paying tribute to those who were instrumental in their success. Andrew really downplayed personal contributions while emphasizing the efforts of those around him. There was such a deep sense of humility and gratitude in his narrations.
I’ll admit, this was my first tag-teamed tour yet somehow it flowed effortlessly as we began to walk around the different areas of the building. I could not believe how many perks they had. You can read more about them here, but some things that left an impression were their protein shake dispenser, onsite pool and hot tub, professional batting cage, sports court, onsite massage/pedicure/manicure, and onsite bar. Furthermore, there were tiny details such as baseball-customized bathroom signs, digital jukeboxes in every room, and quirky history subtly branded into wall murals. No detail was overlooked.
As the tour wrapped up, I was led back into the onsite bar where employees begin to trickle in. The consensus as to why they loved working here really came down to the people. Pro Athlete feels much like a family where the executives truly take the time to know you, people are welcoming and helpful, and you look forward to being at work.
One comment that stood out to me was how the perks were really a way that they owners showed they care for their people. This was a place where you “could work on yourself” while you’re at work whether it was listening to audiobooks, getting a haircut, or getting in your workout for the day. Because if you could accomplish all these things while at work, you could fully devote yourself to your family when you got home. Pro Athlete was also the only company I’ve come across that has an “Alumni” program where they keep in contact with former employees, even inviting them to company events and holiday parties.
The perks are pretty fantastic, but it doesn’t compare to the culture and people.
Something I’m never going to forget is in 2016 I had a stroke driving home from work. I got to the hospital that night and my husband was the only one there since we didn’t have family in town. Then out of the blue, Andrew comes in with flowers. He kept asking me if we need food or to stay in the company house. He was constantly checking in on me. My husband had to leave and he stayed there until my husband got back. Scott and several other people called to check in on me and coworkers were bringing food the hospital. I was overwhelmed with joy.
Industry: Ecommerce Sporting Goods Retailer
Location: Kansas City, MO
Company Size: 55 People
An IT company that operates almost entirely remote with close to 70 employees and very few of them having met face-to-face. This is the beauty of technology.
I had no idea what I might find at when I came across Chelsoft on Glassdoor, but I knew there was something special about this company. Their website is simply constructed and while I had become accustomed to seeing a long list of perks, there was none of that to show. What I did know was they’re an up-and-coming IT staffing company and one of the fastest growing in Kansas City.
To understand what makes this company great, we all need a bit more context in the IT Staffing industry. A majority of their workforce are natives to India where IT skills are widely taught and valued. Many of them travel to the US on a student visa and put themselves through higher education to then seek employment thereafter. Because of cultural and government barriers, finding a decent job can be difficult. The role Chelsoft plays is eliminating those barriers while balancing the interest of their employees and clients alike.
This industry is notorious for several things including fraud in documentation, not paying employees on time (or at all), and other means of professional exploitation. While most of us might involve a lawyer if our employers did any of these, many of these people don’t have the means to speak up against it. Kiran and Pranathi, the owners, wanted to do things differently. They wanted to do things right.
When I asked several employees what they appreciated about working here it was the same things that kept coming up: caring CEO, teamwork atmosphere, transparency, personal development, and of course, timely pay. For many of us, these would be “bare minimum requirements”, but for a group of people who have personally seen friends deported by illegal company practices, this was a breath of fresh air. Additionally, Chelsoft does regular spot bonuses in the form of Amazon gift cards…which we all know is as good as cash.
As a first-generation immigrant myself, it is truly humbling the way Kiran and Pranathi carry out their business. They’re giving these people dignity where they have been exploited and allowing them to take part in the American dream. They’re changing people’s lives.
I enjoy coming to work because I feel like we’re winning. When we hire a new person, when someone’s visa gets approved, or when we place someone at a job- these are all victories we celebrate as a company.
Industry: IT Staffing
Location: Olathe, KS
Company Size: ~70 People
I thought that I would find mirror similarities in the culture, benefits, and perks in KC as it was in Omaha. Much to my surprise, there were a lot of differences.
1.) They are proud rule breakers. From having “too many core values” to designing spaces that “aren’t supposed to be that way” they said screw it, we don’t follow anybody’s playbook but our own.
2. ) They are crazy competitive. I blame this on their citywide Corporate Challenge. All in good fun, of course. But really…there is some serious rolling up of the sleeves.
3.) Technology, technology, and technology. Several of the companies have built internal programs which displayed real-time progress on screens. As a way to compete against one another (see point #1) and a way to increase visibility within departments.
At the heart of my findings there are actually a lot of similar cultural traits, however. Humility, integrity, transparency, trust, loyalty, teamwork, generosity, and of course, tons of fun.
Thank you KC for welcoming my family and I. You can be sure we will be back!
Know of other amazing companies? I’m traveling across the US to find them so hit me up!