Elite SEM, a digital marketing agency, Named #1 on Top Company Cultures List


Wondering How to Upgrade Your Company’s Performance? Maybe a Company Culture Upgrade is What’s Needed.

From startups to growing businesses and established companies, having a high-performance company culture helps drive a mission, achieve goals, provides support and creates the foundation for employee growth. It provides a productive, engaged work environment that exceeds expectations and gets results.

Entrepreneur, in partnership with CultureIQ®, a culture management software and service provider, released its premier Top Company Cultures list. The list recognizes businesses that have successfully instilled a high-performance culture in their workplace.

Let’s take a look at the culture–and performance–at Elite SEM–#1 among large companies on the list.

Elite SEM, a digital marketing firm in New York, offers the usual buffet of perks: free lunches, frequent happy hours, unlimited vacation and stipends for employees who want to continue their education.

But the company’s commitment to culture goes beyond surface benefits — Elite was built around the idea that employees should be able to determine their own schedules, workloads and ultimately, pay. Such radical autonomy has garnered consistently glowing testimonials from workers as well as glowing reviews from clients and impressive revenue growth.

In a way, Elite SEM was conceived as rebuttal to everything its founder and CEO Ben Kirshner found lacking in corporate America, where he met managers and executives more than happy to “slash and burn people left and right” in a bid to make more money for themselves.

When he founded Elite in 2004, the then 26-year-old Kirshner’s goal was to create a company that didn’t treat its employees like disposable cogs, but instead, make their happiness its central mission. Create a great culture, he thought, and the profits will follow.

Today the agency employs 140 people. “Our agency is set up so everyone is an ‘intrapreneur,’ we’re all entrepreneurs internally,” Kirshner says (pictured top left). Elite SEM headquarters are in New York, with locations in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and there are plans for more.

Employees are given the autonomy to set their own priorities — if it’s money, they can work longer hours, bring in more clients and see their salaries rise. If it is flexibility, they’re encouraged to work from any of Elite’s seven offices (cities include New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta, and employees don’t need permission to swap locations). And if work-life balance is paramount, they can dial back their workload.

“People have come back from maternity leave, and they don’t want to work 80 hours a week – they’re ok making less money to work less,” he says. “We give people that flexibility to work as much or as little as they want. There’s a true freedom to choose.”

Kirshner believes, and results confirm, that people stay with a job if they like the work they’re doing, they like their coworkers and they trust and believe in management. And perks don’t hurt. Unlimited vacation time, free office lunch and dinner, cabinets of healthy snacks, professional development and four months of paid maternity leave are a few. “My job is to make sure the culture is humming, that people are happy,” he said. “And it will come back to me in spades.”

Elite SEM is growing in size and revenue. They have experienced 32% client growth YOY and 94% client retention. Clients include Pandora, Hugo Boss and Etsy. But one metric stands out: a 97% employee-retention rate. What’s the secret? “When we create great lives for our people, they create great lives for customers,” said Kirshner, noting he hires for personality first and skills second.

The List Methodology
The full list presents a total of 75 companies categorized as small, medium-sized or large companies (25-49 employees; 50-99 employees; and more than 100 employees) broken up into three distinct lists based on company size. The rankings for all companies were determined using CultureIQ’s methodology for measuring high-performance cultures. Employees at each company received a survey of multiple-choice questions. The answers were used to assess a company’s strength across 10 core qualities of culture. These quality strength scores, along with the employee Net Promoter Score were combined to create a cumulative CultureIQ Score. The companies with the highest CultureIQ Scores became the Top Company Culture list in ranking order.

To be considered for the ranking, a company must have at least 25 employees, have been founded before Jan. 1, 2014, and be headquartered in the U.S.



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