by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 01, 2015

In this, M&C's fourth annual roundup of terrific companies to work for in the meetings industry, a recurring theme over the years continues to ring true: Take great care of the people you have, and great people will want to join your team.

To select winners to profile for this year's list, we combed Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, 2015; job website's Best Places to Work in 2015 (Google topped both of those lists, by the way), and similar rankings. We also reached out to industry sources to learn about smaller organizations that wouldn't appear on those larger compilations.

On the pages that follow, prepare to be inspired -- and perhaps even a bit envious.

The Third Party: Red Velvet Events
This is what you want the owner of your company to say when she talks about meeting planning: "It is a fun industry; oh, my gosh, it's so fun!"

Those are the words of Cindy Y. Lo, owner and event strategist for Red Velvet Events, a Global DMC Partner, in Austin, Texas, established 12 years ago. "I was in corporate America, a technical project manager," says Lo, who heads up an office of 16 (and growing). "When 9/11 happened, I was a road warrior. About a year later, I decided I wanted to stay put in Austin, to get to know the house I'd bought." But when she sought jobs with other companies, they thought this perpetual traveler was a flight risk, so Lo started her own business. "I figured I would soon stop once I got hired by someone else, but I never closed shop."


All in the Red Velvet family:
Cindy Lo (right) and her sisters
LeeAnn (left) and Sarah

Red Velvet (motto: "Outplan. Outplay. Outparty!") operates in a wide range of areas, from destination management and creative services to full planning for corporate, social, government and nonprofit events. But while the focus of the work is outward, a lot of care is given inward, to the staff that has become a family. Some employees really are family: Lo has brought her two sisters, Sarah (vice president of operations) and LeeAnn (marketing coordinator), into the fold.

Small companies often lack attractive benefits, but that doesn't apply here. One big perk: Every five years of service earns you a full month's paid sabbatical. Red Velvet also is moving toward offering unlimited paid time off, with blackout dates, a new trend in progressive workplaces. Currently, the company awards two weeks off a year, including sick days; every year of service adds an extra day and a half. "We give employees as much freedom as possible, letting them know it is a freedom they have to earn," Lo points out. "They have a responsibility to our firm and to our clients. Beyond that, we try to be as flexible as possible with vacations."  


On parade: Maggie Moo, who adorns
the Red Velvet offices, sports
magnets from employees' many travels.

The office itself is wide-open, adorned with a life-size cow figure (a relic from Austin's 2012 CowParade) decorated with souvenirs from the many destinations to which Red Velvet employees have traveled. Another nod to Texas culture is the office cowbell. Whenever a team member closes a piece of business or has anything to celebrate, he or she vigorously rings the bell to mark the occasion.

Lo is the only person who has a traditional office; everyone else works in the open layout, and there are spaces throughout for gathering, to find solitude or to have fun. Each department has been given a budget to decorate its corner of the long space, and there are scooters to ride from one end to the other. "There are races," says Lo. "It's definitely silly."

A game room is equipped with shuffleboard and  ping-pong, and the kitchen is stocked with fresh fruit, almonds, candy, a Keurig machine and more.

As pleasant as the office is, "if you need to work from home and you know you work better from there, then do it," says Lo. "Just make sure the client is taken care of. We want to give the client the best in creativity and ideas. We want to stand out."

Team members often socialize outside the office. One employee initiated Lunch Wednesdays, where a restaurant most haven't tried is chosen, and a group sets out to taste test. Fun Friday excursions are scheduled once a month, perhaps to an indoor sky-diving center, a Hill Country wine tour or a go-kart racing facility.

Life at Red Velvet is not only about fun and games; the company also encourages employees to grow professionally. Association membership fees are paid, and people are encouraged to belong to at least one if not two organizations. "We want them to be on a committee or a board," says Lo. "We want them to be certified, and we cover that." Lo herself and director of business development Rachel Paisley are working toward their DMCP (Destination Management Certified Professional) credential, while senior meeting planner Nikki Armesto is racking up points to earn her CMP (Certified Meeting Professional).

Every month, Red Velvet initiates or participates in a charitable event. In February, the company hosted a blood drive and launched a social media campaign inviting locals to join in. Staff members volunteer at animal shelters, serve a Thanksgiving feast to the needy at the Austin Convention Center, wrap and deliver holiday gifts, pull weeds at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

The company participates in a recognition, reward and engagement program called YouEarnedIt, through which Red Velvet staff members recognize their co-workers for jobs well done. Points accrued in this process can be used to buy gift cards.

And then there's Pockets, the red-headed troll doll, a bright sign of peer appreciation. Each Monday at the staff meeting, whoever currently has Pockets on her desk passes the doll to another team member to recognize the successor's accomplishments over the past week. The recipient adorns Pockets with a new accessory (once, her toenails were painted), then passes her on at the next meeting.

The company even foots the bill for employees' smartphone data plans. Now that's a perk.