Best Places to Work in the Meetings Industry

Employees Etouches Belgium office bowling

(Pictured) Employees from Etouches' Belgium office get out for some bowling fun.

Each year, Meetings & Conventions profiles industry companies and organizations that excel in delivering outstanding employee environments and experiences. For this sixth installment, we selected a global hotel chain, a large incentive house, a mid-size event-management firm and a destination management company with fewer than 15 employees, along with special mention of travel suppliers that score high when it comes to diversity in the workplace.

The modern enlightened workplace -- sporting a solid philosophy, supporting professional growth for all, fostering a playfully creative atmosphere -- starts from the top. At Etouches, an event-management software provider, president and CEO Oni Chukwu's drive to help his people and his company succeed is simple: "People should wake up and feel like they want to come to work."

Founded as an event-management firm in 1998, the company now has 211 employees in seven countries and is headquartered in an old brewery in Norwalk, Conn. Just knowing they'll come to the building and experience the soothing exposed brick walls and presence of games like ping-pong, darts and foosball helps get employees out of bed in the morning.

Other perks of being in any of Etouches' offices include fully stocked kitchens with drinks, snacks, lunch meats, cereal, bagels, healthy options and more. Need a quiet break? The main office's "clocktower" is an inviting lounge space with large foam bags for comfy seating. Old bar areas from the brewery have been turned into standing desks, and the company is transforming the former tap room and cellar into a gym and another quiet area.

Since Chukwu was hired in September 2013, the company has grown exponentially, and he has been careful to nurture this open culture across all Etouches outposts. "If you walk into our headquarters in Connecticut or the offices in Sydney [Australia] or Pune [India], once you're inside, you won't really know which town you are in," he says. This applies to the other four global offices, as well, in Dubai; Ghent, Belgium; Reading, U.K.; and Singapore. "The energy, the way the people go about their work, is almost exactly the same. It's a great testament to our culture."

Employees not only feel the care the company has for them in the office, but also on team outings. The CEO hosts a quarterly event called "cocktails with Oni," inviting someone from each department for a night out to discuss what they are working on, changes they would like to see implemented and new ways to work together. An annual boat trip into the Long Island Sound from the Connecticut office includes fishing, games, food and drink. Fridays in all Etouches offices end early for socializing at a local watering hole; there's a company softball team, a quarterly foosball tournament and company-paid food trucks that bring lunch on some summer days. Skiing, volleyball and more have occasionally taken place during the workday.

All the fun is in the service of supporting a creative and focused workforce. "Our culture has to be nurtured to keep from going stale," says Chukwu. "Good culture equals good business. Where people feel included and know what's going on, you don't have to push them to do the work. I want everybody to feel super-included in everything we do."

Community service also is a big deal at Etouches. The company matches many employee donations to their charities of choice, and there are recurring organizationwide efforts such as working with the Connecticut Partnership for Children, which supports low-income families in the state by providing food, children's clothing, baby supplies and more. Etouches has participated through clothing drives, holding donation rallies, joining in races to support CPC and installing a giving tree in the office during the holidays.

"For me as CEO, it's important that we cultivate that the world doesn't start and end with you," says Chukwu, a native of Nigeria who established his own foundation, Africa Plan, which helps underprivileged people around the world. "We encourage employees to bring the charities they love to us. When an organization looks outside itself, it forges a strong bond."

Movement within the company is encouraged laterally as well as upward. "Somebody can express an interest to move to another department or to another country," says Chukwu. "Those are things we encourage often. It allows our people to feel they are working in two or three different companies over a longer time. It helps us with retention. We listen when people ask if they can move." Employees also are welcome to attend events that will benefit their jobs, and the sales and professional-services teams are offered regular training opportunities.

How Hilton Is Hospitable to Employees
In 2016 and again in the new list announced last month for 2017, Hilton was cited as one of Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For," this year at number 26. The hotel company joins other hospitality staples on the list: Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (14), Hyatt Hotels Corp. (32), Marriott International (33), Delta Air Lines (63) and Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts (79).

"Because we're in the business of people serving people, team members are our differentiators," says Laura Fuentes, the chain's senior vice president of talent and rewards compensation. "Beyond monetary incentives, we believe that it's important that the efforts of team members at all levels are recognized, and this is why we have established ongoing and annual appreciation programs to enable guests, peers and managers to commend outstanding team-member contributions."

The company has even instituted a Team Member Appreciation Week. Food trucks show up periodically at the McLean, Va., headquarters, where there's also an on-site gym. Coming soon: a food court, a Starbucks and a patio area offering a fire pit, ping-pong and foosball.

Among other impressive benefits offered to Hilton's 176,000 employees:

• A top-notch parental-leave program gives all new parents two weeks' paid time off, plus an additional eight weeks for new birth mothers. Adoptive parents are reimbursed up to $10,000.

 Educational support starts with Hilton paying the full cost for employees who want to pursue their GED certificate and grow their careers.

 Travel discounts and perks are available for employees, families and friends through the Go Hilton program.

 Time and monetary resources are available to empower Hilton employees to support the environment and their local communities. "Hilton team members and franchise employees volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours per year," notes Fuentes, "and have participated in community-service projects in 97 countries and territories to date."

BBC Destination Management

Happy employees surround BBC Destination Management
founder Bonnie Boyd (sixth from left).
Happy employees surround BBC Destination Management founder Bonnie Boyd (sixth from left).




A Big Easy firm that creates magical experiences for incentive winners knows a thing or two about jazzing up the workplace for its own team.

"We believe that you do your best job and beyond when you work in a happy environment," says Bonnie Boyd, who launched New Orleans-based BBC Destination Management 25 years ago with one employee. Today, the DMC has a team of 14, including Gracie, Boyd's beloved dachshund, who has her own corner in the company's Central Business District office.

Among the perks the human staff enjoys at the firm -- named as one of New Orleans CityBusiness' Best Places to Work in 2015 and 2016 -- are up to 35 paid days off per year, annual salary increases, profit-sharing and potential bonuses, 100 percent paid health-care coverage, overtime pay and a unique recognition contest, to name a few.

When asked why she places so much value on her team, Boyd doesn't mince words. "I want them to be proud of the company, proud of themselves and proud of what they contributed and the work they do."

Bonnie Boyd
Bonnie Boyd

Boyd strongly encourages continuing education, covering all costs associated with industry certification and accreditations, as well as costs to attend industry conferences. Other job-related courses -- for example, one employee's recent classes in graphic design -- are covered as well.

While management prefers team members to work at the open-plan headquarters in an old Wurlitzer organ factory, schedules are flexible.

"We all have pets, children, spouses, families, etc. When the unexpected occurs, we are extremely supportive and understanding, knowing the staff will not only get the job done but to get the job done well," says Boyd.

Giving back to the community is ingrained in this DMC's corporate culture. Among the organizations BBC supports are Feed the Need NOLA, with staff spending a day preparing, delivering and serving meals at local shelters. The team also participates in the annual International Live Events Association's Give Back project, providing meals for children in need. And last year, employees restored a home for a family that had been displaced since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

The company has a unique way of recognizing staff: If someone is mentioned by a client in a post-event survey, they get to play the "BBC Spin the Wheel" game, which features prizes including cash, gift cards or even time off.  

Since they are based in a city known for great food, BBC often uses meal time to further its corporate culture. When celebrating a special occasion, such as bringing on someone new, or if senior management simply wants to reward the staff for going the extra mile on a program, the team is often treated to lunch or sweets.

At the end of each year, the entire team heads off to a day of pampering at a local spa, capped off with a celebratory holiday dinner at one of the city's outstanding restaurants.  

With BBC employees staying an average of six years in a business with notoriously high turnover rates, this firm's workplace culture appears to have paid off -- proving that a small firm can use big-company practices to keep its employees happy.

leaders in Diversity
In 2016, Fortune started a new list, the "50 Best Workplaces for Diversity." Three firms that serve the meetings industry, and that are perennial entries on the magazine's best-companies list, made the new ranking: Delta Air Lines (number 2), Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants (4) and Marriott International (7). Following is a look at the statistics that earned these companies kudos.

Delta. At the airline's executive level, 15 percent are women and 19 percent minorities. The workforce, numbering more than 80,000, is 60 percent Caucasian, 21 percent African-American/black, 9 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian.

Kimpton. With its more than 8,000 employees, the hotel company is a supportive place for women, having an executive level that is 29 percent female but only 4 percent minority. The ethnicity is considerably more diverse in the overall work force: 39 percent Caucasian, 35 percent Hispanic, 18 percent African-American/black and 7 percent Asian.

Marriott. The hotel behemoth's figures were calculated last year before its acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. At that time, with an employee base of 218,000 people, 34 percent of the executives were women and 15 percent were minorities. The breakdown of the workplaces was 36 percent Caucasian, 29 percent Hispanic, 22 percent African-American/black and 10 percent Asian.

ITA Group
As a self-described "global-engagement solutions" company, ITA Group creates and manages events, incentives and recognition programs around the world, so motivating people is a big part of what they do. But for the West Des Moines, Iowa-based firm, it's also an in-house mission. "Motivation is the fundamental difference between achieving and exceeding goals," notes Tom Mahoney, chairman and CEO, words that apply to customers and personnel alike.

Even the change to casual dress
improved motivation at ITA Group.
Even the change to casual dress improved motivation at ITA Group.

According to CJ Jacobson, ITA Group's vice president of people and culture, "Our vision is to ignite the passion in people and connect it to success. To be authentic in this brand promise, we have to do that within ITA Group. So our goal as a leadership team is to create a work environment that will help to ignite the passion in all of us."

Indeed, the company's headquarters, home to about 400 of a total 600 employees, is a virtual shrine to motivation, beginning with the physical layout. "We moved into this space three years ago and designed it to better foster collaboration," notes Sarah Haines, vice president, event management. "We got rid of high walls, created small work pods to enable better teamwork and in general got rid of the traditional 'executives behind closed doors' ethos. All team members enjoy natural daylight, and we've used vibrant colors throughout."

Citing an employee-retention rate at 90 percent or above, Haines, who's been with ITA Group for "10 years and counting," says a crucial factor is that the company is employee-owned: "Everyone has a vested interest in our success; it's like renting vs. owning -- you just take care of something better when you own it."

And the company takes good care of its workers in return. The in-house Strive5 program focuses on five distinct areas that influence the engagement and well-being of employees: performance, career, wellness, social and community opportunities. "We hold bimonthly 'Hoorays,' getting the staff together to celebrate business successes and milestone anniversaries," says Haines. "Various years of service are rewarded with gifts ranging from dinner certificates to airline tickets. We've implemented family events during the summer, like showing evening movies on our great lawn."

Other company perks in the just-for-fun category include nights at the local zoo and bringing in food trucks once every week featuring fresh-from-the-farm fare. "Our annual meetings, held every fall, always generate excitement," says Haines. "The entire company comes together for a week full of lively meetings and evening events, with arcade games, deejays, henna tattoos."

ITA Group management makes it a point to get to know all employees on a personal level, Haines adds. "And when it comes to giving back, we give our team 16 work hours per year to devote to a charitable cause. We also keep track of how our employees help their communities on their own time, and the one who gives the most during the calendar year gets $500 for the charity of their choice."

In a recent companywide survey, 87 percent of employees said all of the above-cited programs had positively impacted their decision to stay with ITA Group. "We are seeing the returns from the investments we have made in our people and our culture," says CEO Mahoney. "You can feel the buzz all around the company. We have created something very special here."