2016 Best Places to Work in Baton Rouge: No. 1 large company
GeoEngineers recently hosted a company tailgate party to kick off the college football season with food, drinks and games. Photography by Brian Baiamonte
GEOENGINEERS | 11955 Lakeland Park Blvd., Ste. 100
PRODUCTS AND SERVICES: GeoEngineers strives to make their clients’ lives better by combining engineering and science with technology. It offers a comprehensive suite of consulting services, including geotechnical exploration, laboratory testing, engineering and construction monitoring for the transportation, coastal, development and industrial markets. Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, GeoEngineers has about 50 local employees, including 16 engineers, and roughly 50 years of experience working along the Gulf Coast. Some of its most recent projects include the Mid-Barataria sediment diversion project, the Interstate 210/Cove Lane interchange project in Lake Charles, The Water Campus in downtown Baton Rouge, and work on numerous industrial sites along the Mississippi River.
TOTAL EMPLOYEES: 352
STANDOUT BONUS OR BENEFIT: Rock Solid, an employee wellness program that includes spiritual, intellectual and emotional health, as well as fun competitions for physical health. The company offers healthy juice shots for an afternoon pick-me-up, and subsidizes yoga classes, gym memberships and sport leagues, on top of offering flexible schedules and work-from-home options.
WHAT EMPLOYEES LOVE: The opportunity to work in different places around the country, referral bonuses, spot bonuses and end-of-year bonuses. Annual safety and engineering excellence awards, crawfish boils, and office parties full of food and fun games.
GeoEngineers focuses on keeping its employees emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy to increase the bottom line and deliver for clients.
When Kyle Cook grabs lunch with his former classmates from LSU and Louisiana Technical College, he gets some insight into what it’s like to be a young professional at a typical large firm: infrequent contact with managers, a structured and prescribed work environment, and little room for creativity.
“They make it sound like they’re just a number,” says the 31-year-old, who works in computer-aided design at GeoEngineers.
And when Cook tells his friends a little bit about his work experience—where he’s mentored by the company’s board chairman, has quickly become a shareholder and hangs out with the CEO whenever he’s in the local office—they ask if his company has any openings.
“That’s when I realized GeoEngineers is a really special place,” says Cook, who has been with the company for eight years.
“We’re where people want to be,” says Ivy Harmon, a 30-year-old geotechnical engineer who, after just a few years at the firm, has become part of a team of executives who develop the big picture vision for the company.
The Baton Rouge branch of Seattle-based GeoEngineers sits in a nondescript, gray building in an office park near Industriplex Boulevard and Airline Highway. Flanked by a commercial painting company and a seafood wholesaler, GeoEngineers can appear from the outside like any of the dozens of other companies quietly buzzing about the area. But inside the office the company’s new CEO, Mike Hutchinson, is championing a culture similar to that of a yoga studio or tech startup, with mantras like “be vulnerable” and “check your title at the door.” He even urges his employees to get out of the office and take walks during the day for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or an hour.
Hutchinson says the notion that employees who sit behind a computer for eight hours each day are productive is “B.S.” He compares his company’s “ideologically safe space” to that of a 1970s Saturday Night Live pitch meeting, where no idea is thrown out for being too outlandish. He concedes his ideas are unconventional.
“When I talk about these ideas in concept other companies just say, ‘You’re crazy,’” he says.
The company offers bonuses, profit sharing and the ability to travel, as well as a company-sponsored volleyball team for its employees.
Of its roughly 350 employees throughout the country—there are offices in Oregon, Washington, Utah, California, Idaho, Missouri and North Carolina, as well as Louisiana—about 200 are shareholders. No single shareholder owns more than 6% of the company. Blake Cotton, business unit leader and engineer in Baton Rouge, says it’s a far cry from the large international firm that he spent 22 years working for before joining GeoEngineers.
David Sauls, board chairman, was Cotton’s first mentor and recruited him to the company. The pair revel in the same lofty ideals as Hutchinson, focusing on their employees’ well-being. They also embrace what they call “quirky” ideas.
“We didn’t go to a seminar to learn this,” Sauls says. “We somehow grew up this way.”
“We’re winging it,” adds Cotton.
Financial incentives like bonuses for exceptional work, referral and end-of-year bonuses, as well as a stock option program available to employees after just one year with the firm, make employees feel valued, and help with recruitment and retention. Kylee Lewis, marketing coordinator, says each shareholder is sent a simple, well-designed snapshot of the business plan and financial track each quarter.
Included in the most recent update was a “Wall of Fame” for employees who taught high school students about their work and built homes in foreign countries, among other things. Lewis says the company’s efforts to reach out to employees has driven down turnover. In 2015, the voluntary turnover rate was 7%.
Health is a key part of company culture, embodied by a wellness program called Rock Solid, which includes spiritual, intellectual and emotional health, as well as competitions for physical health. The company subsidizes yoga classes, gym memberships and sport leagues, and gives employees flexibility with their schedules as well as the ability to work from home.
Sauls says the Baton Rouge office will balance out donuts and pizza with fruits and vegetables. The office manager frequently makes afternoon “pick-me-up” apple ginger juice shots as an alternative to coffee or soda.
Lewis says Hutchinson, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, immediately called the Baton Rouge office after flooding recently devastated the area, asking what he could do to help. Four employees’ homes were completely flooded, and another four had some water in their homes. Lewis says Hutchinson’s response to the devastation—allowing employees all the time and resources needed to get their homes in order—embodies his altruistic take on company culture.
Hutchinson credits building up his rank-and-file employees’ emotional and physical wellbeing for his company’s success. He insists the foundation of GeoEngineers is the people who run it—from CAD designers like Cook to engineers and receptionists. And he says it’s not only the company—but also the clients—that ultimately benefits when he has creative, productive employees who are invested and incentivized to do their best work.
“We’re not a commodity-based firm where we’re trying to see how many Ford cars we can get off the assembly line,” Hutchinson says. “By focusing on our culture and who we are, strategies will emerge.”