Utah companies recognized for leadership, training and creativity

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Top Workplaces report annually selects three top executives — one each from a large, midsize and small company — for leadership awards.

It also recognizes companies for their work in specific areas such as employee training, encouraging new ideas and promoting a work-life balance.

The annual survey, conducted by Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm, resulted in these leadership and special awards for 2020:

(Photo courtesy of MX) Ryan Caldwell, is founder of MX, a Lehi-based financial technology company.

(Photo courtesy of MX) Ryan Caldwell, is founder of MX, a Lehi-based financial technology company.

Leadership: large company

Ryan Caldwell, MX • It’s a given that as founder of a Lehi-based financial technology company, Caldwell is smart and driven. “Ryan is very passionate about the MX mission — empowering the world to be financially strong,” said one employee commenter. “That mission always comes first and foremost.”

But employees say their leader is much more, using words like “candid,” “compassionate,” “caring” and “chill” to describe him.

“One thing that inspires my confidence is his ability to recognize when to take a step back to reflect on what is truly important,” another worker wrote. “Beyond his ability to lead a company, he is equally passionate about his family, friends, opportunity, inclusiveness, and being a good person, which inspires me to be a better employee and individual.”

(Photo courtesy of AvantGuard Monitoring Centers) The Ogden headquarters for AvantGuard Monitoring Centers.

(Photo courtesy of AvantGuard Monitoring Centers) The Ogden headquarters for AvantGuard Monitoring Centers.

Leadership: midsize company

Justin Bailey, AvantGuard Monitoring Centers • His employees may be distant physically, but Bailey has found a way to keep them emotionally connected during the past six months through “presidential dispatch videos.”

It’s one of many ways the leader of this Ogden-based alarm monitoring company instills confidence in his team.

Described as “talented, smart and innovative,” Bailey “knows what is going on in the industry,” said one employee. “He is forward thinking and is proactive rather than reactive. He has selected an amazing executive team to back him up and to work with.”

Employees also appreciate that he “does his best to know EVERY person’s name in the company” and “he is always telling us how much he appreciates us and that the work we’re doing is worthwhile.”

Leadership: small company

Julie Smith, Get Away Today Vacations • Employees at this South Ogden travel agency — which specializes in vacations to Southern California, Hawaii and Mexico — appreciate everything about their boss. Commenters used words like: positive, happy, fun, caring, hardworking, motivated.

“She is an incredible role model and leader for our company,” said one employee, “and I’m so grateful to have her as an example and friend.

Another said Smith and the other managers lead “with hope and optimism.”

“I feel encouraged to be better,” the person wrote, “because of their amazing, inspiring and positive examples.”

Direction

Lendio • Employees like where this 9-year-old Lehi business services company is headed, using words such as “transparent,” “teamwork,” “humble” and “hardworking” to describe the culture. “We are on pace to help the entire small-business marketplace find resources they need to succeed,” said one commenter. “We are going to go far.” Added another person: “Whatever direction Lendio goes, I trust and respect the process in which they will get there.”

Managers

BambooHR • Managers at this Lindon-based company — which provides human resources software for small- to medium-size businesses and has become a mainstay in Top Workplaces surveys — earned positive praise from employees. My manager “coaches me, thanks me for things I’m doing well, is open about improvements that need to be made and helps me to make those improvements,” said one person. “I know he truly cares about my success as a person and a professional.” And this from a longtime employee: “Every manager I have had at BambooHR (and I’ve had a few over the years) has trusted me to be a professional and do my very best work. I am trusted with projects and support is always available to help me achieve my end goals.”

New ideas

Avalaunch Media • This digital marketing agency in Lehi specializes in visual content and is considered one of the top infographic providers in the United States. To earn that distinction, employees say, creativity has to be a top priority. “It’s part of our culture,” said one worker. “Most people who are hired have a big personality that drives new ideas.” Employees said they felt comfortable sharing their thoughts in a variety of formats “including company announcements, group chats and emails.”

Doers

Tesani • Since it launched in 2013, this Orem-based holding company has built several businesses from the ground up. Good communication is the key, according to employees. “From the CEO and co-founder down to each employee, there hasn’t been a time,” said one commenter, “where we couldn’t ask a question or — when decisions are made — that it isn’t been shared openly as to why.” Synergy among co-workers is another factor. “Tesani makes sure that everyone is aware of the goals,” said one employee. “I always have a strong feeling that we are all on the same team.”

Meaningfulness

Achieve Today • The nature of this Orem-based educational technology company — which provides one-on-one coaching and immersive learning — makes employees feel their jobs are worthwhile. “We genuinely serve other people’s needs,” said one commenter. “I get to help the students in a big way because they tell me so,” added another.

Values

Health Catalyst Inc. • Employees at this heath-care vendor shared numerous examples of how strong values permeate the workplace. “During the pandemic,” one worker noted, “leadership has tried everything possible to maintain team member engagement and not unreasonably reduce benefits.” The company has been “transparent about our market position and operations,” said another person. And “included the whole company in the decision to move the main office.”

Clued-in senior management

1-800 Contacts • Top-level managers, including the CEO of this Draper-based company, communicate across a number of channels so everyone knows how things are going — good and bad. “They take the time to meet with individuals at any level of the organization, which just makes them feel more approachable and human,” a commenter said. “They reach out to see how we are doing. They always look at ways we can be better.”

Communication

Ronald McDonald House Charities • The Ronald McDonald House in Salt Lake City serves as a home away from home for families whose children are getting treatment at area pediatric hospitals. But the charity can’t deliver on its mission without having open lines of communication. Employees “always have someone to rely on” and they always know what the “plans for the future” hold.

Appreciation

RainFocus • Employees at this Lehi-based event marketing software company feel appreciated because their hard work gets “recognition from managers” and “mentions from other departments.” There’s nothing better than “seeing our product succeed and hearing about the successes.”

Work-life flexibility

Sirsi Corp. • The pandemic has heightened the need for a flexible work schedule, whether employees are home-schooling children or visiting elderly parents. Sirsi, a Lehi company that makes software for libraries, understood the work-life balance issue long before COVID-19 hit, employees say. “They allow me to take the time I need to tend to my family, realizing family needs to be the priority over work.”

Training

Tanner LLC • There are numerous training programs at this Salt Lake City accounting firm that employees find especially helpful. The “fast-track” training “where we share common issues, successes and failures,” is appreciated, said one employee. So is the coaching program “which helps me grow” added another commenter. A third person said: “The leadership and crucial conversations training have been the most valuable.”

Benefits

Stratus.hr • It’s no surprise that a Sandy-based human resources company would offer a generous employee benefit package. “I had my teeth cleaned yesterday and it was at no cost,” said one commenter. “My prescriptions are practically nil,” added another. This employee raved about all the comprehensive offerings: “I have great benefits. I am saving for retirement. I love our parties and activities, our employee recognition programs and monthly coaching sessions with my manager.”

Austin’s ties to steel company add to concerns over industry influence

The nomination of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to be the next defense secretary has raised concerns over his ties to the defense industry, most notably his membership on the board of Raytheon Technologies.

But less well-known is his membership on the board of Nucor, a steel company that’s a subcontractor to at least two major defense contractors. The connection could further complicate his confirmation as lawmakers have made clear their wariness of installing Pentagon chiefs with defense industry ties.

Since 2017, Austin has been a member of the board at Nucor, the largest steel and steel products producer in the U.S. The North Carolina-based company makes more than 27 million tons of steel each year from 300 facilities across the U.S. It reported more than $22 billion in revenue in 2019.

The company is a second-tier supplier to Oshkosh Defense, which is building nearly 50,000 joint light tactical vehicles for the Army to replace the Humvee, a company spokesperson confirmed. Army officials in February said they hope to recompete the contract in 2022 to drive down cost.

Huntington Ingalls Industries, one of the nation’s top shipyards, also counts Nucor among its suppliers, an HII spokesperson said. The company, which has shipyards in Virginia and Mississippi, builds several ships for the Navy and Coast Guard, including Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers and Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

Nucor likely also sells steel to other defense companies. Steel is required for many military vehicles and ships, and defense companies are required to buy a certain percentage domestically. Because of that “it would be fair to assume that Nucor, as a major domestic steel producer, feeds into the [defense industrial base] supply chain,” an industry official told POLITICO, speaking on background to not reveal supplier information about their own company.

The company did not respond to questions, including what percentage of its annual sales are to aerospace and defense companies.

Critics say this is yet another knock on a nomination that has already faced opposition due to industry ties and the need to seek a waiver. Austin retired in 2017, short of the seven-year “cooling off” period required by law.

“This is just emblematic of how conflict-riddled this nomination is,” said Mandy Smithberger, the director of the Project on Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information. “It’s yet another area of the department’s portfolio where competitors can raise questions about the fairness of the department’s decisions.”

And in Smithberger’s view, the fact that Nucor is a defense subcontractor instead of a prime that works directly with the department does not reduce the risk of conflict of interest. “The bottom line is these decisions are going to impact their finances and he’s certainly going to appear to have a bias for a company that he knows better,” she said.

Smithberger said it is crucial for Austin to recuse himself for the duration of his service at the Pentagon from all matters involving Raytheon, Huntington Ingalls and Oshkosh, which spans a broad swath of the department’s portfolio.

Benjamin Friedman, the policy director at Defense Priorities, agreed Austin’s service on Nucor’s board would “potentially … raise issues,” but added that just recusing himself from direct contract awards does not eliminate the perception or reality of bias.

“You’re making a whole bunch of decisions that have impacts on contractors and on subcontractors,” he said. For example, Austin could make a broad decision to boost the size of the Navy’s fleet that would undoubtedly benefit Huntington Ingalls while still recusing himself from specific contract awards involving that company.

A Biden transition spokesperson confirmed that Austin will recuse himself as required by ethics laws. “Joe Biden has pledged the most ethically rigorous administration in American history, and every cabinet member will abide by all disclosure requirements and strict ethics rules,” the spokesperson said.

In addition to sitting on Nucor’s board, Austin also serves on the board of Raytheon Technologies, one of the Pentagon’s largest contractors. In 2016, he joined the board of United Technologies Corporation, which included a defense segment as well as business interests in the elevator and air conditioning industries. When United Technologies merged with Raytheon in April, Austin formally joined the board of the newly formed Raytheon Technologies, whose subsidiaries make defense products ranging from F-35 jet engines to ballistic missile interceptors.

Austin was also a partner at Pine Island Capital, an investment firm that recently bought a series of small military contractors, the New York Times reported. When he joined the board of the firm in July, Pine Island touted that he was using experience and judgment gained during his military career to work with its companies, including InVeris Training Solutions, which develops virtual and live-fire training systems for the military, and Precinmac Precision Machining, which make components for the defense industry, as well as the semiconductor and aerospace communities.

The former general also runs his own private consulting firm, Austin Strategy Group, LLC, based in Great Falls, Va. A website for the group now returns an error message, but a cached version of the page from Dec. 1 lists areas of expertise as U.S. foreign policy, national security and leadership. An inquiry sent to the group through a cached contact page was not answered.

Two other candidates to be Biden’s defense secretary — Michèle Flournoy, a former deputy assistant secretary for strategy at the Pentagon, and former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson — also came under scrutiny for their ties to the defense industry as Biden weighed his options. Flournoy faced criticism for co-founding WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm with a secretive client list that was co-founded by Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state. Flournoy is also an adviser to Pine Island Capital Partners, the Times reported, and served on the board of contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Johnson, who has since said he will not serve in the administration, has been director of the Lockheed Martin board of directors since January 2018.

Naming a defense secretary with industry experience continues a pattern set by the Trump administration with the nomination of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who served on the General Dynamics board of directors after a four-decade career in the Marine Corps. His deputy, Pat Shanahan, spent more than three decades at Boeing before taking over as the Pentagon’s second-in-command. While he was never confirmed as secretary, he spent more than six months as the acting defense secretary after Mattis’ departure.

Most recently, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was fired last month, was a top lobbyist for Raytheon. He recused himself from all contract decisions involving his former employers for the beginning of his time in government, but refused to extend his recusal when pressed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

It’s unclear what affect these issues will have on Austin’s confirmation. While most of the opposition to his nomination so far has centered on the fact that he will need a waiver, some progressive lawmakers asked Biden to pick a defense secretary with no ties to the defense industry before Austin’s selection was announced.

“Despite President Trump’s boast that he would ‘drain the swamp’ and hire only ‘the best people,’ he has continuously failed to do so,” Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote in the Nov. 10 letter. “We strongly encourage you to reject the mistaken nominations of the Trump era; and, again, commit to appointing secretaries of defense with no previous ties to defense contractors.”

Analysts outside of the government have also said abiding by ethics laws should be a bare minimum, advocating instead for appointing a defense secretary who has never worked at a defense contractor.

“In an ideal world, no political appointees would have worked for or served on the board of a for-profit entity that received money from the agency they would work in,” Kate Kizer, the policy director at Win Without War, wrote in an op-ed.

Watch ‘Trib Talk’ live: Why these Utah bar owners are furious at the governor’s alcohol restriction

Watch live here.

On the next episode of “Trib Talk,” reporter Kathy Stephenson will talk to Twist Bar Bistro & Social owner Kirk Bengtzen and Dave Morris, the owner of Piper Down Pub and HandleBar, about their opposition to Gov. Gary Herbert’s rule banning the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m.

Watch live here or on our Facebook page at noon on Thursday, Dec. 10. Tweet your questions using #TribTalk, or email them to tribtalk@sltrib.com.

“Trib Talk” is produced by Jeni Fitzgibbon and Sara Weber.