Best Places to Work for 2013: 15--50 employees

(Winners are listed by size category and then alphabetically by company name.)

15--50 employees

51--100 employees

101--250 employees

251--500 employees

501--1,000 employees

More than 1,000 employees

How the winners were chosen


PDF of Best Places to Work special SectionAccuchex Payroll Management ServicesFive-time winner

NOVATO -- The owners of Accuchex's understand that a diverse employee base is a powerful resource representing a wide range of experience, educational and ethnic backgrounds.

"Our company culture is one of respect and support of an environment that fosters professionalism and personal growth," said CEO Leslie Ruhland.  "We strive for higher standards and are committed to our core values."

Employees say the firm encourages participation and suggestions regarding the future direction of the company and the products it offers.

"There is an open-door policy when it comes to discussing issues and ideas with management that is highly regarded," an employee said.

Another staffer noted that Accuchex's greatness is due to its high tech/high touch relationship with its clients.

"The company is operated by a hands-on management group prepared to roll up its sleeves at any time and resolve both client and staff needs whenever needed."

During challenging times, the firm chose to retain its long-term staff in all departments so as the economy begins to accelerate it would be well positioned to bring in new business effectively and affordably.

The firm joins the American Payroll Association in celebrating professional recognition of its staff through National Payroll Week events and by providing free company lunches more than once a month. Adobe Associates, Inc.Two-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- This family-oriented company has put employees and clients first throughout its 30-year history of providing professional civil engineering and land surveying services.

"The owners makes the office environment enjoyable while encouraging excellence, pride, respect and teamwork," an employee said.  "There is great cohesion among the staff. We have excellent leadership and caring management."

President and CEO David Brown believes each individual staff member is as important as clients.

The company fosters a fun and friendly environment with parking lot barbecues and lunchtime pizza, a Christmas party, group trips to SF Giants baseball games, a beer brewing contest, summer picnic and Sonoma County Fair days.

 "Our leaders go beyond the norm by letting employees balance their family lives and work responsibilities.  They offer us an alternative Friday off work schedule, and also allow us to make up time or take advantage of part-time schedules," an employee said. "The people here are genuine, the real deal. No egos."

Adobe Associates' supports Rebuilding Together, United Way, the American Cancer Society, Hospice of Petaluma and Santa Rosa, Peanuts on Parade, the Santa Rosa Chamber, Cardinal Newman High School, the Active 20/30 Club and the North Bay Chapters of the CLSA and ACEC.Bank of NapaFour-time winner

NAPA -- "Great people with great attitudes" is the key differentiator for Bank of Napa, along with its commitment to investing in its staff through educational opportunities and community involvement.

"Everyone is proud of our bank and wants to do what it takes to make it succeed," an employee observed. "We all have great pride in our work and a vested interest in the success of our company."

Tom McMasters, president and CEO, echoes this sentiment. "What makes our company great is having one of the best and most experienced teams of banking employees in the North Bay."

Employees say management "Talks openly about the challenges we face and doesn't shy away from the issues. They are always willing to change and receptive to our input. Being informed helps us stay ahead of the curve."

The culture at Bank of Napa is characterized as hard working, friendly and caring with support from the top when it comes to personal issues.

"Each person wears several hats and is willing to assist each other. We stay involved in many community events that help us build existing relationships and acquire new ones," another employee added.Burr Pilger MayerEight-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- This eight-time Best Places to Work winner is proud of its collegial team atmosphere -- one that supports each other's achievements, and provides resources to keep employees healthy and happy.

"This is a workplace where you can be yourself.  No matter what your level is in the firm, everyone is treated with respect. It's like-minded people that make BPM an amazing place to work. There are a lot of smart, collaborative people here with a clear vision," employees said.

BPM's 40 accountants and consultants know how to maintain high morale. The office closes at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and jeans can be worn to work during the summer.

Staff and families attended the Giants game opener and enjoy a pre-game party with former players, such as Will Clark (No. 22).

The company celebrates BPM Day (Because People Matter) by volunteering at non-profit organizations for activities like packing boxes at the Redwood Empire Food Bank or reading to students at the Kids Street Learning Center.

During the annual BPM Wine tour, the staff takes a bus to visit client wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties.

There is a BPM Wellness Program and BPM bucks -- given out to top staff members who go the extra mile -- along with a spot bonus program and other incentives.Carlile MacySix–time winner

SANTA ROSA -- "In a service organization, it's all about our wonderful staff, which is our greatest asset. We hire the best and nurture their careers," said Dave Hanson, president of Carlile Macy, a firm comprised of urban planners, civil engineers, surveyors and landscape architects.

"We're a strong group of professionals who understand each others' strengths and complement each other well," an employee observed.  "I feel valued both for my work contributions as well as my personal involvement in the community."

Open communications is a hallmark of the firm. Monthly staff meetings keep everyone informed about projects, financials and the company's vision.

"As our company continues to rebound, the owners and staff work as a team -- always supporting each other and with smiles," another said. "We work on exciting projects with great, talented coworkers."

The company provides snacks, beverages and a daily newspaper in the employee lunchroom. There is an outside deck for breaks, BBQs and activities. The company hosts holiday family events, picnics and potlucks.

The firm is a COTS holiday sponsor and donates meeting space to the 6th Street Playhouse as well as to local companies and non-profit organizations.

Carlile Macy is a Sonoma County Alliance member and meeting sponsor. Company Principal Curt Nichols is the current SCA president.Century 21 Classic PropertiesFirst-time winner

ROHNERT PARK  -- Staying abreast of market trends, statistics and challenges helps Century 21 Classic Properties employees keep their fingers on the pulse of the changing real estate market.

"We are a locally-owned family brokerage with international reach," said co-owner Greg Cornelius.

"Our #1 commitment is providing our sales associates with leadership, ongoing training, leading edge technology and innovative marketing tools so they can provide buyers and sellers with world class service."

Agents meet weekly to brainstorm on how to work better together, whether it is dealing with distressed properties, sellers under water, first time buyers, appraisal issues or new laws," an employee said. "Everyone has a friendly, positive and long-term outlook."

The company provides free training and every employee has his or her own office.

"Our owners are the best in the industry. I've been with Pat Provost and Glenn Gephart for 27 years," an employee said. "All of the leaders are very approachable."

Employees are given the latitude to achieve personal goals with support from the top.

"I'm always encouraged to go forward with my ideas by a knowledgeable, extremely pleasant staff and fellow employees," another added.Codding InvestmentsFour-time winner

ROHNERT PARK -- "If you look at what makes Codding a great company, it's the longevity of employees dedicated to their respective fields, and the fresh perspective of new hires that gives us an advantage," said Brad Baker, CEO and chairman.

"Finding talented individuals to help us achieve business goals is our primary focus."

Employees say it is a relaxed atmosphere with casual Friday's and early office closures one Friday each month.

"Management is awesome. I never really feel like I'm going to work, its more like focusing on something you are passionate about and believe in, while trying to make it better and doing it with people you care about."

Company perks include a free on-site gym, complimentary yoga classes, Staff Appreciation Day with a masseuse, company picnics, plus an annual Fitness Challenge with prizes. 

There are Lunch N' Learn sessions with physicians, nutritionists and experts talking about CPR and Healthy Eating 2.0, plus biometric, bone density, oral health and skin cancer screenings.

The Employee Engagement Program is led by volunteers who organize events, such as a Halloween costume party, bring your child or dog to work day, blood drives, cook-offs, secret Santa, white elephant sales and other activities.

"Our founder, Hugh Codding, said it best, "Nothing is appreciated more than appreciation," said COO Lisa Codding.Dal Poggetto & Company, LLPSeven-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Employees see DPC as a family-oriented accounting firm with a strong sense of community involvement, dedication to perfection and a commitment to delivering a quality product.

"The enjoyable environment makes it easy to come to work. I always know that I can have a good laugh with my co-workers even after we go through a stressful project," an employee said.

The company takes a progressive and innovative approach to staff development.

According to Managing Partner Jon Dal Poggetto, "We continue to make significant investments in staff training and technology in order to increase efficiency in the delivery of client services, while also encouraging open communication, teamwork and initiative."

The company promotes from within and offers a benefits package that includes competitive salaries, bonuses, overtime pay, a leisure bank, health/dental coverage plus vacation and sick leave. 

The firm has a Section 125 plan and a 401(k) plan, with employer matching, and company-paid life insurance.

"People here are happy and productive. The company's culture is one of the best I've had the opportunity to experience," an employee said. "The welcoming family attitude, combined with strong work ethics, makes the company both amazing to work for and excellent in performance."EcoNugenicsFirst-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- With a vision and commitment to helping others, employees at EcoNugenics make a major contribution toward improving the health and lives of people and their families.

"Everyone is cheerful and productive and we love what we do. This is what makes it so rewarding at the end of the day," an employee said.

Commenting on more than 25 years as an integrative doctor, owner Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAC., said: "The exceptional work done by employees enables me realize my dream of helping and healing people using EcoNugenics formulas, and through my clinic and volunteer work domestically and abroad."

Employees say that they have an amazing, dynamic and inspiring CEO/physician who is always smiling, laughing, motivating, challenging, listening -- and giving wonderful hugs.

"We all share a sense of purpose knowing our products benefit people's health and truly improve lives. The atmosphere here is calm, warm and friendly with minimal stress -- even when our server goes down."

Other staff members said, "There is genuine care for employee wellbeing. Our health, vision and dental needs are covered 100 percent. We have great products, positive energy, talented people, with a huge focus on training, great communication and tremendous support."EPIC Insurance Brokers & ConsultantsFirst-time winner

PETALUMA -- "EPIC is a People First culture providing client-focused service excellence. We work hard, but also have a lot of fun," in the words of an employee.

The company is seriously committed to anticipating, delivering and exceeding the needs of its clients -- without taking itself too seriously.

"Friendly, caring and collaborative people generally perform at a higher level, and enjoy life in the process," said Dan Francis, CEO and co-founder. "We believe an excellent work environment is built on respect, innovation, personal accountability, celebration and a healthy work/life balance."

Employees are encouraged to be creative. "We all have a clear understanding of the mission, values, and beliefs from our leaders.  I feel my contributions are valued and rewarded."

In challenging times, employees say the most important criteria for success is "management transparency combined with candor, communication, and a sense of humor."

Having positive, and accessible leaders who share financial realities and opportunities -- along with capable, professional and collaborative colleagues -- is a formula for success.

"Our team is made up of the best in the business, including independent thinkers and productive team players. I'm very happy to be part of EPIC," employees said.

Friedemann Goldberg, LLPThree-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- This 14-year-old legal firm is known for treating employees fairly and investing them with responsibility for the success of the business through an unrelenting focus on excellence.

"The partners acknowledge and reward hard work. I never feel under-appreciated," one associate said. "We are encouraged to interact and communicate with each other. When we go above and beyond to finish a big project and meet deadlines, management recognizes and appreciates that and rewards us."

Managing Partner John Friedemann believes company success is all about having great people, constantly training them and developing opportunities for advancement.

"Employees produce excellent results for clients, and we provide an outstanding workplace environment and benefits."

People at Friedemann Goldberg are respected and, in turn, they respect the goals of the company and coworkers. "Our office is a community -- almost a second home -- where everyone knows each other. I have great co-workers and can count on any one of them on any given day to be there for me."

The firm weathered the economic storm "diligently and strategically. I'm proud of the progress and dedication shown by all departments. We did not let the times get in the way of hiring new people and paying employees what they earned."Ghilotti Brothers, Inc.Four-time winner

SAN RAFAEL -- As a leading general engineering contractor with projects spanning many county lines, the management of Ghilotti Brothers reflects on three generations of change in the construction industry, as the company approaches its 100th anniversary in 2014.

"Our people is what makes us great and a Best Place to Work," said owner Michael Ghilotti.  We have employees who are passionate about their profession and good people to be around."

Employees say, "Open and honest communication is promoted, rewarded and expected.  The Ghilotti family leads by example in the attention and care given to us at work, and with consideration of our personal lives."

There is a Giving Back Program that includes financial contributions to the Boys and Girls Club of Sonoma and Marin Counties, Gilead House, Marin Food Bank and Warm Wishes.  

The company also makes in-kind donations -- paving a parking lot, assisting in community park restorations, etc. -- where the firm is able to give its services to various community organizations.

"We are always seeking more efficient ways of doing business. Ideas from all employees are solicited and encouraged. We're focused on continuously getting better and fostering industry relationships, while keeping company morale high," an employee said.Ghirardo CPAEight-time winner

NOVATO -- With a culture described as caring, community minded, entrepreneurial and innovative -- plus team and family centered -- Ghirardo CPA provides a friendly and supportive work environment with a positive, easy-going atmosphere.

"We are thoroughly blessed to have a wonderful team that works well together and takes care of each other," said Managing Partner Jerry Ghirardo. "While not perfect, we are focused on how we can improve by helping each other learn and grow."

An employee noted that the firm is "very invested in our professional growth. They provide ongoing training and invite outside professionals to speak to our team about services we can offer clients."

Another said, "The company pays for my continuing education requirements to keep my CPA license, and for my Masters in Taxation classes. I can go to any partner with a question at any time. The firm always congratulates me on my achievements and helps motivate me for success."

Ghirardo CPA offers competitive compensation packages and opportunities for advancement.

Employees volunteer as coaches for youth soccer, football, basketball and baseball and do fund raising for local schools. Parents volunteer for outdoor education trips.

This eight-time Best Places to Work winner sponsors numerous non-profit organizations, including the Novato Youth Center, the North Bay Children's Center, Boy Scouts, American Cancer Society, the Relay for Life, and the Pregnancy Resource Center in Novato. Heffernan Insurance BrokersSeven-time winner

PETALUMA - Supporting and nurturing all 400 of its employees -- 17 in the North Bay -- while encouraging entrepreneurism and keeping them happy, motivated and productive is what makes Heffernan Insurance Brokers a Best Place to Work.

"I count my colleagues and staff as valued friends and trusted advisors who have shared, and will share, many milestones together," said Elizabeth Bishop, managing senior vice president. "The average employee has been here over 15 years and we make sure every service anniversary is recognized and celebrated with a greeting card and gift."

Employees say, "We are not micro-managed. The firm works with individual's schedules, which inspires loyalty and the desire to provide the best customer service."

The Heffernan Culture Club reinforces the five core habits promoted by the firm: Answering the phone and emails; have fun; knowing your clients and fostering your relationships, smoothing the path and be respected, as well as doing good.

Employees can choose their own volunteer opportunities or participate in four company charity events as a team.

This year the firm held a 25th anniversary fundraiser for the Heffernan Foundation, raising $805,000, that included a party and an overnight hotel stay in San Francisco.

Employees adopt a family at holiday time and built a playground at the North Bay Children's Center last year.Hennessy Advisors, Inc.First-time winner

NOVATO -- "Our corporate success is based on employee contributions and individual efforts to ensure that shareholders always come first," said Neil Hennessy, chairman, CEO and president of this publicly held investment management firm.

"I also stress balance. While we work hard, I want every member of my firm to have time for their families, and time to participate in our community."

The company supports more than 122 organizations. The largest is the Okizu Foundation dedicated to easing the burden of childhood cancer. 

Hennessy Funds also sponsors nearly every school, sport, community organization and charity focusing on serving youth and education in a 20 to 30 mile radius of Novato.  In Novato alone, more than 27 organizations are supported.

Employees said turnover is low. "We enjoy working together and feel like we're part of something greater than the sum of its parts. There is a healthy sense of community."

The company thrived during the challenging economic environment.  "Our leaders successfully managed our cash and maintained a strong balance sheet."

Another employee said, "Every day we continue to build the company and all of us participate in its success. This enables us to drive growth and fuels our sense of accomplishment. We pride ourselves in not losing our sense of humor, even when the going gets tough."Inn Marin & Rickey'sSix-time winner

NOVATO -- Always giving exceptional service and the ability to exercise independent judgment were cited most often by employees as examples of day to day relations among guests, management and staff at Inn Marin & Ricky's.

"Our staff is trained to think on their feet and to make decisions in critical situations that best serve our guests, without having to ask or get approval," said owners Robert and John Marshall.

"We empower our staff to do the right thing for guest's satisfaction."

For many employees, this hospitality center is their other family and a home away from home. "I just started working here a few weeks ago and I already feel part of the work team."

When business slowed, there were no layoffs. Managers took a hard look at expenses and evaluated vendor pricing and product quality to ensure that money was spent on only what was absolutely needed.

"We kept pushing ahead and did not let the good vibes go down to keep the spirit alive," an employee said.

Since 2009, Rickey's Restaurant community Give Back program has donated $30,000 to organizations such as the Marin Humane Society, School Fuel, Bridges Foundation, the Novato Theater Company and Relay for Life.

Inn Marin's community program has donated $400,000 to non-profit groups.Kiosk Creative, LLCFirst-time winner

NOVATO -- "Creative energy, innovative, attentive, receptive, socially responsible, green and collaborative" are words employees use to describe the ethos at Kiosk -- a fast-growing, 2-year-old web design, marketing and advertising firm with 22 employees.

"We create exceptional customer experiences and take great care in our craftsmanship for our customers, as we provide team members and clients with the support they need," said Claire Knoles, founder and chief operating officer.

"We believe in being efficient with time and resources so customers can do more with less, and so we can give back to our team members, our community and our environment -- as a Marin County Green Business -- while also having fun."

Employees love their company. "I have never felt the typical "Ugh, I have to go to work today.'  Rather it's a 'Hey, I'm going to accomplish something cool today with support of a talented team." 

Every year Kiosk selects a charity to support. In 2013 the focus is on the Breast Cancer Research Foundation through the Marin Marathon, Hats Off for a Cure, Team Up for Breast Cancer and other organizations.

"The people here are awesome. We get together for fun outings, marathons, wine tasting, lunches, popsicle parties, birthdays and more," an employee added.Kurtzman Carson ConsultantsTwo-time winner

NOVATO -- Kurtzman Carson Consultants (KCC) is an award-winning class action claims administration consultancy known for having great people who perform day-to-day tasks with a smile in a cohesive work environment where personal efforts are recognized.

"KCC fosters creativity and out-of-the-box thinking, which allows everyone to play a vital role in our continued success and future growth," said Patrick Passarella, senior vice president for Class Action Services.

Employees enjoy the flexibility of working from home, or on an alternative schedule when needed, with office access via laptop and Blackberry.  

"KCC provides snacks and lunch items at no charge, and allows us to contribute our thoughts and ideas."

Management supports the success of every employee. "We have ample opportunity to improve our skill sets and industry knowledge, and training is constantly available," an employee said.

The company persevered and grew in tough times through diversification, by adapting its business strategy, and by empowering staff to take on new roles –such as identifying more solutions to client challenges.

"It is a work hard/play hard culture with social functions, a holiday party, team exercises and care for others. We come together through Adopt-a-Family to provide holiday gifts for several families, and we also sponsor a local baseball team."Linkenheimer LLP CPAs & AdvisorsThree-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Awesome incentives, extreme flexibility for family needs, as well as having a voice and an important place in a caring firm, regardless of your title, are what employees value at Linkenheimer.

 "I know I can count on my coworkers to fill in or help out if I need them.  It is a combination of fun people to work with, excellent clients to serve and a management group that fosters teamwork."

What makes Linkenheimer a Best Place To Work? "Our people come first," said John Jones, CPA, and managing partner.

"We host company retreats and team-oriented bonus trips for employees and their families or significant others in Mexico or Hawaii, not just as a reward, but as an opportunity to bond with everyone."

Employees collectively determined company values to include terms like "Team, Approachable and Care."

"This is a wonderful group of outgoing personalities, diverse backgrounds, very bright and highly professional people that genuinely care about one another and work hard to take good care of our clients."

During difficult times the team consistently attracted new business by doing more marketing and networking in non-busy seasons.

The firm has also been active in international service projects, including the development of a Surgery Center in a remote region of Nicaragua.M.A. Silva USAThree-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- While providing the finest quality natural and technical corks, bottles and packaging to the wine industry, M.A. Silva USA continues to build a healthy culture where employees are treated well and valued.

An employee observed: "The people, the atmosphere and the environment make every day an easy day at work. The owner is a great person who makes us feel appreciated."

Owner and President Neil Foster said, "Our employees see themselves as part of a team, and everyone contributes to deliver the best service and quality products to our customers. It's a group effort and a high level of commitment to the company's mission and values."

Employees say owners and managers practice what they preach. "Customer service is number one, and they include employees as customers."

The company survived the economic crisis without laying off employees -- even during the slow season -- and kept the same paid benefits, cost of living raises and social functions, while also introducing new products.

"Managers are open-minded. We can talk to them freely about anything. They come up to us just to say 'Hi' and to ask how things are going. We enjoy being together at holiday parties, summer family events and at a friends and family BBQ after the busy season."

Metier, Ltd.Three-time winner

HEALDSBURG -- This project portfolio management software firm provides an array of cloud-based services to help organizations improve business productivity and efficiency. To achieve this, it has created a work environment staffed with a community of innovators who "workforward" (the forward movement of ideas as they are turned into value).

"Metier offers opportunities for employees to take ownership over the work product, innovate, collaborate, and drive a rewarding career path to success," an employee noted.

Owners Sandra Richardson and Douglas Clark agree. "The real value of our organization resides in our employees. Metians are driven, focused, and creative entrepreneurial individuals with bright professional futures.  We pride ourselves on having high standards of excellence that enable us to continually expand our business and provide top quality solutions to our clients."

Another employee said, "Hands down, what makes us the Best Place to Work is the people. We are a team in everything we do and we succeed as an entire group. We care about our colleagues being successful in their positions."

The perks are good, too, including flexible schedules, telecommuting, cell phone reimbursement, 13 corporate holidays, free banking, technology bonuses (iPhones and iPads), and free access to technical advisers.

"People are passionate about working here. Coaching sessions, approachable managers and company events are all tailored to maximize employee growth and overall satisfaction," an employee said.Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Sonoma CountySix-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- With a 70 percent repeat customer rate, one of the highest in the plumbing industry, Mr. Rooter continues to maximize internal and external customer loyalty -- and the phone never stops ringing!

"Concentrating on what makes us great and serving customers keeps us in business and helps us thrive," a satisfied employee said.

In the words of President Saunda Kitchen, "Ours is a culture of success. Each talented team member strives to re-earn his or her position every day -- and always with the customer's experience top of mind."

Mr. Rooter promotes from within. If employees perform the duties, they earn the titles. All managers started at entry levels and worked their way up.

An employee said, "We are offered a range of fruitful opportunities for learning, earning and creating our own career. Management has an open ear, and a helpful hand. We go above and beyond for each other."

Company events include Cal-Ripken Little League, summer campouts and Costco shopping trips. Employees are involved with the Spring Home & Garden Show, Rose Parade, Ronald McDonald House, Toys for Tots, Zees for Zees and industry associations.

"We are constantly setting goals, looking forward, and not settling for good enough."O'Brien Watters & Davis, LLPSix-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- As a community of legal professionals, employees at O'Brien Watters & Davis care about the law and know it is critical to perform top quality legal work for their clients.

"Everyone is incredibly welcoming and friendly. The attorneys always make the staff feel appreciated and part of the team," an employee observed.

Firm Administrator Ceanne Herndon said, "We were the first law firm to receive Best Places to Work honors four years ago. Everyone here knows their actions make our success."

Throughout the economic slump, morale was not an issue. The firm maintained enough business to keep everyone working, and continued to pay fair wages.

"We work hard and expect the best from every person in our firm, so we can provide excellent client service," said Managing Partner Michael G. Watters. "We value continuing education and training and strive to provide a work atmosphere that is congenial and compassionate."

Employees participate in community activities such as The Human Race and Relay for Life, and perform pro-bono work for the Sonoma County Court while also being active in Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce and with the Salvation Army.

"There is always someone here to listen, encourage and keep us all on track."Petaluma People Services CenterSix-time winner

PETALUMA -- "At PPS, employees are dedicated to improving the social and economic health of the clients they serve," said Elece Hempel, executive director. "We have 53 employees supported by 400 volunteers who provide socialization for our clients and even join us in singing and dancing with them."

This year over 10,000 clients will be served in Sonoma County -- some are seen once, while others are helped every day.

"I like the freedom we have to make decisions that relate to our clients and use our best judgment," a staff member said.

One hundred percent of upper management is minorities and women.

"Everyone is willing to share their skills with one mission in mind -- to help others in our community have a better life."

PPS has therapy dogs, a farm dog and a dog that visits clients in a shelter.

"I used Stella, our therapy dog, with a very difficult teen client. It was amazing what a big white dog can do to get an angry teenager to open up," another worker said.

PPS recently put in a garden for staff and clients to use and has "Salad Days" on Fridays. Last October, the organization absorbed a smaller non-profit, the Petaluma Bounty farm, enabling it to serve even more residents with programs and food.Pisenti & Brinker CPAsTwo-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- As the largest, privately held North Bay accounting firm, Pisenti & Brinker strives to exceed client expectations while maintaining a strong commitment to continuing professional education, according to Partner Raymond Pounds.

"P&B welcomes ideas and innovation without worry over structure. There is an open mindedness and ease of communication in the workplace," an employee noted.

The company dealt with the challenging business environment by having a diversified and balanced portfolio, increasing customer service and focusing on its product.

"By doing this we have been able to make our client relationships stronger and increase our customer base," another employee said.

There is a company sponsored golf tournament and a family picnic every year. The refrigerator is always stocked at each of the three North Bay locations.

"Before I came to work here P&B was actually a client of my former company. Their integrity and high ethical standards are reasons why I made a career move to join the firm," said Jodi Shubin. "I didn't know that 15 years later I would be their director of client services and community relations."

The staff is encouraged to become involved with community and organizations such as the Non-Profit Boot Camp.Private Ocean Wealth ManagementThree-time winner

SAN RAFAEL -- Maintaining a positive attitude, asking difficult questions on how to stay relevant in the field, and not being afraid to implement new strategies on how to be successful is what helps make this award-winning wealth management firm a Best Place to Work.

"We all share a commitment to what we do and how we do it, both at the personal and professional level," an employee said. "Our clients can count on us to do their best and go the extra mile."

In the words of Chairman Richard Stone, "A company is only as great as the people who are part of it. We take pride when hiring to ensure that someone is not only a good fit for us, but that we are a good fit for him or her as well."

Benefits at Private Ocean rival those of a much larger firms, including reimbursement for gym memberships, company-paid lunchtime yoga, Friday afternoon lunches (offsite in summer), an annual family retreat weekend at the Russian River, as well as picnics, movie nights and bowling.

Employees have a tradition of volunteering for community projects at least twice a year, such as filling and donating over 300 bags of groceries or toiletries for Ritter House, and supporting the Boys and Girls Club, Lifehouse and the Center for Domestic Peace, etc.Rabobank, NAFirst-time winner

NAPA -- With a vision statement that says "Together, we can achieve more," this global leader in the agriculture lending industry has experienced tremendous loan growth, evidenced by receiving a J.D. Power award three years in a row.

Employees say, "We have a cooperative work environment where senior management walks the walk, is fair to everyone and sets an example for employees and clients. The staff is knowledgeable, well-trained and always eager to help."

Community President Dennis Pedisich agrees. "The bank's three branches are very loyal to both clients and the communities we serve. Unlike some competitors, we are committed to serving the communities where we're located. We are involved, nearby and lending."

Rabobank has an extensive recognition and benefit program where employees receive milestone anniversary awards, and employee of the quarter and volunteer of the year honors. They also receive discounts on Dell computers and telephone service.

As a whole, the bank is involved in over 38 community organizations, such as the Napa Valley Marathon and Cycle for Sight, as well as through monetary contributions and volunteerism.

"Management supports us. It's a fun, professional environment," an employee said.  "I love this place.  Great benefits, great staff and we treat our customers as if they are family -- and it shows."Rack & Riddle Custom Wine ServicesFirst-time winner

HOPLAND -- Founded in 2007, R&R has achieved 40 percent year over year growth for the last two consecutive years -- thriving during the recession by always looking forward and staying ahead of the game.

"Our employees are the fuel that powers the R&R engine," said Co-Owner Bruce Lundquist. 

"We are a great company creating its history everyday around a dynamic core of employees (70 percent women and minorities) whose work ethic, loyalty and positive outlooks have vaulted R&R to one of the leading custom crush wineries on the North Coast."

Employees agree. "We have a major 125,000 square foot wine making facility with our own brands like Breathless and Bubblie Blondie. We also help other wineries blend and bottle amazing, award winning wines -- along with kegging, bag-in-box as well as pouching lines. The innovation never stops."

Another employee said, "It's great to walk through stores, see bottles of wine and say, 'I was there when grapes for this bottle arrived. I helped crush the grapes, our team blended and fermented the wine and others bottled and shipped it out -- Rack & Riddle rocks!'"

The company supports several organizations ,including Lifehouse, The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Hopland Fire Protection District, Sutter Pacific Women's Health Center, Alpha-1 Association, Merola Opera Program, One Brick, and the Gay Wine Weekend.Scott Technology Group, Inc.Three-time winner

ROHNERT PARK -- Employees say "STG has a culture of caring that can't be explained or sold, it can only be practiced and appreciated."

This premier copier sales and repair firm, also offering managed print and electronic document management services, has been in business 18 years.

"We have a great organization because of our collective concentration on taking care of the customer," said David Scott, president and CEO.  "We also look for ways to improve and operate simpler, smarter, faster and cheaper. The bottom line is happier customers and happier employees."

Employees say they "Work hard, not just for the company, but for each other. Frequent company barbecues on Fridays before holiday weekends, and getting out early on Fridays are nice perks that make us all feel respected." 

This year STG implemented a new fringe benefit called "Charity Time" allowing all employees to donate up to five days for a charity of their choice. The firm also reimburses employees for the cost of membership in Kiwanis, Rotary, Active 20-30 Clubs and other organizations.

"I have never worked for a company that is held in such high regard by its customers," another employee added.Schurter, Inc.Seven-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, Schurter is known for taking care of its people. The typical employee has been with this leading innovator and manufacturer of passive and active electronic components, fuses and filters for 11 years. 

The company met the challenges of the economic downturn "by maintaining core competencies and by focusing on critical success factors." Salary cuts made during tough times were fully compensated.

"What makes Schurter great is that they not only care about the company, they care about the community, which is very important to me," an employee said.

The spectrum of community involvement covers sponsoring internships at the Swiss-California Foundation, food bank collections, an Angel Tree project and support for employees at fundraisers.

"Those who work here share a common vision and work together to achieve it," a satisfied employee said.

Employees are recognized through the  "Extra Mile" program, along with a series of quality-related performance, cash and anniversary bonuses.

Benefits include medical, dental, vision and life insurance plus 401K, profit sharing, along with AD&D and LTD Insurance. Education and tuition assistance, employee development and training are also provided.

"I love the people, love the job and love our employer, CEO Bruno Schurter," in the words of another employee.

Smith Dollar, PCFour-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Employees say morale is always high at this real estate and financial services law firm focusing on individuals and businesses.

"Smith Dollar is led by good hearted, smart people who go beyond to make this a great place to work, while also providing equal advancement opportunities," an employee said.

President Rachel Dollar said, "We have an exceptional team of dedicated employees who help us develop and grow our industry-leading practice. I am pleased to be part of the best team in the North Bay."

The firm operates nationwide with new offices in Southern California, Texas and Florida.

"Smith Dollar strives to maintain an excellent reputation in the communities it serves, while giving us time to spend with our families."

Employees are offered time off for their children's field trips and activities. There are staff appreciation lunches, company outings, an annual barbecue and occasional early Friday closures to jump-start the weekend.

Other benefits include flexible schedules, make-up time, telecom-muting, holiday and birthday bonuses and a training incentive program.

"We always help each other so the workload never falls unfairly on a single person."Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District (SMART)First-time winner

PETALUMA -- Under the leadership of General Manager Farhad Mansourian, SMART is building a much-anticipated rail passenger system, as well as a quality organization and a strong foundation for its 28 employees.

"We're all working towards a great common goal," an employee said. "What we do will make Marin and Sonoma Counties a better place to live. Doing good in your community is rewarding in itself."

The recent economic downturn forced SMART's employees to "work hard, be resourceful and understand our challenges.  Money has been extremely tight, given nationwide financial issues, but we managed."

SMART is growing and bringing jobs and potential business opportunities to portions of the North Bay.

"It's a true team effort. By segmenting our project, we achieve a little bit each day -- and before you know it -- we'll have completed it all.  We keep a fast and steady pace," another staff member said.

In a service organization it is vital to recruit and retain high caliber individuals. SMART recognizes good talent and promotes from within in this family and team environment.Star StaffingFirst-time winner

PETALUMA -- Star Staffing is on its way to having the best year ever as it continues to grow and thrive. The agency hired 40 percent more staff members in the first two quarters of 2013.

"Helping to change and make a positive impact on people's lives is what gives us satisfaction and makes Star Staffing a Best Place to Work," several employees said.

Loyalty is high with most employees averaging seven to ten years of service.

The agency is locally co-owned by Lisa Rogelstad and Nicole Smartt who have been known to cook meals for employees as the firm celebrates holidays and special occasions together.

"Our leadership is aligned with us as one unified team around the common goals that define our organization," another staff member said.

Star Staffing values include delivering "Wow" through people and service; building open and honest relationships based on integrity; making safety a top priority; pursuing growth and learning; recognizing the importance of people; being never too self-important to do any job necessary, and supporting local communities in which we serve.

"When the economy took a downturn and staffing firms were going out of business, we didn't lay a single person off, or cut salaries or benefits."Summit Engineering, Inc.Seven-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- "The sophistication of what Summit Engineering people do, and the people who do it, stands out among the rest," according to an employee at this civil, structural, water and wastewater consulting engineering company.

"Our employees care deeply about their work and each other," said President Greg Swaffar. "Camaraderie through mutual interests, regard for each other and excitement about new projects keeps all of us connected."

This 35-year-old firm with 36 employees -- half of whom are women and minorities -- provides regular opportunities for fun.

The list includes weekly breakfasts, a softball team, bowling, BBQs, golf, kayaking, horseshoes, monthly "Wine Downs," office Olympics and every other Friday off, all contribute to general happiness in the office.  Half of employee's monthly dues at the Airport Club are company paid.

"Summit fosters independent thinking and innovation. We have a group of smart, like-minded people who take pride in our work, with supportive management, positive attitudes and interesting projects," another employee said.

The company provides opportunities for personal as well as professional growth through workshops and seminars.

"I feel that everyone strives for improvement and we are encouraged to take risks, to learn and grow," an employee added.Valley Tire & BrakeEight-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Paying attention to every detail when dealing with customers and their cars, and working for a firm that treats customers the way you would like to be treated, is what makes Valley Tire & Brake an eight-time Best Places to Work winner.

"I started as a lot attendant cleaning loaner cars over 10 years ago and worked my way up through warehouse manager, tire technician, brake and front end technician to become a service writer. It's great to work for a firm that promotes from within," a long-term employee said.

Another worker said Valley Tire & Brake survived the economic slump by "Sticking to its guns and not falling into price wars or providing low quality products just to make a buck."

The past few years were challenging and the firm was forced to temporarily downsize, but the company bounced back through innovative promotional sales through the Internet and social media.

"We are focused on maintaining a great work environment," said owner John McGill III.

"Our firm has been in business 45 years and we made a name for ourselves by providing honest, fair and quality products and services. Daily we receive praise from customers for doing the right thing on both sides of the front counter."Vantreo Insurance BrokerageSix-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- "Vantreo has assembled a team of high level professionals who are educated, resourceful, creative and fun to work with," according to President Lynne Wallace.

"The owners have a vision I share of providing concierge style service to our insureds," an employee said. "Regular monthly staff meetings not only inform, but encourage and equip us for personal and professional growth."

The brokerage overcame recent economic challenges by continuing to look for new opportunities.

"Instead of follow other industry players by mass producing through the Internet and going for numbers, we went in the opposite direction by personalizing our services to differentiate ourselves, and to provide meaningful service to clients and prospective clients," another employee said.

"We continue to evolve and reinvent ourselves as a company and make course corrections as needed."

The Vantreo culture can be described as dynamic, future oriented, quick, and with a right and flexible focus on increasing intellectual capital for all stakeholders.

"We provide old fashion insurance knowledge, not just a cheap price. We continue to grow by focusing on our business plan using sound decision-making, and by putting our clients above all other considerations."VinoProFirst-time winner

SANTA ROSA -- Using advanced telemarketing techniques, VinoPro specializes in helping wineries expand their sales in the direct-to-consumer channel. With just five years in business, the firm qualified for the 2012 Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies in the U.S.

"Our employees know they have a hand in literally changing how wine is sold to consumers for all of our clients such as Constellation, Jackson Family and Treasury Brands, Benziger, Iron Horse and others," said CEO Jeff Stevenson.

"From the CEO on down, they really care about employees, our clients and the technology used to make that happen," an employee observed. "We are starting to dominate the industry there is a real sense of accomplishment here."

As a sales organization, there are awards, trips, bonuses, games and goal-driven contests and other competitions with great rewards that keep everyone engaged and satisfied in the work environment.

"We have great perks including food and wine pairing events, barbecues on the deck, company lunches and the ability to constantly progress," a sales rep noted. "There is also a Wall of Fame to recognize major achievements or lunch on the boss -- even a breakfast cooked by management."Vionic Group, LLCTwo-time winner

SAN RAFAEL -- The Vionic Group, formerly Vasyli LLC, is a dynamic and progressive company building a formidable global portfolio of footwear and foot care brands.

The firm has a positive, creative and hard-working culture with a record of rewarding and appreciating team members.

"This year we invested $1 million to significantly expand and redesign our workspace near the Civic Center to provide employees a more spacious, comfortable and creative work environment," said Chief Operating Officer C. Bruce Campbell.

"Everyone in the organization has a passion for not only the products we produce, but to ensure that everyone who uses them experiences the vision of the organization," a team member said.

 "Ours is a laid back and relaxed working environment that makes me want to come to work and achieve my goals," another said. "They really go the extra mile to make sure employees are happy."

The company engaged in new trade channels and tapped international markets to overcome the challenging business environment -- and results have been outstanding.

Vionic increased its North Bay headcount 64 percent from 27 to 51 team members to accommodate corporate growth.

There is a $1,000 employee bonus for referring a successful candidate, and benefits were enhanced with a wellness incentive.

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