Cumming firm pulls three-peat for top award

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Cumming firm pulls three-peat for top award

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automation Tech Matt Green inspects a piece of equipment in one of the warehouses at AutomationDirect.com in Cumming on January 31st, 2017. AutomationDirect.com is the medium employer AJC Top Workplace winner. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

More than 2,500 companies were nominated or asked to participate in the 2017 Top Workplaces contest by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and its partner, Workplace Dynamics. Employees across the metro area responded to print and online solicitations that began appearing in September. 

Using survey results, a list of 150 workplaces was compiled, consisting of 25 large companies50 midsize companies and 75 small companies. AutomationDirect.com  was the top medium workplace. 

Ana Santiago's lunch breaks are much more than a time to push away from her desk and grab a bite. 

Every Tuesday and Thursday she heads to one of the workout facilities at AutomationDirect.com, where she has a standing appointment with a personal trainer. 

With a 35-minute commute and four children at home, that's her time to take care of herself. 

"I love it, " said Santiago, who works in accounting. "If I don't do something for me in my lunch break, I don't do it. I don't have time after work. So, that is amazing." 

Onsite gyms, personal trainers, the ability to telecommute, tuition reimbursement, a wellness program, dry cleaning pickup, community activities with paid volunteer time, and financial and spiritual coaches are among the many perks of working for AutomationDirect.com, the 2017 Top Workplaces midsize winner. 

The industrial automation company in Cumming also earned the top midsize spot in 2012 and 2014. 

It's all part of the company's Wheel of Life, a diagram with six spokes within a circle that serve as career, family, physical, financial, social and spiritual goals, and helps employees find balance. 

"They care about your whole life, " said Matt Green, an automation maintenance technician. "When team members know that a company cares for them so much, it takes some pressure off some things outside of work. It helps keep your mind on straight." 

The wheel is part of a company culture that includes its own jargon. "Awesomer" is a recognized word at AutomationDirect.com and phrases such as "community care abouts, " (how employees treat one another) and "love letters" (customer feedback) are regularly used. "Company captain" is the title for Tim Hohmann, who started the company as PLCDirect in 1994. 

"The reason why we call it awesomer is because we've already done awesome, " he said. "Awesome has been a word we've used from almost the very beginning, but awesomer explains where we're going. If someone says this year if you'd like to be awesomer than you were last year. Yes! Everybody wants that, so why don't you talk like that and why don't we make a plan to make that happen." 

A life-size Han Solo frozen in carbonite dominates a corner of Hohmann's office. While it suits the space's sci-fidecor, it also seems strangely out of place for a guy who flies through life like he just made the jump to hyperspace.  

Hohmann talks without taking breaths, it seems, and walks so briskly through the warehouse he's almost a blur as he greets employees -- even the temporary ones -- by name, slowing to ask questions about their lives or brag about them.  

He recalls odd details, such as how one sings in a barbershop quartet, and can tell you how long each of them has worked at the company, where turnover almost is nonexistent.  

Only five people have quit in the warehouse in 17 years, he said, "and only one was for non-family reasons." Overall, AutomationDirect.com's voluntary turnover rate is 1 percent (not including retirement and family reasons).  

"If you keep an environment that's friendly and you treat people with respect, what do you think is going to happen? They're going to stay here, " Hohmann said.  

Andy Tipton Jr. started in the warehouse 22 years ago and is now in software engineering and development. It's his fifth position at AutomationDirect.com.  

"The nice thing is that they promote from within, " he said. "If something opens up and there's a good candidate inside the company for it, they look at those people first before they go externally."  

Santiago also has experienced that after starting as a temporary receptionist 10 years ago. She moved into technical support, is now in accounting and works from home on Wednesdays and Fridays.  

"Every time I moved, I felt a lot of support, from the boss I was leaving and the ones I was coming to, " she said. "It was amazing. They really encourage you and support you and give you every tool you need to succeed."  

Green and Tom Burns, who is a technical illustrator and designer, have both benefited from AutomationDirect.com's tuition reimbursement program and flexible working environment. 

Green, who started in the warehouse six years ago, graduated with a degree in mechatronics from Kennesaw State in December and is now responsible for much of the company's robotic equipment.  

Burns and his team captain worked out time for him to complete his Ph.D. in technical communication and he's also able to work from Washington, D.C., when he needs to care for his mother.  

"They really consider the employees to be an important part of the enterprise, not just a commodity, but something that really makes their success, " Burns said. "People who come here, they don't leave. They stay for years because it's such a good place to work. It's kind of old school in the sense that you go work at a place and stay for your whole career."

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