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 companies, 50 midsize companies and 75 small companies. Supreme Lending-Southeast Region was the top small workplace.
A wagging tail, the morning aroma of chicken biscuits and friendly lunch line banter mark a few of the sights, smells and sounds at the Southeast region of Supreme Lending.
But the benefits and perks run much deeper at the Alpharetta residential mortgage broker, a repeat winner (it also won in 2014) of the best small workplace in metro Atlanta.
Employees find flexibility and support from their bosses and colleagues at Supreme Lending, especially during difficult times.
Nikki Lamb, Supreme’s senior loan officer, was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer in 2016. Her co-workers rallied around her, which along with the lessons she learned from Supreme’s Personal and Professional Best Program, helped her as she as went through treatment and recovery.
The company provided flexible work hours, and associates came together to make sure Lamb’s business didn’t slow. In fact, her total loan volume grew 20 percent last year.
“My team picked up the pace for me,” she said. “Just having them be there for you in such an emotional crazy time is, I think, everything.”
Vary Williams, a senior processor, set a goal last year to become more fit, losing 80 pounds, then faced another life challenge when her husband died in November.
“Everybody here has just been so supportive,” she said. “It’s been very helpful, because sometimes people don’t give you the benefit when you lose someone that close, of having the time off and therapy or whatever else you need. They’ve just been very good to me.”
The Personal and Professional Best Program celebrates associates who experience victories. The program consists of a monthly meeting where associates who choose to participate set goals in six categories — family and relationships, health and fitness, personal finance, fun and recreation, faith and community service, and business.
Participants are entered into drawings for prizes, and at the end of the year the associate with the most progress or inspiring story receives a larger bonus, up to $10,000. Both Williams and Lamb won in 2016.
“We are like a family,” said Jetta Wilson, regional underwriting manager. “Everyone is part of the family.”
That family feel is about bonds of friendship, but it’s also in the actual bloodlines. Wilson’s son also works at Supreme Lending, as does the son of Pat Flood, the regional operating partner.
“We want our children to have what we’ve had all of these years, which is a place that you feel you’re going home when you come to work,” Wilson said.
Even the office lab-mix, Charlie, who makes her rounds each day, has a family connection. Kenzie Flood, Pat’s son, rescued her after the tornadoes that hit Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2011.
Part of that closeness stems from long-term work relationships between Flood and several employees.
Flood grew HomeBanc Mortgage Corp. into the largest mortgage lender in Atlanta from 1992 to 2005. He started Covenant Mortgage in 2007 with a few associates from HomeBanc.
The company merged with Supreme Lending in 2011. The Alpharetta office oversees processing, underwriting, closing and funding for the company’s Southeast region, which has experienced an almost 1,000 percent growth in volume the past four years.
The Southeast region now has more than 150 associates (101 are in four metro Atlanta locations), up from 69 when it won in 2014. Six associates have worked with Flood for nearly 30 years and 15 associates for 20 years.
“I am one of the 30-plus year people,” Wilson said. “At the old company, the day I accepted a severance package, I called Pat on the way home from work … and asked him when we were going to get started again.”
Flood tries to make sure each of his employees feels valued in a variety of ways. Once a week, he brings in free breakfast, such as chicken biscuits from Chick-fil-A and bagels, yogurt, granola and fruit from Panera Bread.
“It allows me to personally serve folks that are here. So, to the extent that I get a chance to go in to say good morning to them, there is an exchange that takes place,” he said. “Of course, there’s a biscuit that gets passed from me to them, if they so desire, but more important than that, I think there is just a way for us to connect with each other. For a moment, people forget what their responsibility is and what my responsibility is and we’re just there together as teammates.”
His attitude shows in the way his associates talk about him.
“It’s not like he’s coming by to throw a biscuit at you to keep you happy for the day and help you get back to work,” said Jimmy Bohler, a loan officer. “He invests so much of his time to make sure that you are happy.”
In addition to insurance and retirement accounts, the company assists employees with unexpected financial needs through its Associates’ Emergency Fund, which employees can contribute as much or as little as they want each pay period.
Special perks include use of a trailer to tailgate with colleagues and clients during cookouts, Braves games and other events. The trailer also is put to use when employees volunteer at Habitat for Humanity projects, which join other charitable events, such as Autism Speaks 5Ks and supporting the Best Friends Animal Society.
The company’s mission is to serve others before self, a phrase often used by Flood and his associates. Just as its customer satisfaction rate is high, at 96 percent in 2016, employees are loyal because of the individual care they say they receive at Supreme Lending.
“We are kind of intentionally focused on being the best place to work, not because of the publicity that goes along with it, but because we want people to go home at night and be better spouses and significant others, better parents,” Flood said. “We want them to be better in their entire life because they worked here.”