Chris Bennett (right) and Wayne Sleight are brothers by marriage and natural-born entrepreneurs — albeit of the opposite variety.
“I’m the realist,” Sleight says.
“And I’m the head-in-the-clouds optimist,” Bennett says.
But that yin-and-yang entrepreneurial energy is what their company is built on.
“Individuals should be able to work the way they want to work,” Bennett says. “I like to wake up and get everything done in the morning …”
“… and I kill it at night,” Sleight says. “Everyone here makes the company work for them, and because of that, our employees take ownership and act like entrepreneurs. They are essentially their own bosses. They get to create, collaborate and employ all the perks of owning their own business — without having to handle any of the crap like payroll and taxes.” (Photo by Dave Blackhurst/UVBizQ)

[pullquote]Employees: 63 employees
Founded: 2005
City: Lehi, Utah[/pullquote]A few years ago, Chris Bennett was ready to fire an employee for being forever five minutes late.   

The digital marketing company was at a turning point, and things were either going to really take off — or they were going to plummet.

“My first instinct was to tighten the reins and get tough,” Bennett says. “It’s like a parent whose kid is acting up. When you’re at a loss, you just keep taking away privileges.”

But instead of grounding the employees, Bennett gave them a lift. His business partner, Wayne Sleight, came to him with the idea of ROWE, the Results-Only Work Environment made famous by Best Buy. In this setup, employees are empowered. They have 100 percent autonomy and accountability to work how they want, when they want, where they want.

“I was spending so much time micromanaging employees. I was putting out fires — and in many cases creating them,” Bennett says. “Wayne and I trusted each other to get our work done. Why couldn’t we start trusting our employees to do the same?”

So they did. And they do. And it’s “completely changed the trajectory” of this Lehi company.

“We spend zero time managing people, which means every minute goes to managing the business,” says Bennett, while acknowledging that, at first, the shift in culture was seriously scary. “Plus, the metrics add up. Our employee turnover rate has gone down, our client retention rate has gone up, and we’ve been able to do $3 million more in sales with only 15 additional employees. We’re working faster. We’re working smarter. And we’re working happier.”

“Wayne (Sleight) and I trusted each other to get our work done. Why couldn’t we start trusting our employees to do the same?” — Chris Bennett, 97th  founder 

The best part? Embracing individual work styles has ultimately made them a better team.

“Most companies talk about values and plaster them on their walls. But aspiration means nothing if you don’t actually do it,” Sleight says. “We live and die by our values. It’s how we hire, promote and terminate. Everyone owns our culture because they know our values — and they know they are valued. Adults want to be treated like adults. And if you’re happy at your job, you’re going to tear it up.”     

Perks that werk

Rowe your boat

97th Floor is a ROWE-certified company — Results-Only Work Environment. This means employees have complete autonomy. Their job isn’t dependent on the number of hours they work but in the results they achieve. Vacation and sick days don’t exist because their schedules are their own. One employee even worked remotely from India for four months. (To achieve this, they rely heavily on technologies like Slack.) “You either fit in with us or you don’t,” Sleight says. “Too often mediocre employees hide behind a 9-to-5 environment. ROWE lets the work — not the punch clock — do the talking.”

Healthy benefits

The company covers 100 percent of premiums for health, dental and life insurance. (Yep! You read that right. 100 percent.) Plus, employees have access to an onsite fitness center and basketball courts to get their blood pumping. Many employees even participate in a company-wide running club.

Live and let give

Every year, 97th Floor pledges 1 percent of its gross income to charity. Even better? They divvy up the amount and let each employee decide where their portion of the money will be donated. “It’s my favorite day of the year,” Bennett says. “Every December we all contribute to a live spreadsheet sharing what charity we chose and why. You learn so much about your coworkers — why they donated where they did and what motivates them. And you walk away inspired by all these incredible causes. It’s the absolute best.”

Oh, baby

Family leave is here to stay. 97th Floor offers one month of paid family leave — with your job guaranteed for three months. And when the new mom or dad comes back? It’s flexibility as normal. “So many employees have difficulty with child care. So many women leave the workforce because they feel like they don’t have options. This takes the stress off,” Bennett says. “Family matters, whether it’s taking care of a new baby or going to your kid’s school program in the middle of the day. We want our employees to be empowered at work and at home.”

Ticket to ride

The company pays travel expenses for employees who use public mass transit. The goal is two-fold: Help the traffic and help the world. “It’s not a life-changing perk by any means,” Sleight says, “but we love the message it sends. We truly care about — and are conscious of — our global footprint.”

The fine print

Move over, Oprah. 97th Floor has a monthly book club where the employees gather and chat chapters. What’s more, if an employee wants a book — for any reason — the company will buy it, no questions asked. “People intrinsically want to learn,” Sleight says. “They want to master things. We read a book called, ‘The Happiness Advantage,’ and it talks about how people are motivated by mastery. Continually paying $20 a pop for books might sound like a big expense, but if it supports our employees in learning, you better believe we’re going to do it.”

Our kind of company

At 97th Floor, kindness is king — and jerks need not apply. “We don’t care how talented and amazing you are,” Bennett says. “If you’re a jerk, you’re not welcome here.”


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