Best Places to Work 2012

Our exclusive survey reveals the top twenty companies in Madison

Clockwise from top left: The workplaces of Coventry Village Retirement Community, Willy Street Co-op, Harvest Restaurant and American Players Theatre.

Clockwise from top left: The workplaces of Coventry Village Retirement Community, Willy Street Co-op, Harvest Restaurant and American Players Theatre.

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NOTE: We are now accepting nominations for our 2014 Best Places to Work. Click here for more information. 

Two years ago, while announcing the results of our third Best Places to Work survey, we wrote these words: “We know what you’re thinking: After two years spinning in an economic crisis, with national unemployment rates teeter-tottering toward ten percent ... any job is a good job. Every company is a Best Place to Work.”


There’s no point in sugarcoating it: things have been hard. In the four years since the economic downturn, many of us face tougher challenges than ever before. Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, the company that facilitates our Best Places to Work survey, wasn’t even sure how many businesses would bother applying this year.

“Even though unemployment is lower in Madison than in the state overall, it’s still high for this city historically and, you know, who wants to say they’re a Best Place to Work after they’ve pink-slipped five percent of their staff?” she says. “So I was shocked at how many nominations came in.”

In fact, a record number—110 area businesses—threw their collective hats in the ring this year. Ryan also reports more companies than ever before have requested their own results of the extensive project—based on interviews and surveys with more than 50,000 respondents in the U.S., Canada, and western Europe—and Ryan thinks that’s a good sign. “My hunch is they are interested in more than just getting themselves a spot on the list,” she says. “If companies really do want to have their thumb on the pulse of their associates through this employee engagement survey, I think that’s a very, very positive thing.”

The survey anonymously measures six areas of employee engagement: trust, management, development, rewards, connection, and life-work balance. To qualify to compete, at least half of each company’s employees must fill out the extensive survey, a mix of both pointed and open-ended questions. This year, they also had to fill out additional surveys measuring two new factors, diversity and sustainability.

“We added sustainability because we think there’s a real sensitivity to this in Dane County and we wanted our businesses to be able to showcase the things that they do,” says Ryan. “We added diversity because we see the demographics of the changing workforce and we know that people who are fluent in diversity are going to have a competitive advantage in the future.”

Once the field had been narrowed to forty companies, experts from Sustain Dane and Beth Churchill joined Next Generation Consulting to study each company’s efforts in areas such as health and wellness programs; responsible food practices; energy, water and waste management; and diversity measures including percent non-white, average age and gender breakdowns. While many Madison-area businesses are clearly excelling in environmental and health sustainability efforts, it would appear they have a long way to go when it comes to diversity—and so does this inaugural component of our survey.

“I think it’s meaningful, important and underrated,” says Moses Altsech, marketing department chair in Edgewood College’s MBA program and CEO of, a Madison-based private consulting firm. “You can’t say, ‘We’re really open-minded and culturally sensitive but we don’t have any black employees.’ That doesn’t cut it. At the same time, the numbers are only a starting point.”

Altsech says beyond employing people of varying racial, cultural and religious backgrounds, physical and mental abilities, gender, ages and sexual orientation, it’s just as important to make clear that you value these differences, not simply tolerate them, that they’re “valued members of the team and you didn’t just hire them for show.” He says workplaces that embrace diversity excel because the people are regularly challenged, constantly exposed to different ideas and perspectives, sparking creative thinking.

“You get extraordinary ways of looking at ordinary things from having diversity in the room,” says Altsech. “It’s an asset for any workplace. It makes it a better place to work, and it makes the company a better company.”

Overall, winning workplaces in the Madison area are doing a remarkable job. We can’t help but marvel, as we sift through page after page of heartfelt, confidential responses—with the hard data to back them up—at the good work these companies are doing in the face of tremendous challenges. These winners are not merely surviving tough times, they’re thriving.

“These are places that still, in spite of the challenges that they face, in spite of the adversity, in spite of the fierce competition, in spite of all these things, have managed to maintain a positive work environment,” says Altsech, “where the people are just delighted to be there. Where they talk about their colleagues like they’re family. Where it’s not, ‘Oh thank God I have a job,’ but actually ‘I love this place.’ And I’m not saying it in front of my boss or for a camera on TV, I’m saying it in a secret survey. I’m saying, ‘This is a spectacular place to be.’”


Click here to watch WISC-TV coverage of a Best Places to Work winner.

Click here to watch Madison Magazine editor Brennan Nardi and WISC-TV3's Charlotte Deleste talk about Best Places to Work.

Best Places to Work Winners

Top 10 organizations with Over 100 Employees
Ranked by best score based on 80 percent employee engagement, 15 percent sustainability and 5 percent diversity

1. Coventry Village Retirement
Coventry Village Retirement accommodates senior citizens’ every need, from top-notch assisted care to luxurious accommodations for independent residents.

2. UW Credit Union
With nineteen branches statewide, UW Credit Union is a federally insured financial institution that provides customized services to meet the money management goals of more than 163,000 members.

3. Keller Williams Realty
Keller Williams Realty offers the Madison area professional assistance in buying and selling homes with a focus on adhering to a “Culture of Caring.”

4. First Choice Dental
Offering award-winning services for over thirty years, First Choice Dental is a one-stop shop for everything from cosmetic dentistry to youth and adult orthodontics.

5. The QTI Group
Headquartered in Madison, The QTI Group offers human resources and staffing organization services at twelve branches statewide.

6. Steve Brown Apartments
Steve Brown Apartments rents countless accommodations ranging from luxurious to affordable and comfortable throughout the Dane County area.

7. Madison Mallards Baseball Club
The Madison Mallards Baseball Club not only strives to build a successful sports team, but also strong community relations in and around Madison.

8. Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP
Baker Tilly Virchow Krause is a full-service accounting and advisory firm staffed by specialized professionals.

9. M3 Insurance Solutions, Inc.
M3 Insurance is Wisconsin’s largest privately held commercial insurance agency, serving clients across Wisconsin since 1968.

10. Willy Street Co-op
With two Madison branches, Willy Street Co-op is a full-service grocery cooperative specializing in locally made, organic and natural foods.

Top 10 organizations with Under 100 Employees
Ranked by best score based on 80 percent employee engagement, 15 percent sustainability and 5 percent diversity

1. Pro Health Chiropractic
Pro Health Chiropractic offers quality chiropractic and wellness services at their Madison and Sun Prairie offices.

2. Loren Imhoff Homebuilder, Inc.
Loren Imhoff Homebuilder combines expert design, quality construction and the finest materials to help complete any home building or remodeling projects.

3. Pilch & Barnet
Pilch & Barnet is a destination marketing agency that loves to create new brands, concepts and marketing strategies, with a focus on the final outcome.

4. Harvest Restaurant, LLC
Harvest is a Capitol Square fine dining restaurant with a focus on local and organic ingredients.

5. Rhapsody Arts Center
Rhapsody Arts Center offers a diverse array of music, art and theater lessons to children of all ages.

6. American Players Theatre
American Players Theatre offers world-class performances in both their outdoor Up-the-Hill theater and the indoor Touchstone theater.

7. Forward Community Investments
Forward Community Investments provides advisory services and loans to non-profit organizations serving the Madison area’s most in-need communities.

8. Madison NO FEAR Dentistry
Located on Madison’s west side, NO FEAR Dentistry is a full-service dentistry office with a focus on comfort.

9. South Madison Coalition for the Elderly
The South Madison Coalition for the Elderly is a nonprofit agency providing social services for older adults throughout Dane County.

10. Strategic Brand Marketing, LLC
Strategic Brand Marketing offers brand development and marketing services through their exclusive Strategic Brand System.


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