Cultural Lead – The Inaugural DBusiness Top Corporate Culture Awards

Winners of the inaugural DBusiness Corporate Culture Awards are out in front of the business trends affecting employees and their work experiences.
Passion Projects - Sachse Construction in Detroit has built and restored multiple buildings, including the Detroit Athletic Club, The Assembly, The Hamilton Midtown Detroit, and Chrysler House. // Courtesy of Sachse Construction
Passion Projects – Sachse Construction in Detroit has built and restored multiple buildings, including the Detroit Athletic Club, The Assembly, The Hamilton Midtown Detroit, and Chrysler House. // Courtesy of Sachse Construction

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, employers large and small were faced with difficult decisions to keep their businesses afloat. Decisions resulting in job loss, increased workloads for the remaining staff, and pay cuts were among the more drastic.

The future is improving, but it’s a step-by-step process. Employers can expect a continuation of the Great Resignation, more remote and hybrid work, and talent shortages in 2022, according to the Emeritus Institute of Management in Boston.

To get a picture of how metro Detroit businesses are handling these important employer-employee issues, DBusiness invited workers at small, medium-size, and large companies to fill out a survey with questions about their work experience. The best-performing small and medium-to-large companies overall have been recognized as Corporate Culture Awards honorees. The top-rated firms in each category survey also are recognized.

Another part of the Emeritus Institute of Management report says that in 2022, employee well-being will be a priority for employers. The companies being honored in this inaugural DBusiness award program appear to be at least one step ahead of the trend — and, in many cases, several steps ahead.

The overall champions are Detroit’s Sachse Construction in the medium/large segment and the Darden Wealth Group in Ann Arbor in the small company segment.

“We’re very team-member-centric because, ultimately, it’s our reputation,” says Myra Ebarb, director of people and perks at Sachse Construction. “When I hold my Apple watch or my Apple phone, that’s the reputation of Apple, not the person who built it. Here, at Sachse Construction and Broder & Sachse Real Estate, our reputation is based on our team members and their interactions with clients. Being team-member-focused creates the exceptional experience with our company.”

The office is designed to make everyone, including company executive officers, accessible to other members of the team. The corner office with the best view is a conference room.

At Darden Wealth Group, the overall champion in the small company category, the enterprise’s five employees are led by CEO Andrea Darden, a former collegiate and professional basketball player at the power forward position.

“I think culture is very important,” says Darden, who started her business in 2018. “I’m all about having an environment where you’re catering to your people’s strengths and giving them an environment where they can flourish. Being in finance, it’s always been a culture of ‘conform or get out.’ When I formed my own firm, I wanted to do something different. Part of the reason I’m so passionate is that I was in an environment where I felt undervalued.”

Darden says she gets her passion for maintaining a good corporate culture from being on past teams where either a coach or another player contributed to a toxic team culture. She says hiring the right people is the key to maintaining a top-flight corporate culture.

“When we bring people in, it’s important that we hire for culture. It’s very important for us to keep that culture — which includes a commitment to your family, the community, and personal growth.”

Darden says it’s not necessarily easier to maintain a positive corporate culture with a smaller group of people.

“It goes both ways,” she says. “One bad employee in a small group cannot be hidden. You can quickly destroy a culture with one person in a small group; in a larger corporation, you can hide them. When you have a larger organization, you have to make sure you’re promoting the same culture through all the layers of your organization.”

Part of her company’s culture is that she considers herself as part of the team, rather than the team’s owner or even its coach.

“I see myself in the role of a captain,” Darden says. “I tell my team that I’m part of the team. I bring certain things to the table, but my job is also to hire people who are smarter than I am. As a power forward, there were players who could dribble the ball down the court better than I could. I want to empower my people, especially those who are more on the front lines than I am.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Darden Wealth Group also placed highly in the Diversity and Inclusion category of the DBusiness Corporate Culture survey. Strategic Staffing Solutions in Detroit was the winning medium/large company in the category.

“We focus on working with women (as clients), business owners, and professors,” Darden says. “We try to have our staff representative of our clients. Right now, we have three women and two men on staff, and one of our vendors is an underrepresented minority. I believe in diversity. You have to look at your constituents and make sure your staff represents your constituents. Our constituents are a majority of women, so our staff represents that.”

Tracey Kenty, senior vice president of human resources at the 290-employee Strategic Staffing Solutions (S3), which has its headquarters in the historic Fisher Building in Detroit and operates 25 offices in the United States and three in Europe, says the company’s focus on diversity and inclusion starts at the very top of the company.

“Our owners (Cindy Pasky and a board of shareholders) are just amazing people,” Kenty says. “They care about people. The overall culture starts there. We believe that any and everybody has the opportunity to add value and be a part of this great team. One of our pillars is changing people’s station in life.”

Workplace Décor and Amenities

Sachse Construction and Emerge Consulting in downtown Royal Oak were the survey leaders in the Workplace Décor and Amenities category.

The 130 team members of Sachse Construction and Broder & Sachse Real Estate have occupied the fifth floor of 3663 Woodward Ave. in downtown Detroit since October 2020. The space is wide open, ceilings are high and painted white, all offices feature glass walls, and the view outdoors is nearly uninterrupted.

A common area is equipped with table tennis, foosball, and pinball games; a dart board; a video arcade game; and seemingly more televisions that one can count. There’s a fully stocked eatery where team members can partake of fresh fruits and vegetables, a cereal bar, healthy snacks, and flavored sparkling water free of charge. Team members can find a specialty coffee maker, beer on tap, and wine and spirits available for after-hours decompression at the Sachse Café, complete with a neon sign.

“You don’t get hungry working here,” Ebarb says. “We need our team members to be happy, and happy team members create an exceptional experience and they’re so much more productive.”

Elsewhere in the office are giant chess and checker boards. On another counter, a jigsaw puzzle is in progress.

“We have an open-door policy,” Ebarb says. “We can bust in on the presidents at any time.”

The Sachse office also is designed to facilitate collaboration. It has several conference rooms — named for various Detroit landmarks — and other lounges specifically intended for relaxation and casual conversation. There’s a wellness room for mothers, and part of the company’s wellness program includes 15-minute chair massages for every team member every other Friday.

“Just the other day I went out to lunch for the first time since we’ve been here,” says Lou Goldhaber, chief of staff at Sachse Construction and project manager of the site. “I never feel the need to leave the floor. There’s so much action.”

At Emerge Consulting, the small business category winner, managing partner Joe Bamberger says one key attribute for his six colleagues is working in downtown Royal Oak.

“One of our biggest amenities is the city itself with all the food, drink, and shopping options within walking distance of our office,” Bamberger says. “To make it even better, we have free, on-site parking — a rarity for offices on Main Street in Royal Oak.”

Although work takes Emerge’s consultants around the country, Bamberger says he wants to provide them with a collaborative space that offers a variety of work environments. There are desks, an in-office bar, high-top tables, and a second story deck for working outside, weather permitting. “Our team works from the space that works best for them in the moment,” he says.

To get employees through the day, Emerge offers a variety of complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks, and snacks. The refrigerator and bar are stocked with alcoholic beverages for after-hours unwinding. There’s also a small library being amassed to help employees grow intellectually.

“To compete against all of the snacks and candy in the office, our team also receives $200 per year to use toward any wellness or health purchase of their choice, be it a gym membership, workout clothing, massages — whatever helps you stay mentally and physically healthy,” Bamberger explains.

“There’s always room for improvement,” he adds. “We constantly review our space, benefits, and perks of being a team member for Emerge. If our team can think it, we can implement it. The good news is our business specializes in helping other businesses attract, develop, and retain talent, so we always see what other companies are doing to engage and retain employees, and we’ll happily borrow ideas that we think our team will like.”

Career Advancement

Strategic Staffing Solutions and Growth GPS in Novi are the headliners in the Career Advancement category of the inaugural DBusiness Corporate Culture survey.

Kenty, of S3, is a living example of the upward trajectory possible at the staffing company. She started as a part-time employee 16 years ago and now is a senior vice president.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here for improvement and growth,” Kenty says.

The same is true at Growth GPS and its nine-member team, according to Keith Helfrich, founder and managing director.

“We don’t have a policy, per se. Policies aren’t how we work,” Helfrich says. “Our mindset and practice gives everyone the opportunity to participate in areas outside their expertise. We believe strongly in teamwork and growth through opportunities taking place in real-time.”

Since education and training programs are what Growth GPS provides, the company’s team is made aware of “all sorts of opportunities for growth and development,” Helfrich says.

“We provide company-wide training as a matter of course, with at least one ‘major’ event quarterly,” he explains. “We support teams working on special projects with training they identify as important to success for the project, and we support individuals with 100 percent reimbursement (up to $2,500 annually) for training of any type they deem meaningful for their personal growth.”

Community Leaders - The team at Troy-based SUBTA (Subscription Trade Association) operates the world’s largest community of subscription innovators. The company works with brands such as Six Flags, Winc, and Hello Fresh. // Courtesy of Tim Sealy
Community Leaders – The team at Troy-based SUBTA (Subscription Trade Association) operates the world’s largest community of subscription innovators. The company works with brands such as Six Flags, Winc, and Hello Fresh. // Courtesy of Tim Sealy


The Subscription Trade Association (SUBTA) and Trion Solutions, both in Troy, are the winners in the Teamwork category for small and medium/large companies, respectively.

“Generally speaking, all of our positions have touchpoints with each other; no persons are siloed,” says Paul Chambers, co-founder and CEO of SUBTA, explaining how teamwork functions with his 10 workers. “As a business that’s in the growth phase, we consistently work cross-departmentally to implement new and innovative ideas together.”

As a result, the team at SUBTA has worked to develop and hone their communication skills.

“One of our initiatives is monthly development training,” Chambers says. “Here, we devote company time for the teaching and learning of new hard and soft skills. We’re also in the middle of another company-wide team-building initiative. Each month a person gets 10 minutes to 15 minutes to tell their life story, and answer questions from the team. It’s so much fun to learn more about each of our team members, thus building deeper connections with each other.

“Another ongoing initiative we encourage is personal goal-setting. Every two weeks, each team member meets with their accountability partner (another team member) to help them meet the personal goals they set for the year.”

Another element of SUBTA’s synergy is its “culture of caring.”

“Our teamwork is awarded, in large part, through the kudos and compliments of our co-workers,” Chambers says. “Each person has also mapped out their individual goals that are tied to achieving the company metrics. Each quarter our metrics are reviewed, and the progress of each of member’s contributions are updated. This is the largest extrinsic motivation we employ. Otherwise, our teamwork is intrinsic and baked into our processes.”

Lauren Vihtelic, director of workers compensation at Trion Solutions, which has 147 employees, says teamwork is essential at that company, too.

“Each of our departments interacts and works together for successful day-to-day operations,” Vihtelic says. “We continuously have interoffice training to ensure each team is collaborating and using our resources to the best of the company’s abilities. We encourage various team events, especially through the holiday seasons, with our two main events: a department Halloween contest and department gingerbread house contest.”

The Halloween contest includes Trion’s offices in Michigan, Florida, and Arizona. Each department decides on a theme, and employees are encouraged to dress up, decorate, and theme their work areas accordingly, which the company says enhances teamwork and department growth and cooperation.

The gingerbread house department competition was a new event in 2021 and encouraged creativity, teamwork, cooperation, and compromise, according to Vihtelic.


Oakpoint, a dental support company with 13 employees in Birmingham, was the Leadership category frontrunner in the small business category. Financial planner Northwestern Mutual–Troy, with its 250 employees, led the way for medium/large companies.

Oakpoint CEO Mick Janness explains that his company’s leadership team is comprised of seven people, all representing a wide range of professional experience. “The varied backgrounds and dedication to the greater good is what drives the strength (of our team) — the nucleus of which is rooted in certain philosophies that drive collaboration and ultimate throughput,” Janness says. 

The leadership team’s core values include: be transparent, own your attitude, deliver a WOW experience to customers, commit with energy, and act with compassion.

“This set of core values guides us in everything we do,” says Janness, who describes his leadership philosophy as “open-book management” supported by the Entrepreneurial Operating System, developed by Michigan native Gino Wickman.

“E.O.S. drives a completely transparent culture coupled with accountability throughout the entire organization,” Janness says. “Everyone is accountable to one another in a bottom-up — not a hierarchical or top-down — approach. We host quarterly Town Hall events, whereby financials are shared, and an open forum of questions and answers are then shared.

“The term ‘employee engagement’ is desired by so many,” he continues. “Our philosophy is simple: If you want team members to be engaged, you need to engage them in the business.  Further supporting this belief, we’re deeply passionate about discussing our shortcomings and where improvement needs to be addressed. We never tell ourselves we’re great at something when we know it’s not fact.”      

Mark Smith, chief marketing officer at Northwestern Mutual–Troy, says his company’s leadership is based on admiration and understanding.

“Our whole business model, our whole industry, is set up out of mutual respect,” Smith says. “We’ve got a lot of folks who are staff and a lot of folks who are 10-99 (contract workers). As they’re taking care of clients, you need to put them in an atmosphere that’s very nurturing, educational, and supportive.

“We’re very good at setting a plan and letting people know where they fit into that plan. We’re very strategically communicative. Everybody knows every week what’s going on. We’re all servant leaders. It is truly open-door; we’re here to support and make you better.”

Community Engagement

Northwestern Mutual–Troy also excelled in the Community Engagement part of the DBusiness Corporate Culture survey, as did Sentinal Benefits and Financial Group in Bingham Farms, representing small businesses with its 30 employees.

“We support three childhood cancer charities: Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, Camp Casey, and the Children’s Foundation,” Smith says. “Everyone really got behind doing things for these programs. We’re all hands on deck. It gets all of us together for one cause.”

Northwestern Mutual–Troy, which provides personalized financial plans for individuals and families, also put on events for children with cancer, along with their siblings and parents, and started a fundraising golf outing in 2021 that it hopes will be an annual event.


Emagine Entertainment in Troy, with 650 employees — and the largest organization taking part in the survey — scored well in the Gratitude category. Harbor Computer Systems in Royal Oak has seven employees and topped the small business segment in this category.

“We show our gratitude in various ways,” says Shelby Langenstein, chief people officer at Emagine.

She says the company recognizes employees of the month; presents on-the-spot rewards from senior leaders, who hand out gift cards to high performers; sponsors holiday parties and bonuses; and celebrates birthdays and anniversaries. It has a Senior Leadership Incentive Program for theater general managers, which incentivizes the GMs to align business goals with building operations and financially rewards them for doing so.

“Beyond all of these programs, I think the most important aspect of what we do at Emagine is take care of our employees,” Langenstein says. “A prime example of this is when our business was completely shuttered in 2020 and we were forced to lay off over 90 percent of our staff. Even though our hands were forced in the layoffs, we continued to pay health insurance for anyone who was laid off, covering the entirety of their benefits while they were laid off. Since our inception, we knew that if we took care of our team, our team would take care of our guests — and that’s the heart of our business.”

Compensation and Benefits/Flexibility

InvestNext, a Detroit company with eight employees that’s working to transform the process by which investment firms raise and manage capital, was the small business winner in the Compensation and Benefits, as well as the Flexibility categories of the inaugural DBusiness survey. Southfield-based 123Net, Michigan’s largest provider of telephone, internet, and colocation services, which has 200 workers, was tops in the medium/large business segment in the same categories.

“We offer our team market-rate salaries in addition to equity,” says Lucas Traikoff, head of marketing at InvestNext. “We offer full coverage benefits including unlimited vacation, 99 percent employer-paid insurance (health care, vision, and dental), and 3 percent match 401k.

“We’re a flexibility-first company. Our team members can choose to work from home, in a coworking space, or a blend of the two.”

Mentorship Champion

Film director Steven Spielberg once said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” This could describe one of the many mentoring philosophies of Jennifer Cline, DBusiness magazine’s inaugural Mentorship Champion.

As director of marketing at SUBTA, the Troy-based Subscription Trade Association, Cline manages a team of seven people. “They know they can come to me at any time,” says Cline, who didn’t have access to many mentoring opportunities at her previous employer.

To fill the gap, she reached out and established her own network of leaders. “That’s one reason it became a priority for me to make sure that as I’m growing my team, there’s a close resource for everyone to grow their careers, and I can be that person for them,” says Cline, a mother of three children under 8 years old.

She even promotes her own mentoring philosophies, many of which are captured in catch phrases like “feedback is a gift” and “hone it in.”

“Mentorship is being an active listener and encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone a little bit when they’re not confident they can do something and I’m confident they can,” she explains.

She says the key to mentorship is working together. “Creating a collaborative environment is going to help us all succeed. It’s going to help us grow more effectively together.”

One of Cline’s mentees is Nadine Ghiran, a junior marketing assistant at SUBTA. She credits Cline for being a critical part of her professional development.

“She has helped shape me into the marketer and content writer I am today,” Ghiran says. “Daily, she offers moments of recognition for a job well done, even if it’s the smallest of tasks. Her constructive feedback goes a long way and has been crucial to my growth in the company.”

The Finalists

123Net, Detroit

Aaron & Amanda’s, Detroit

Apex Digital Solutions, Southfield

Arrow Strategies, Southfield

Back & Neck Chiropractic Wellness Center, Troy

Bingo Pet Salon, Royal Oak

Broder & Sachse Real Estate. Detroit

Cascade Partners, Southfield

Choice Telecommunications Inc., Clarkston

Darden Wealth Group, Ann Arbor

DOBI Real Estate, Birmingham

Emagine Entertainment, Troy

Emerge Consulting, Royal Oak

RoadEx Services, Livonia

Franco, Detroit

Girl Boss Fashion, Sterling Heights

Giroux Trial Attorneys, Southfield

Great Lakes Wealth, Northville

Greystone Financial Group, Bloomfield Township

Growth GPS, Novi

GTS Direct, Detroit

Harbor Computer Services, Royal Oak

HealthRise, Southfield

Ideal You, Sterling Heights

InvestNext, Detroit

Korotkin Insurance Group, Southfield

Law Office of Barton Morris, Royal Oak

Lormax Stern Development Co., Bloomfield Hills

Mad Science of Detroit

MassMutual Great Lakes, Southfield

Morreys Contracting, Ferndale

Nano Magic, Madison Heights

Near Perfect Media, Bloomfield Hills

Northwestern Mutual-Troy

Oakpoint, Birmingham

O’Keefe, Bloomfield Hills

Oswald Cos., Bloomfield Hills

P.A. Commercial, Southfield

Qodex, Southfield

Resolute Building Intelligence, Pontiac

Rose Pest Solutions, Troy

Sachse Construction, Detroit

Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group, Bingham Farms

SMPLFD, Detroit

Strategic Staffing Solutions, Detroit

Stuart Mechanical, Auburn Hills


t2 designs, Brighton

The Goddard School of Novi

The JRT Agency, Farmington Hills

Trion Solutions Inc., Troy

Van Dyke Horn Public Relations, Detroit

Vision Computer Solutions, Northville

Waymark, Detroit

Zolman Restoration, Walled Lake

The Winners

Overall Champions

Small — Darden Wealth Group, Ann Arbor
Darden Wealth Group is a wealth management company. Its mission is to take the burden of wealth management off its clients’ shoulders and turn their visions into reality.

Medium/Large — Sachse Construction, Detroit
Founded in 1991, Sachse Construction has built millions of square feet of commercial, retail, multifamily, and institutional space throughout the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Diversity and Inclusion

Small — Darden Wealth Group, Ann Arbor
Darden Wealth Group takes the time to hire people that fit its culture, which includes a commitment to family, the community, and personal growth.

Medium/Large — Strategic Staffing Solutions, Detroit
Strategic Staffing Solutions is a global IT consulting and business services corporation that delivers staff augmentation, total workforce management programs, outsourced solutions, and direct-hire recruiting, with in-depth expertise in several industries.

Workplace Décor and Amenities

Small — Emerge Consulting, Royal Oak
Emerge Consulting partners with businesses to develop long-term workforce strategies by helping them attract, develop, and retain talent.

Medium/Large — Sachse Construction
Sachse Construction has built multiple projects for Whole Foods, as well as the Nike Community Store, The Madison, and One Woodward in downtown Detroit, the International Market Place in Honolulu, and more.

Compensation and Benefits

Small — InvestNext, Detroit
InvestNext says it’s on a mission to transform the process in which investment firms raise and manage capital.

Medium/Large — 123Net, Southfield
123Net is a telephone, internet, and co-location provider working to make Michigan communities and businesses the best-connected on the planet.

Career Advancement

Small — Growth GPS, Novi
Growth GPS works with organizations seeking transformation to help them hire, develop, and manage an unstoppable workforce.

Medium/Large — Strategic Staffing Solutions
Strategic Staffing Solutions operates 25 offices in the United States and three in Europe. The company has industry expertise in financial services, health care, energy, and more.


Small — Harbor Computer Services, Royal Oak
Offers award-winning IT services and demonstrated leadership. Specializes in client companies with fewer than 100 employees.

Medium/Large — Emagine Entertainment Inc., Troy
Emagine Entertainment is a movie theater chain operating 25 cinemas: 13 in Michigan, nine in Minnesota, and one each in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.


Small — SUBTA, Troy
The Subscription Trade Association provides a comprehensive and reputable library of news, knowledge, and resources.

Medium/Large — Trion Solutions, Troy
Trion Solutions is a professional employer organization offering human resources outsourcing solutions for HR administration.


Small — InvestNext, Detroit
InvestNext says it’s on a mission to transform the process in which investment firms raise and manage capital.

Medium/Large — 123Net, Southfield
123Net is a telephone, internet, and co-location provider working to make Michigan communities and businesses the best-connected on the planet.


Small — Oakpoint, Birmingham
Oakpoint is a dental support organization that provides nonclinical support services under business service agreements. Their affiliated practices maintain ownership while leveraging the Oakpoint operating platform to achieve growth.

Medium/Large — Northwestern Mutual-Troy, Troy
Northwestern Mutual-Troy offers financial planning, and suggests insurance and investment strategies.

Community Engagement

Small — Sentinal Benefits & Financial Group, Bingham Farms
Sentinel Benefits & Financial Group has become a trusted financial adviser and employee benefits administration service provider to businesses and individuals.

Medium/Large — Northwestern Mutual-Troy, Troy
The company’s team of advisers creates personalized financial plans for individuals and families. The plans include insurance and investment strategies.