Building a great place to work takes a lot of effort. For a business owner, there are many considerations, a lot of moving pieces.

As 2020 has so well demonstrated, a great company has to adapt to the times to remain great.

Despite the challenges, many San Diego businesses have done just that — cracked the code of becoming a great workplace — even in the era of working from home.

As part of its 22nd annual Best Places to Work event, the San Diego Business Journal sought out the best companies in San Diego County, surveying company management and employees. This issue showcases the top 100 companies that came out of that process.

“Congratulations to the top 100. These companies that we are recognizing are the best and the brightest companies in San Diego,” said Barb Chodos, president and publisher of the San Diego Business Journal, who emceed the event. “They were honored because they have demonstrated excellence in building incredible cultures, implemented innovative practices, and consistently provide their employees with thoughtful and meaningful leadership.”

Companies competed in four categories, based on the number of employees. As a result, small businesses were not in competition with large corporations.

The Winners

The top 100 places to work were honored. The first place finishers within each category were:

LevitZacks, Certified Public Accountants in the small company category.

WestPac Wealth Partners in the medium company category.

C&S Cos., an engineering and construction company, in the large company category.

RSM US LLP, another accounting firm, in the mega company category.

An Engaging Event

The Business Journal’s Best Companies event, held Aug. 27, also kept with the times by going virtual. Participants joined with their computers and webcams. That didn’t keep the levity out of the event, however. As with the Business Journal’s live events, there was a jovial banter onscreen and on social media.

The San Diego top 100 Best Places to Work rankings are produced in partnership with Best Companies Group. Best Companies uses measurements and standards similar to competitions throughout the United States and internationally. Companies are selected based on a score derived from confidential surveys of employees. Winners reflect excellence in policies and practices that foster employee health, engagement and productivity.

“Our firm was once again honored to be the research partner for this designation. This award is unlike any other, simply put, businesses are being recognized for creating workplaces where their employees love to come to work,” said Peter Burke, president of Best Companies Group.

Expert Panel

Joining in the event wan a panel of local business leaders who reflected on what it takes to make a great company. They included Gabe Erle, president of C3 Risk & Insurance Services; Cheryl Goodman, head of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Sony; Alessandra Lezama, founder and CEO of childcare tech startup TOOTRiS; Eric MacGregor, CEO and majority owner of defense contractor INDUS Technology; and Mike Milligan, managing director of C3 Risk & Insurance Services.

One of the main themes of the conversation was creating a good corporate culture.

“Corporate culture is not something you get in a lottery or stumble across,” said Lezama, of TOOTRiS. “Corporate culture is something you design, build, nurture and scale.”

“One of the things I’ve noticed that makes an organization very successful is promotion from within,” said MacGregor, from INDUS. “And it’s really a passion of mine to see our employees be able to grow as the company grows.”

A sensitivity to generational issues is critical, said Mike Milligan of C3. “When I hire new, Young employees, I have them tell me what’s good and what’s bad,” he said. “We listen and make adjustments.”

In the final analysis, a company comes down to its people, said MacGregor, from INDUS — particularly when that company is a service provider. “With a services company, employees are the fuel to the engine,” MacGregor said.

The Employee Ownership Option

C3 offers its employees active communication, purpose and flexibility. “Unlimited vacation, volunteer hours and our flexible workday and workplace continuously rank as the highest appreciated benefits with our team. We work hard for our clients and find that employees perform best when they are afforded the flexibility to be successful on their own schedule,” said Erle.

MacGregor had the experience of working for an iconic San Diego company, the original version of Science Applications International Corp. Its late owner, Bob Beyster, was passionate about employee ownership. Employee ownership was a great motivator, MacGregor said. Reputedly, some of the lower-level employees who had served for several decades at SAIC were millionaires by the time they retired.

MacGregor is following the same model at INDUS.

“One of the main sources of motivation is where I own 51% of the company (as a service-disabled veteran), we have a 49% employee stock ownership program as well — which has provided quite a bit of incentive for employees,” he said.

Benefits, of course, are crucial.

The Best Places survey revealed all sorts of great benefits programs, from wide-ranging insurance coverage to an annual Take Your Parent to Work Day. In many companies, group meals are now conducted via Zoom.

Many businesses are considering their approach to childcare. That benefit, said Lezama, “is the wind beneath the wings of working parents.” Lezama’s technology business centers around that industry.

“Without childcare, we’re not going to be able to reset our economy,” she said.

Responding to the Times

Of course, companies have had to pivot with the times. The coming of COVID-19 changed work arrangements, making work from home the new norm.

There have been calls for other changes, caused in part by a renewed recognition of social inequality. Businesses see the need to invest in corporate social responsibility, abbreviated as CSR.

“CSR activities done well establish stronger connections between corporations and communities; improve morale and help both employees and employers be more relevant with the world around them,” explained Sony’s Goodman, who leads her company’s CSR efforts. “Businesses cannot succeed when society around them fails.”

Many companies are taking a fresh look at diversity and inclusion within their own walls.

“For us diversity has to be at the core of our culture,” said Erle of C3. “From day one, we made it a priority to focus on an inclusive, flexible and diverse environment where we celebrate diversity of thought and experience. This approach has attracted a diverse group of talent yearning for a place that focuses as much on business success as it does on making a positive impact on each other and the community.”

C3 has established a partnership with Detour, a mentoring program for girls of color. Its mission is to increase access to education and employment opportunities through leadership programs, workshops and activities.

“We decided to create a Culture Committee with 20 individuals participating, people of different genders, races and geographic locations,” said INDUS’ MacGregor. The objectives are twofold. One is “to find what INDUS can do internally to maintain a safe and accepting environment,” he said. The other is to look outward; to help the world at large.

A Virtual Event

Attendees at the Business Journal’s Best Places to Work event — its first major virtual event — gave it good reviews.

“I am always amazed at the positive dynamic that the organization [the San Diego Business Journal] can pull together,” said Lezama, of TOOTRiS. “I feel there is history and community enthusiasm, getting together to celebrate our colleagues in the county. Going through COVID-19, there’s a new level of camaraderie in the employer community. This event is the epitome of coming together.”

More virtual events are coming with the next one being the San Diego Business Journal’s annual CEO of the Year event on Sept. 24, Chodos said.

To view the FULL Event Recap, go to www.sdbj.com/2020BestPlacestoWork

To view the Special Section, go to https://rb.gy/xsm1rh

To view the TOP 5 Mega Company writeups, go to https://rb.gy/o1v0en

To view the TOP 5 Large Company writeups, go to https://rb.gy/ogtjqo

To view the TOP 5 Medium Company writeups go to https://rb.gy/2yxoo1

To view the TOP 5 Small Company writeups go to https://rb.gy/3xmozd

To be included on next year’s survey, go to BestPlacesToWorkSD.com.