thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy
Translating the Good Bookís admonition to look after oneís
flocks and herds to that of being considerate of oneís staff and
worker bees is a prime credo followed by some of Milwaukeeís
best-loved bosses. Keeping open lines of communication, offering
flexibility, being honest and showing concern are other valuable
leadership traits appreciated by laborers in the corporate vineyard.
While there is no need to have a constant office love-fest, a boss
can be firm, but should not be dictatorial or threatening. He or she
can be an excellent leader/mentor/adviser, without the whips.
Respect, which must be earned, flows in both directions, regardless
of the size of the company or the number of employees involved.
Most of all, skip the screaming, swearing, table pounding and
computer tossing. Any boss who wants retention, loyalty and hard work
from team members certainly wonít get far as a he- or she-beast, a
Capt. Queeg, Ebenezer Scrooge or even by wearing Prada, as did the
nasty Meryl Streep character in the recent movie about wretched
It helps to be cool, too, whether joining company outings, sharing
jokes, allowing dogs at work or simply listening.
The following are some of Milwaukeeís coolest bosses, each of
whom exhibits a marvelous mix of business savvy, psychology,
friendliness and just the right amount of care for workers without
being intrusive or disingenuous.
Bender, GMR Marketing
Brian Bender, vp of operations for the Events Group at GMR
Marketing in New Berlin, is inclined to dress up on occasion,
specifically for new employee orientations. "It promotes
creativity," he says.
Bender has appeared in a black wig and tie-dye T-shirt when meeting
with new hires, or as Elvis or Johnny Cash. "It plays off of the
rock star idea (GMR was founded on music and entertainment). Iíve
made my presentation to groups of new hires that way many times,
groups ranging from four to 15 people. It works. It gets them excited
about what we do."
Bender supervises 14 in the GMR Events Group, serving 80 to 85
national accounts. "Cool is contagious. If you model coolness, it
spreads. I listen, a whole lot of bosses donít listen."
"Cool is contagious. If you model coolness, it spreads."
Bender says listening is very important to matching individual
skills to the vision of the company or project. "You have to
listen to know what each individual is capable of, then match their
skills to the goals at hand."
He also believes in giving awards for hard work and good results.
For example, the firm has an employee appreciation program called the
GMR Rock Star Award. Recipients are given cash to take their personal
entourage out on the town. "We use the Work Hard/Play Harder
model," Bender says.
He also credits a great corporate culture. "We have mixed
young people with older people. We are eclectic," he says.
"It creates a very real work environment that reflects the mix of
society as a whole. The exchange of ideas and information between them
is a benefit to our clients."
"Brian is forward thinking in everything he does," says
Sara Prew, director of events. "I appreciate that he doesnít
have a hidden agenda. He challenges me every day that Iím here. He
wants everyone to move forward career-wise, so he puts staff in
positions where they can better themselves and their careers. It is
"This is truly a team environment," says Erica Kaponya,
supervisor of events. "The word boss really doesnít apply.
Instead we aspire to be like him. Brian is the best boss Iíve ever
Chang, SysLogic Inc.
Brookfield-based SysLogic Inc., an information systems consulting
and development firm, was founded in 1995. Former owner Joseph Schultzís
first hire was Tina Chang. In 2001, Chang became company CEO,
purchasing a majority of the firmís stock. In 2005, she purchased
100 percent of the company and is now, at age 35, the chairman and
chief executive officer. Also in that same year, Chang received the
Governorís Young Entrepreneur of the Year Technology Award. SysLogic
has received the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerceís
Future 50 award in 2001, 2004 and 2005.
The firm now has 35 employees, with a wide mix of ethnicities and
sexes, ranging in age from 26 to 51. Chang considers this potpourri of
personalities a boon, both for her company and its clients. "My
job is to make sure that the staff stays ahead of emerging technology
so it can better serve the clients," Chang says. For her, a big
part of the management process is helping her team solve problems by
coming up with workable solutions. As such, sheís hands-on but not a
micromanager. "I give them room to run," Chang says.
In addition, Chang serves on numerous boards, helps with
fund-raisers and assists with special events. She considers such
intense involvement as another important aspect of being a boss,
showing it is necessary to give back to the community.
"I give them room to run."
Operations manager Michelle Finnegan was attracted to the "mom
and pop" casual atmosphere at SysLogic where a worker doesnít
become lost in a system. "Tina is one of the most involved bosses
Iíve ever encountered," Finnegan says. "She treats people
in the best way possible. Tina is always available, able to respond in
a positive manner without an emotional response. Iím impressed that
she can be both boss and company owner."
Itís more than a New Age computer thing as employees at
onmilwaukee.com, Milwaukeeís Web-only magazine, view their Internet
space as "forward-thinking" and "forward-looking."
The office is where everyone puts work ahead of a dress code and staff
agrees that management has created a livable environment.
Onmilwaukee.com was launched in 1998 on the East Side, starting
with three staffers. It now has 14 full-time employees, with Jeff
Sherman as company president who handles financials and related
nitty-gritties, utilizing his Marquette business degree and MBA from
Cardinal Stritch. Partner and co-boss Andy Tarnoff is in charge of
design and editorial content. The two collaborate on all aspects of
the companyís operations, Sherman says. "Itís a very
collaborative workplace and we are doing great things because of our
partnership and our team," he says. The staff is passionate about
the city and it shows in the firmís daily online product with its
trendy mix of news, features and the inside Milwaukee scoop.
" Ö my boss just walked by barefoot and in shorts, kicking a
Onmilwaukee.com personnel stress that the best boss gives them the
flexibility to come up with ideas. They can also make their own
mistakes, learn and then move on, which is sometimes tough for a
manager to do. For Sherman, being an entrepreneur has been a baptism
by fire, moved by faith that his management style would work because
he trusts his people. "My parents definitely influenced me. My
dad was a senior vice president at Goodwill for 30 years and I learned
by observing his great sense of concern for those he worked
with," he says. His mother was a nurse; all the resulting care
and compassion she exhibited in her job influenced Sherman as well.
Managing editor Bobby Tanzillo has been at his job since July 2000,
writing, editing, strategizing, interviewing and podcasting.
"This is the first time Iíve managed to find a place that
allows me to live like an adult and have a job that even a teenager
might think was cool," Tanzillo says. The day he started,
Tanzilloís wife called and asked how it was going and he replied,
"Well, my boss just walked by barefoot and in shorts, kicking a
Starting a worldwide online logo design firm takes certain
managerial finesse, especially when working with techies in Argentina,
Pakistan, Canada, New York, San Francisco and Minnesota. Not only were
time variances to be considered, but cultural differences also needed
to be taken into account by Jason Marshall, founder of logostick.com.
His firm turned on its lights this past November after six months of
startup slogging, utilizing a crackerjack international team that was
vetted and tested for its skill sets. Today, there are a dozen
full-time employees at Marshallís Third Ward offices, ranging in age
from 21 to 50, as well as contract workers around the world.
"At the end of the day, itís all about people."
For Marshall, being a good manager means communication between all
levels of a company. He learned this skill early on as vice president
of marketing and corporate strategy for the Milwaukee-based Direct
Supply, the nationís leading provider of equipment and Web-based
purchasing systems for the health care industry. He thanked his boss
there, Bob Hillis, for being a great mentor, the earmark of being a
"At the end of the day, itís all about people,"
Marshall says, "which is the same for the guy who runs the corner
convenience store or GE." For his startup, he looked to hire
workers with "brains, character and drive" and then turned
them loose. "You must treat them like partners, let them know how
much you value their input. Money is not always the biggest issue, itís
making everyone feel appreciated and having them feel that they can
make a difference. If you can nail that down as a boss, youíll do
well," Marshall says. It also helps, he says, to be "lucky
enough to have a brilliant wife" as a sounding board, citing
Ashley, his significant other now going for her second degree, one in
interior design at Mount Mary College.
Business analyst Ethan Koehler has been on board with Marshall
since the first ideas about logostick.com jelled last July. "He
was able to share his vision and was still collaborative,"
Koehler says. "While he is still ultimately accountable, he seeks
opinions. Thatís why he hired us." Koehler appreciates Marshallís
enthusiasm and drive, the ability to share his strategic vision with
the logostick.com team and his flexiblity to change course when
necessary. "With the right culture, even a major corporation can
do that," Koehler says.
Crawford, Data Dog Interactive Marketing
Mequon resident Johnathan Crawford heads his own firm, whose motto,
"Fresh ideas delivered daily," sets the bar very high in
terms of creativity. Data Dogís core business is delivering ideas
via e-mail. With a background in radio advertising, Crawford
understands what it takes to establish a creative environment.
"No. 1, you listen to staff and let them contribute, oftentimes
letting them make the decision. I give ownership of various projects
to each person. If they want my opinion or counsel Iíll give it to
them, but they run with the ball. I give lots of freedom because weíre
an ideas company."
According to Zina Harrington, operations specialist, "There is
consultation with all the employees. Johnathan is very creative and he
has all sorts of crazy ideas in his head, but sometimes the person who
comes up with a headline is someone whom you would least expect, and I
canít believe that person came up with it."
"New employees are kind of freaked out that they can come in
and tell the boss ĎI think youíre wrong.í"
"People speak their onions," Crawford says. "New
employees are kind of freaked out that they can come in and tell the
boss ĎI think youíre wrong.í"
"Thatís what makes our brainstorming sessions so
successful," says Tiffany Dahle, senior account manager. "We
feel comfortable tossing out ideas. Johnathan gets out the whiteboard
pen, drawing pictures to keep us going. Heís a very visual person,
drawing both line diagrams and cartoons."
The Data Dog offices are cartoon-like as well. There are stuffed
dogs populating the reception area, and the occasional real dog who is
"visiting." Crawford allows dogs in the company digs, which
are affectionately called the Dog House.
Crawfordís collection of radio-controlled toy army vehicles is
occasionally pressed into service when ideas arenít appearing.
"During brain blocks we have taken the two huge Hummers out into
the hall and raced them to let off steam," Harrington says.
"When I accepted my own creativity I began filling my
environment with my toy collection, soldiers and tanks, bottles of
1973 TAB Cola, bobble heads here and there," Crawford says.
"We have fun. If you canít go to a job thatís fun and youíre
passionate about, itís not worth going to. Iím fortunate that I go
to a job that I like. You have to create it."
Clappier, ADX Creative Services
Eric Clappier is the "fearless leader," "the
commandant" and "all-around nice guy" of 22-year-old
ADX Creative Services. Clappier makes sure that his staff of 10,
ranging in age from 21 to 43, is motivated, happy and working toward a
common purpose of satisfying major clients such as the Metro Hotel,
Cargill and Foremost Farms USA. Heís not a clock-watching stickler,
trusting his people that they will complete their duties, meet
deadlines and be on hand for the companies ADX serves.
"Heís relaxed but still professional."
Clappier is a strong advocate of an open-door policy, and workers
come to Clappier with professional or even personal challenges. He
knows everyoneís significant other and family through regular staff
outings and just by asking whatís up. In addition, the firm has a
401K plan, health insurance, pays for parking, a year-end bonus plan
and other important perks.
Personnel director/account manager Dawn Schwartz has been at ADX
for a decade, appreciating the flexibility the company allows when
family crises arise. "Eric is a genuine individual; he makes you
feel like he cares. Itís more than just the bottom line," she
says. "Thatís kind of unique in this day and age for a small
business. Heís relaxed but still professional."
Jennifer Ruetz, ADX art director for the past five years, commutes
to Milwaukee from Racine. "Eric is involved in projects but is
also willing to let you develop ideas. He understands people skills
and is extremely easy to talk with," she says.
Clappier must be doing something right with his mix of creativity,
personality and outreach. ADX has been able to retain many of his
clients for a decade or more, a factor almost unheard of in the ad
La and James Dallman, La Dallman Architects
The husband-and-wife team of Grace La and James Dallman has landed
major design projects that are shaping the city skyline, including the
Marsupial Bridge at the west end of Brady Street, the Kilbourn Tower
complex and a conference center at Miller Brewing Co. The couple
started the firm in 1999, moving to Milwaukee from Boston when La
landed a teaching job in the UW-Milwaukee architectural school.
Dallman, originally from Milwaukee, had met his future wife in college
and they both went on to attend the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Ö there are no shrinking violets around here."
La Dallman currently employs eight people, ranging in age from the
mid-20s to the mid-30s, with Dallman himself being the
"old-timer" at 43. Several of the staff have been Laís
students. Dallman now is the company vice president and La is
president, "although we never really use those terms," he
laughs. Dallman admits to being a detail person, running the
day-to-day operations of the firm, while La brings big-picture vision
to the table in addition to full-time teaching at the university. They
both agree that the mix of strengths works well. The couple has two
sons, Seamus, 4, and Henry, 2.
They emphasize a team approach to finalizing their designs, working
through a totally collaborative effort that usually involves all the
staff. Their office complements that vision, consisting of open loft
space in an old Third Ward building. Both La and Dallman consider such
a concept important for the free flow of ideas and encourages
Designer Jonathan Goldstein doesnít mind having two bosses.
"When major design issues arise, everybody in the firm gathers
around to work it all out. Both Grace and James welcome and expect
interaction; there are no shrinking violets around here," he
says. "Theyíve asked a lot of me and given me responsibility. A
good boss will trust and invest in everyone, just as they do,"
Lake Bluff Elementary School
According to staff and acquaintances alike, Kirk Juffer, principal
at the Shorewood school, is unconventional. Fourth grade teacher Rich
Rosen likens Juffer to "a sly, nutty professor who doesnít miss
a detail. Heíll throw out ideas then wait for consensus. He knows
when to let the staff make decisions."
"It hurts performance to live in a cookie-cutter
environment," Juffer says. "People shouldnít feel like
parts in a system. I think a great boss understands who his people are
and what they are about. I expect the best and give them enough room
to do what they think is best."
Juffer encourages children to share their thoughts and feelings as
well. "I wore a gumball ring in my nose today, to see how they
would react. One child asked, ĎArenít you too old to do that?í
but there wasnít a single kid who said it looked good. We strive to
get the kids to be honest and say what theyíre thinking."
Juffer caused a stir on Halloween by wearing a big hairy Chewbacca
suit, but Rosen says, "On a scale of 1 to 10 the Chewbacca suit
was about a 3." Heís been known to wear a skunk hat to an
assembly or shave his head for a fund-raiser.
"Kirk is able to laugh at himself and use humor and
lightheartedness in even difficult situations; he keeps an open-door
policy, heíll accept ideas from others, and heís passionate about
the important things ó whatís best for the kids."