Best Places to Work

Houston’s Best Places to Work in 2015

The results are in: here are Houston’s hottest workplaces, from coolest office space to biggest perks.

By Lonna Dawson, Fayza Elmostehi, and Brittanie Shey November 3, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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Poetic Systems’ killer view

Best Benefits

TopSpot Internet Marketing

No. of Employees: 92
Year Founded: 2003

In 2013, the leadership team at this Galleria-area marketing firm brainstormed ideas to get a leg up on the competition. The end result? A benefits package that helps employees achieve true work/life balance: 15 days of vacation after just three months of employment, $2,500 in vacation dollars every year after an employee’s seventh anniversary, 4 percent 401(k) matching and even paid maternity and paternity leave.

The company values accessibility and transparency, says marketing manager Nicole Buergers, and wants its culture to reflect that. “We send out regular surveys to take a tiny pulse of which things are important from an employee perspective,” she says, “because our team is our greatest asset.”

Flexibility is another TopSpot tenet, which means it’s able to accommodate a team member who’s the primary caretaker for her grandmother, say, and another who owns a dance studio. Taken together, these quality-of-life initiatives have worked for the company, which hired 35 new team members in the past year and—by the way—is still looking for more.

Honorable Mention: ELL Creative

In addition to shutting down for a week post-Christmas, this Heights ad agency provides fully paid medical insurance to its employees and their families, two rounds of annual bonuses and unlimited vacation days.

Honorable Mention: Texas Center for Cosmetic & Implant Dentistry

Employees at this dental office in The Woodlands get every third Friday off, plus paid maternity leave and a profit-sharing plan and bonus structure that allots them a portion of the company’s revenues. Best of all? They get heavily discounted dental work.

Most Killer View

Poetic Systems

No. of Employees: 32
Year Founded: 2007

The app-and-website design firm’s seventh-floor Tanglewood office features huge windows overlooking not only the trees of Memorial Park but the lights of the Williams Tower and, in the far distance, downtown’s skyline. “It’s one of the few office buildings in the area,” says CEO and founder Matt Hager. “When we bought the building, we were growing fast, but we still wanted to have a cool environment.” 

There’s plenty of eye candy inside too, as Poetic (which, full disclosure, is designing Houstonia’s soon-to-debut food app) boasts a lounge area with a fully functioning, 100-year-old Chandler & Price letterpress, as well as a La Marzocco GS3 espresso machine. “Everyone here gets a little bit of barista training as part of their onboarding,” laughs Hager.

Honorable Mention: Organic Spa Houston

This luxury spa in the penthouse at Bayou on the Bend on Memorial Drive overlooks the lush canopy of Buffalo Bayou and the glittering skyscrapers of downtown just beyond.

Honorable Mention: Resource Environmental Solutions

This Museum District risk-management firm encourages its employees’ work in environmental protection through gorgeous views of some of Houston’s most beautiful green spaces, including Hermann Park and West University.

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Just another day in the office at Jetco Delivery

Neatest Traditions

Studio Brand Collective

No. of Employees: 16
Year Founded: 2012

This Heights-area firm, one of Houston’s largest marketing agencies, knows how to throw a party, and that helps everyone come together. In addition to big birthday blowouts for every employee and an annual retreat to a coastal location, the company rings in every weekend with Fiesta Friday, closing down an hour early so staff can have drinks and play games.

“It’s a way to get everybody to relax before the weekend,” says digital marketing associate Ann Lynd. There’s only one rule for Fiesta Friday—no work talk allowed.

Honorable Mention: Landry’s Inc.

This restaurant management group’s annual Halloween Spectacular brings in local celebrities to judge its costume contest, but the fun doesn’t end there: on Baseball Day, employees cheer on the Astros, while Take Your Kids to Work Day features live animals brought in from the Downtown Aquarium.

Honorable Mention: Midway

As part of its annual company meeting, the Memorial-area investment and development company comes up with new team-building activities based on reality shows such as The Amazing Race, The Apprentice and Top Chef.

Best Onsite Amenities

Jetco Delivery

No. of Employees: 160
Year Founded: 1976

When it comes to investing in its employees, this Aldine trucking company puts its money where its mouth is. “If we’re healthy on the inside, that’s reflected on the outside,” says Lisa Sursavage, director of marketing and public relations. “We are able to provide better service if we have a happy team.” 

In July, Jetco moved to a new 10,000-square-foot building, giving employees an open-concept space where they can interact. “Historically in the trucking industry, drivers are on one side, and office staff is on the other,” Sursavage says. “The goal here was to tear those silos down and make it a place where there aren’t any divisions.”

The brand-new facility features ergonomic furniture and customized workstations, a treadmill with laptop access, a gym, a café with healthy options where employees gather for breakfast and lunch, and even quiet rooms for those days when workers just need some down time. “When you come to work,” promises Sursavage, “you want to be in this environment.”

Honorable Mention: Forney Construction

This Spring Branch construction firm offers its employees space to spread out in large personal offices (no cubicles here), along with the chance to unwind over pool tournaments in its billiards room.

Honorable Mention: Primer Grey

This branding and web-design agency in EaDo channels its employees’ creativity with everything from Play-Doh and Gumby toys to a free stash of snacks and a napping couch. Workers in need of a little extra inspiration can indulge in the fully stocked bar.

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Deer Lake Lodge

Most Charitable

Revenew International LLC

No. of Employees: 55
Year Founded: 1999

This cost-recovery auditing and consulting firm in Greenway Plaza makes community involvement a companywide priority. Several times a year, employees partner with Gracewood, a Christian group that helps single mothers and their children with mentoring, financial planning and more, tackling everything from organizing its warehouse to caring for its grounds.

Revenew also asks all employees to donate 40 hours a year of their own time to community or volunteer service they feel passionate about, provides dollar-for-dollar matching for employee charitable donations and donates 5 percent of its own revenue to charity.

“Community is where we live and work, and we want to be good members of our community,” says Karina Tran, HR business partner at the firm. “We do really good business, and we want to share that.”

Honorable Mention: Black Sheep Agency

This brand strategy firm in the Heights takes only three kinds of clients: nonprofits, civic organizations and for-profit companies that want to implement corporate social-responsibility programs. It also hosts CareAll, a well-attended soiree that raises money for a different local nonprofit each year—and includes an annual toy drive that last year brought in over 1,000 donations.

Honorable Mention: ICIS

This River Oaks firm, the world’s largest petrochemical market-information provider, not only gives employees two paid days off a year for volunteer work but also hosts the yearly ReCares Olympics, which raises money for charity through in-office games and events.

Best Atmosphere

Deer Lake Lodge

No. of Employees: 15
Year Founded: 2012

At this holistic wellness resort nestled in 50 serene, wooded acres just west of Conroe, flora bloom and fauna scamper the grounds. Everything here is eco-friendly and employs refurbished materials—the buildings themselves are shipping containers insulated with reclaimed blue jeans.

“Most of the employees have been here since day one,” says spa director Carrie Harmon. “Once you work here, you don’t want to leave.” Harmon, who lives on the property along with two other employees, says its natural setting and soothing atmosphere—filled with yoga, essential oils and holistic healing—make for a happy staff. “Everybody here participates. We’re very connected with each other,” she says. “I’m exposed to a lot of peaceful, loving people on a daily basis. Those are the people I work with.”

Honorable Mention: Houston Ballet

The internationally acclaimed company boasts airy, two-story dance studios throughout its newly built, $46.6 million state-of-the-art facilities downtown, while its gallery-like interiors, flooded with natural light, provide ample views into nine rehearsal rooms, encouraging creativity and collaboration.

Honorable Mention: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema - Houston

At the Triple Tap Ventures LLC–owned company's headquarters in the First Ward, the walls are lined with movie posters and props, including giant neon Drafthouse signs.

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SnapStream’s Nerf arsenal

Coolest Office Space


No. of Employees: 26
Year Founded: 2000

Occupying a window-happy spot on the top floor of its Sixth Ward building, this software firm’s offices boast postcard views of Buffalo Bayou and the downtown skyline. But that’s just the beginning.

Known for creating a popular piece of internet technology that’s been called “a DVR on steroids,” the company embraces its geekery with gusto. Its walls feature a pixelated Pac-Man scene made with Rubik’s Cubes, a Tetris photo wall, Space Invaders and Super Mario Bros. decals, and a floor-to-ceiling Lego panel. 

And clients contribute to the décor. “We ask customers to send posters, T-shirts or anything else that would be fun to hang up,” says Rakesh Agrawal, SnapStream’s founder and CEO.  “We have early show posters from The Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight.” Also: “We have a lot of Nerf guns up on the wall,” says Agrawal. “About 25.” During that post-lunch lull, a Nerf dart can be just the thing. 

Honorable Mention: Patrick Henry Creative Promotions

When the expansive West Loop/Uptown views at this marketing agency aren’t taking its employees’ breath away, those workers can be found enjoying manhattans and mai tais at its 150-square-foot, custom-designed bar and cocktail kitchen.

Honorable Mention: Staging Solutions, Inc.

This creative services agency in Garden Oaks builds custom sets and props for its clients at its own in-house shop. When employees need a brain break, they ride scooters up and down the long, light- and music-filled corridors.

Best Group Activities

Pinnacle Advanced Reliability Technologies 

No. of Employees: 600
Year Founded: 2006

Most people don’t think “fun” when they think “oil and gas safety.” But if this Pasadena company’s family-centric approach to the workplace—with extracurriculars like catered town hall meetings, running groups, boot camps, ping-pong and yoga—is any indication, maybe they should. 

Employees take part in tug o’ war, volleyball and basketball showdowns, and annual company picnics, among many other morale-boosting activities. “I’ve gotten out to play four square with them,” says CEO Richard Scruggs. “You have anyone from the founder of the company to our newest employees, competing head to head.”

It’s all part of company founder Ryan Sitton’s original vision. “He wanted to truly enjoy coming to work,” says Scruggs. “As he built a team, he wanted them to truly enjoy coming to work, too.”

Honorable Mention: Lasco Enterprises

Each time it opens a new eatery or wine bar anywhere in Texas, this Houston-based restaurant group—whose concepts include The Tasting Room and Max’s Wine Dive—provides menu tastings and game show style activities to help train the staff. Employees also take group wine-tasting trips to destinations like California and Oregon.

Honorable Mention: Arjunani, Hasan & Company, CPAs

At the end of both tax seasons, employees of this Galleria-based accounting firm blow off steam on company trips, where they recharge and take part in team-building exercises. Past destinations have included Las Vegas, the Colorado Rockies and the beaches of Brazil.

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Kirby’s Lounge, a multipurpose space including a bar and stage, at advertising agency Design At Work

Biggest Perks

Design At Work

No. of Employees: 31
Year Founded: 1990

You won’t see a line forming outside of this Upper Kirby watering hole. That's because invite-only Kirby’s Lounge is a multipurpose space inside advertising agency Design At Work.

The lounge boasts a stage, a house band and a fully stocked bar, although “most of the time we’re too busy to drink,” laughs senior account executive Megan Strange. 

But the firm raises the bar beyond the bar. On their first anniversary, employees receive a watch inscribed with the company’s internal motto, “In it to win it.” Vacations of their choosing, valued at $2,500 a pop, await workers at the five-year mark, and at 10 years employees get $500 a month toward payment on a new car, available for as long as they’re with the company. Asked why the company pulls out such stops, Tricia Park, executive vice president and COO, says: “If anybody’s worthy enough of being here, by five years, for sure, they’re amazing.”

Honorable Mention: Hyatt

Employees at this national hotel chain receive 12 free stays per year and an unlimited number of full-time-employee-rate rooms, plus complimentary uniform dry-cleaning and a daily meal at its special employee restaurant for just $1. 

Honorable Mention: C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston

The business school not only offers employees monthly catered lunches and a break room stocked with drinks and snacks, it also orders cupcakes and cookies for employees to celebrate UH game wins—and gives out plenty of tickets to sporting events and on-campus concerts.

Top Holiday Party

Real Energy Solutions

No. of Employees: 80
Year Founded: 2008

This Heights-based energy-brokerage firm celebrates the end of each year in true boom-time style. Held at some of the city’s most fabulous venues over the years—this season, the RES team will be heading to Chateau Cocomar for a party and pyrotechnics show—these holiday soirees reward employees (and their guests) with a top-shelf open bar, luxury giveaways and a money booth blowing $2,000 through the air for employees to try to grab.

In 2012, they were treated to card tricks by magician and guest David Blaine. And last year’s party at the elegant Bell Tower on 34th Street featured acrobats, contortionists and fire-breathers, costing the company $100,000—money well spent, according to Erin McGlasson, RES’s creative director and guru of good times.

“We have, obviously, new people every year that are walking in, and they’re from Laredo, Texas, and their eyes are this big when they walk into this party,” she adds. “It’s something so unlike anything that they’ve ever experienced before.”

Heck, these parties are unlike anything most of us have experienced before. To wit, the highlight of each over-the-top affair is a car giveaway to the company’s top seller—which in past years has included an E-Class Mercedes, a Porsche Cayman, a Range Rover Sport and a Maserati Ghibli.

Honorable Mention: Blue Sky Marketing

Last year’s holiday party was a two-day retreat for employees and their significant others in New York City, complete with a fancy celebration dinner. This year, the Midtown marketing firm plans to host a swanky dinner here in Houston.

Honorable Mention: On Point Custom Homes

A couple of years ago, CEO John Leggett replaced this Highland Village home building company’s annual party with a holiday incentive trip, featuring a new surprise destination every year.

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