Madison Magazine

Steve Brown Apartments: Making everyone feel at home

No. 2 for 2015's Best Places to Work in the 101+ employee category

All you have to say is "That's so Steve" to any one of the eighty employees at Steve Brown Apartments and they will know exactly what it means. Maybe one of their coworkers stayed late to help with a garden because he noticed some residents digging out back. Perhaps another connected two English-as-a-second-language residents to make both feel more at home. Maybe a maintenance staff member answered a curious prospect's questions about living at one of their properties because she felt empowered to speak for the company. Maybe Steve Brown himself spent five minutes picking up trash around the parking lot.

"If Steve will walk through the parking lot and pick up trash, well then, we're gonna do that too," says human resources director Meggan Allen of her boss, Steve Brown, a jack-of-all-trades when he started the business thirty-five years ago. Today, the Steve Brown Apartments team manages sixty-five different properties with 4,300 residents. "It's all about the resident and we're gonna do whatever it takes, regardless of the job title. We're in this together."

"We have a high level of expectation that we will respect each other and it means that everybody—regardless of whether I'm in housekeeping or the CEO—we all have a job to do toward a common goal and that's to positively impact the lives of our residents," echoes CEO Margaret Watson, who started at SBA as a resident assistant twenty-five years ago. The company advances employees from within whenever possible. "We promote a lot of ownership and growth with our employees. This is our company together."

That sense of ownership comes from substantial training and a focus on transparency. Employees are often involved in making strategic decisions such as health insurance purchasing. The benefits package is strong, including profit-sharing, wellness initiatives and an emphasis on giving back to the community (SBA also donates a set percentage of profits each year to support local organizations, particularly those related to housing such as Porchlight, Salvation Army and The Road Home). Company principles, core values and brand promises are clearly communicated in a pocket-size pamphlet that employees carry daily. Staff know what's expected of them, they feel supported to deliver it and they know it's okay to make mistakes—with one caveat.

"If you're going to make a mistake," says Watson, "err on the side of the customer."

THE TAKEAWAY: Having a strong, positive yet approachable CEO or executive leader with clear expectations makes a difference. If employees see that the boss knows their names or will even pitch in on garbage duty, they'll feel more invested in their day-to-day work.

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