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Cash prizes, vacations are king at Top Flite Financial

Cash prizes, vacations are king at Top Flite Financial

From the Which employers are the best in the St. Louis area? Check the 2021 list of Top Workplaces series
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RICHMOND HEIGHTS — Top Flite Financial likes to hand out money and lavish trips to encourage employee performance, and it seems to be working.

The incentives have launched the branch office here to the top revenue spot among the company’s 37 locations nationwide, executives said. “We’re the biggest team, and we do more than half the company’s total loan volume,” said division manager Todd Feager.

Top Flite took first place among small employers in this year’s Top Workplaces survey. This is the second time the mortgage lender has nabbed the honor. Last year it ranked second — and the branch has only been in St. Louis for five years.

The branch has grown to 80 employees from 12 in 2016.

A visit to Top Flite’s new office space at The Boulevard shopping district tells much of the story. First, there’s the enormous spinning wheel on a stage-like platform. The 9-foot-diameter wheel was custom-made for Top Flite, and it barely fit through the doors when it was delivered, Feager said.

Every week, the top performers spin the wheel to try to win a cash prize of $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the results from that week. Employees also spin for the monthly $8,000 vacation package. Winners can choose from numerous destinations and take a friend, spouse or the whole family.

Feager said his branch is on track to hand out anywhere from $200,000 to $250,000 in incentives this year. Entries are earned not just for sales, but also for other types of job performance so that employees in operations and administration have opportunities to win, too.

“Anyone can qualify. It keeps everyone engaged and prevents the top two people from winning every time,” Feager said.

The corporate office offers the vacation bonus to the top branch — which is consistently St. Louis — but otherwise gives each location discretion on how it will reward employees. When Feager and co-manager Dave Bray launched the office together, they wanted to share the wealth with employees.

“The concept is: What if you treated others first? Usually, the guys in the corner office get the financial rewards. It’s a simple version of the golden rule,” Bray said.

“We put it back in,” Feager added. “We don’t have to do that. People do make a great living here. We find a way to motivate people and show we appreciate them. Some people think we’re crazy.”

Golf, anyone?

Money talks, but so do other perks. At the St. Louis office, the mostly male workforce — only 17 of the 80 employees are female — includes plenty of people who practice their putting skills on one of the five carpeted areas outfitted with a sunken cup.

Putting competitions give workers a break from the stress of selling and assisting customers through the mortgage process.

“These guys are on the phones all day. We try to find opportunities to help break it up,” Feager said.

On the day a reporter visited, one employee was in the training room setting up to putt. He called it “a good tension reliever.”

Many of the employees wear headsets and walk around while talking on the phone. About half the staffers were standing at their desks, which can be raised or lowered.

Another bonus is a Starbucks machine in the spacious, modern kitchen. Cappuccino, espresso and hot chocolate are just a few of the selections that employees enjoy for free.

Top Flite’s busy workload is fueled by the more than 400 leads they receive each day through Lending Tree, the online loan referral tool. Top Flite assists clients nationwide, the vast majority of whom are looking to pay off credit card debt by refinancing their mortgage.

“When you have less than perfect credit you don’t have a lot of options,” Bray said. “It’s very satisfying for our employees to help people, to give them freedom and relief. It can be a very emotional experience (for clients).”

Hiring family, friends

Bray and Feager rely on referrals to recruit new employees.

“We hire a certain type of person, with a solution-driven mindset,” Feager said. “Almost everyone we hire comes to us with no industry experience. We prefer that. It allows us to train people from the ground up and not have to break any bad habits.”

Hiring family is not a problem, as long as the person fits in and works hard.

“We’ve squashed the theory of ‘don’t hire friends.’ We have a mom, two sons and a wife here,” Feager said, referring to the fact that his mother, brother and spouse all work for Top Flite.

Jeremy Brigham joined the company in late 2019 as a loan processor. He was working long hours for an aviation supplier and was looking for a better work-life balance. He had worked with Feager and Bray at another mortgage company several years earlier, where he said the atmosphere was tense and negative. He wasn’t sure he wanted to give the mortgage business another try, but he saw a Facebook post mentioning that Top Flite was recruiting. He met with his former colleagues and was encouraged by what he saw, including the prizes and bonuses.

“The higher-ups are more concerned about their employees than giving themselves raises,” Brigham said.

He also appreciates not being micro-managed, as he was in previous jobs. “It’s nice not to have someone breathing down your neck saying: More, more, more.”

Brigham won the monthly vacation prize last month. He plans to go somewhere warm when it gets cold here.

Joe Daniel joined Top Flite Financial as a loan officer two years ago. Before that he ran a Little Caesar’s franchise. He was working 16-hour days and not seeing his two young children enough. Two friends worked at Top Flite and suggested he come in for an interview. They said it didn’t matter that he didn’t have sales or mortgage industry experience. He would be trained on the job.

The job is commission-only, which worried his wife at first. But things have worked out well. Daniel won a vacation prize and is taking his wife to Maui this fall for seven days.

“Now my wife’s happy, the kids are happy,” he said.

Top workplaces, small

These are the top 76 small employers, out of 121 participants in the survey. These businesses have 149 or fewer employees in the region.

Rank Name Founded Ownership Primary sector Headquarters Global employees
76 Wise F&I 1989 Public Finance and Insurance Fenton 51
75 Parkside Financial Bank & Trust 2008 Private Wealth management and banking Clayton 70
74 GFI Digital 1999 Private Other Maryland Heights 350
73 Dodge Moving & Storage 1902 Private Moving and storage transportation Earth City 85
72 Dielmann Sotheby"s International Realty 2005 Private Agents/brokers Clayton 22,000
71 Object Computing Inc. 1993 Private Custom software development and consulting St. Louis 150
70 Tiger Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Electrical Services 1993 Private Plumbing, HVAC and electrical Collinsville 86
69 Safelite AutoGlass 1947 Private Automotive glass repair and replacement St. Louis 20,000
68 Geotechnology 1984 Private Engineering St. Louis 260
67 Provident Behavioral Health 1860 Nonprofit Nonprofit St. Louis 116
66 Parents as Teachers 1984 Nonprofit Early childhood education nonprofit St. Louis 120
65 CAPREIT 1993 Private Apartment communities Rockville, Maryland 1,000
64 Jerry Kelly Heating & Air Conditioning Inc. 1977 Private Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration St. Peters 66
63 Bastian Solutions 1952 Public Logistics Carmel, Indiana 1,040
62 Vanliner Insurance Company 1978 Public Specialty insurance Fenton 140
61 Renewal by Andersen of St. Louis 2012 Private Construction Maryland Heights 107
60 The Watering Bowl 2010 Private Pet care: Dog daycare, boarding and training St. Louis 101
59 Residential Home Health, Hospice and Palliative 2018 Parent company Home Hhealth care services Glen Carbon 2,600
58 Northwestern Mutual - St. Louis 1857 Cooperative/mutual Financial services and insurance Creve Coeur 12,400
57 Concordance 2016 Private Holistic reentry services for incarcerated individuals St. Louis 52
56 Experitec Inc. 1975 Private Industrial automation Chesterfield 176
55 Axiom Product Administration 2015 Private Auto service contract companies O'Fallon, Missouri 79
54 College Nannies, Sitters and Tutors 2010 Private Childcare services Missouri 70
53 Lutheran Church Extension Fund-Missouri Synod 1978 Nonprofit Religious financial institution St. Louis 124
52 Amitech Solutions 1999 Private Health care data analytics and management consulting St. Louis 81
51 Cass Commercial Bank 1906 Public Commercial banking services serving privately held businesses and faith-based orgainizations St. Louis 54
50 Horner & Shifrin Inc. 1933 Private Engineering design consultant St. Louis 96
49 Southwestern Hearing Centers 1947 Private Hearing health care St. Louis 58
48 Lutheran High School South 1957 Nonprofit Private high school St. Louis 63
47 Corrigan Company 1896 Private Mechanical contractor St. Louis 51
46 Brand Addition 1986 Public Promotional products marketing St. Louis 55
45 Kforce 1962 Public Staffing services Tampa 2,255
44 National Design Build Services 2007 Private Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration St. Louis 57
43 Lakeside Renovation & Design 1997 Private Interior and exterior design, remodeling and renovation Chesterfield 100
42 Flat World Global Solutions 2006 Partnership Third-party logistics O'Fallon, Missouri 93
41 Wipfli 1983 Public Certified public accountants and consultants St. Louis 220
40 Westport Pools, Inc. 1967 Private Swimming pool construction and service Maryland Heights 69
39 Unity Hospice 1992 Private Hospice Skokie, Illinois 250
38 Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal P.C. 1994 Private Law St. Louis 70
37 Sunset Transportation 1989 Private Third-party logistics St. Louis 147
36 Stone Technologies Inc. 1996 Private Systems integration Chesterfield 74
35 Buildingstars International 1994 Private Franchise Maryland Heights 97
34 Veterans Care Coordination 2011 Private Manage and coordinate home care services for veterans and surviving spouses Lake Saint Louis 51
33 KAI Enterprises 1980 Private Design and build firm offering architecture, interior design, engineering and construction services St. Louis 125
32 Golden Oak Lending 2001 Private Residential home loans St. Louis 209
31 Vivial Private Digital marketing Dayton, Ohio 600
30 ITF GROUP LLC 2012 Private Brokerage, freight, warehousing St. Charles 60
29 CC3 Solutions 2017 Private Telecommunicationsand cybersecurity Des Peres 60
28 StraightUp Solar 2006 Private Solar design and installation St. Louis 74
27 Elite Orthopedics LLC 2015 Private Vendor serving health care industry Chesterfield 75
26 Technology Partners Inc. 1995 Private Information technology St. Louis 360
25 Title Partners Agency LLC 2006 Private Title insurance and escrow company St. Louis 65
24 Madison Mutual Insurance Company 1920 Cooperative/mutual Auto, home, farm, business, umbrella insurance Edwardsville 54
23 McClure Engineering 1953 Private Engineering St. Louis 95
22 Erie Construction 1976 Private Roofing and siding Toledo, Ohio 501
21 Omega Auto Care 2010 Private Vehicle service contract sales and administration. Chesterfield 50
20 1904labs 2016 Private Modern software engineering, data engineering, etc. St. Louis 74
19 DriveCentric 2010 Private Automotive software technology St. Louis 61
18 Krilogy Financial LLC 2009 Private Wealth management Creve Coeur 59
17 Rossman School 1917 Nonprofit Primary/secondary school St. Louis 59
16 KnowledgeLake Inc. 1990 Private Technology software St. Louis 70
15 PreventEd 1965 Nonprofit Human and social services St. Louis 59
14 Secure24 2007 Parent company Security and protection St. Louis 120
13 Auto Repair Network Private Auto ealerships Mississippi 55
12 Helmkamp Construction Co. 1938 Private General contractor East Alton 51
11 Maryville Consulting Group Inc. 1994 Private Management consulting St. Louis 67
10 Delmar Mortgage 1966 Private Mortgage lending St. Louis 125
9 Budget Heating, Cooling and Plumbing 2009 Private Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration St. Peters 54
8 Fairway Independent Mortgage Corporation 1996 Private Mortgage lending Madison, Wisconsin 8,410
7 Design Aire Heating and Cooling 1904 Private Heating and air conditioning Maryland Heights 85
6 Beck Flavors 1904 Private Flavor house Maryland Heights 51
5 Janet McAfee Real Estate 1975 Private Residential real estate brokerage St. Louis 84
4 Circa Properties 2007 Private Real estate sales Clayton 57
3 American Metals Supply Co. 1962 Private Wholesale distribution Hazelwood 121
2 Beckner Painting & Contracting 1961 Private Drywall, painting and flooring Maplewood 75
1 Top Flite Financial 2002 Private Mortgage lending Williamston, Michigan 172
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