Corporate Culture Meets Retention C-suite executives convene, discuss insights

South Florida Executive Roundtable convened for a lively discussion at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Coral Gables. Rick Connolly, CEO of Gravity IT Resources, a talent-centered, referral-driven and culture-focused IT staffing firm, moderated the conversation filled with nuggets of insights.

SFBW is the exclusive media sponsor on the executive-level luncheon. The following takeaways have been edited for brevity and clarity.

I know in the technology space that the unemployment rate is less than 1 percent. So at your companies or institutions, how are you approaching recruitment for talent to attract the people that you need? And what are you doing to retain top people?

Jacqueline A. Travisano, University of Miami: We’ve been working to maximize our recruitment model through our new software system, Workday. As far as retention, we just announced [in late August 2019] that we’re raising the minimum wage, and that impacts over 5,000 employees on our medical campus.

We’re constantly looking at the market for pay and making necessary adjustments there. We’re also focused on training and development.

Kathleen Pai, Ultimate Software: I would start with culture. Some of you may know that Ultimate Software has been ranked as a top employer for many years. Right now, we’re No. 8 on Fortune’s 2019 “100 Best Companies to Work For” list. We focus a lot on how we treat our people. Our mantra is “people first.”

So that basically means that if we treat our employees well, then they will treat our customers well. When customers are happy, then our shareholders, investors and partners will be really happy. We believe that through having an amazing culture, then our attraction and retention will continue to increase each year. We’ve had less than 6 percent turnover in the last 10 years, which is unheard of in the high-tech industry. 

We’ve also been focusing on career development, not only for our existing talent in house, but also for other professionals who are coming straight out of school. We have the rising stars program focused on customer service. We have a tech stars program that focuses on the technical track. We have an MBA rotational program and more.

So, a lot of research will tell you that benefits don’t necessarily attract talent, but they will help you retain talent. We found that to not be the case, because our benefits package is so rich that it is a big attractor of talent. Ultimate Software pays for full medical coverage with dental and vision for our employees and their eligible dependents. We have unlimited personal time off.

Abdol Moabery, GA Telesis: I’m very proud of something. We really try to take care of our people. The best tool is education. If an employee decides to pursue their bachelor’s degree, we pay for it. For me, paying for state universities and colleges are not that expensive compared to what it costs me to engage a recruiter to put these people in place. It’s a lot cheaper for me to pay for their college education and have them stay with me. And when they leave, they will leave in a better position. And if they get that degree—whether that degree is a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a law degree; we have people in all kinds of programs—they get more money. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen work their way up from the distribution center to the office environment, and how great it is to see them flourishing.

Bonnie Levengood, MSC Cruises: What’s really important is to have a company vision posted everywhere and to have regular town hall meetings so that everyone in the organization feels like they’re a part of that vision and they know where they fall in that vision. Because if they don’t, it’s easy to lose people. It doesn’t matter if they’re a customer-care representative, if they’re a receptionist, if they’re in accounting, each of those people needs to know where and how their goals fall into the overall corporate policy. I think that is a huge important part of retaining talent, because people want to feel like they’re part of something that’s a lot bigger.

I set aside a large amount of money for training to allow employees to stay on top of the latest trends and be on top. Training makes people feel valuable, because you’re investing in them.

What is your personal leadership style that you use and try to go about in creating culture that you want in your institution?

Travisano: I’d say we are transformational leaders, because I’ve heard situations where there needed to be a tremendous amount of change. And when you’re in situation where you need to manage change, it just takes a lot of clear communication, clear prioritization, compassion, and just really good direction and measuring progress, and again, you can’t communicate enough.

Moabery: Our leadership style at the company is servant leadership, meaning that the executives are there to serve the people. I always tell people that I’m just one guy and I don’t run this whole organization. I have employees in 34 locations around the world. And I’m not in 33 of them most of the time. So, it really has nothing to do with me, it’s what do I need to do to make you successful, no matter where you live.

And the biggest problem in my company has to be whatever problem an employee is facing. So, it could be a personal problem, or it could be a business problem. If they have a problem, we have problems. And for us, it’s really important to solving them. ♦


The panelists

• Bonnie Levengood, senior vice president of marketing at MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately held cruise company.

• Jacqueline A. Travisano, executive vice president for business and finances, and chief operating officer, at the University of Miami.

• Abdol Moabery, president and CEO of GA Telesis, a leading commercial aviation company offering aircraft leasing, aircraft overhaul and repair, aircraft replacement parts and 24/7 support.

• Kathleen Pai, vice president of people at Ultimate Software, a technology company that develops and sells cloud-based human-capital management software system for businesses.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.