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Published: Friday, 3/5/2010

Sylvania's Root Learning brings an innovative approach to corporate consulting

BY HOMER BRICKEY
SPECIAL TO THE TOLEDO BIZ INSIDER

In the process of helping hundreds of clients educate their workers about corporate strategies and goals, Root apparently has done a pretty good job of getting the most from its own 100 employees — about 60 of whom work in the Root Building in downtown Sylvania and the rest mostly in satellite offices in Chicago and London.

In recent years, the firm has consistently been named as one of the country's best places to work by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Great Place to Work Institute. And last year, Root was named by the Wall Street Journal and Winning Workplaces as one of the nation's top 15 small workplaces.

Root's headquarters facility offers amenities to its workers, dubbed by Chief Executive Officer Jim Haudan as “a group of creative, analytical people who combine art and dialogue in innovative ways.”

The building is in a park-like setting, with a nature trail for break-time walks and a patio, and employees — called “Rootizens” — have free use of a nearby workout facility. There are video games and a karaoke machine to let workers have fun during the workday.

Root has a relaxed dress code, flexible schedules, and an “open-door policy” (in fact, there are no doors for offices, just for rooms used for private meetings), and at staff meetings, employees are encouraged to voice their opinions and ideas. Birthday celebrations include gift cards worth $10 per year of service. Workers get annual stipends for “personal-development” classes of their choosing.

At Root, there's free pizza for staff meetings, occasional poker nights, and an annual two-week event, called the “Root Olympics,” featuring such competition as the “popcorn toss.” One popular amenity is the Watercooler Cafe, where workers can gather for free coffee, sodas, and popcorn.

One key to Root's success is its Learning Map visuals — 60-by-40-inch colorful graphics produced to reduce complex corporate strategies to easy-to-understand illustrations. In addition, Root helps companies educate workers about strategy through group sessions, and it trains facilitators at client companies to lead smaller group discussions.

Root was incorporated in 1993, but its work with corporate strategies and employee education dates to 1987, when Mr. Haudan joined forces with Randall Root, a local public-relations man who had founded the predecessor firm, Root Publishing, in 1978.

Mr. Haudan, a former football coach for Toledo's Central Catholic High School, said he and Mr. Root realized that companies often get poor results from slick brochures in fancy binders but get great results from “strategic engagement” with employees.

The firm moved from Perrysburg to Maumee in 2000 and three years ago moved to Sylvania. Mr. Root retired a decade ago, and Mr. Haudan is now majority owner, but more than 20 employees also have stakes in the firm.

Over the years, Root has produced educational materials for 500 clients with a total of 25 million workers.

Nationally, clients include Pepsico Inc., Boeing Corp., Taco Bell, Sears Roebuck & Co., General Motors Co., Starbucks Corp., Hilton Hotels, and IBM Corp. Among local clients are Owens-Illinois Inc., Owens Corning, and the Marco's Pizza chain.

Overseas clients include Toyota Motor Corp. and the city of Hong Kong.



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