2020 Wonderful Workplaces Winner: Greenleaf Trust


Supporting Teammates through ‘Business as Unusual’

Joining the ranks as a 2020 Wonderful Workplaces champion is Greenleaf Trust, a privately held wealth management firm with specialized disciplines in asset management, trust administration, qualified retirement plan administration, and family office advisory services. With approximately $14 billion in assets under advisement, Greenleaf Trust is among the largest independently owned wealth management firms; by virtue of its exemplary, client-first culture and depth of actionable expertise, it is also among the best. The company’s business model is predicated solely on its clients’ financial success.

Client-aligned and talent-driven, Greenleaf Trust adheres to the highest standards of fiduciary excellence, while harnessing the most robust technologies, sophisticated investment platforms, and comprehensive reporting tools. Greenleaf Trust President Michael F. Odar commented on the robust culture of the company, saying, “We survey our teammates every year to gauge their engagement and get their input on how we can improve as a company for our clients. When we ask them about what they are most pleased with as a member of the Greenleaf team, their unequivocal answer year after year is culture. That’s why we listen and work purposely every day to nurture and protect our culture.” Read on for the full feature of Greenleaf Trust as a Wonderful Workplaces champion.


What was Greenleaf Trust’s biggest achievement during 2020?

In 2020, the responsibilities of working from home, caring for family members, and now (for many) virtual learning became overwhelming, and a lot of our teammates felt the burden. In response to this, Greenleaf Trust created a small group that researched ideas, conducted team member surveys, and partnered with parents to develop our Greenleaf Cares Program, which includes our COVID-19 Relief Fund. This initiative allows all teammates to participate by seeking reimbursement for the expenses that are important and necessary. Funds can be used for increased expenses for childcare, education, and for technology needs due to work-from-home arrangements caused by the coronavirus pandemic. We heard from our teammates that “time” was creating a lot of angst. With childcare, virtual learning, and work all going on at the same time in the same household, teammates with children were feeling the stress of getting things done during “normal” working hours. No one on our team wants to disappoint one another or our clients. Our “Business as Unusual” philosophy during these times guided us to allow more flexibility in schedules, start internal meetings after the virtual learning day began, and shorten internal meetings. Our desire was to alleviate stress in areas that benefit everyone, meet teammates where they are, and support them to the best of our ability. You often hear people say, we are in this together, and we most certainly are. The needs of our teammates to be both loving and nurturing parents, as well as productive team members must be made possible in order for us to be successful in serving our clients.

What is unique about Greenleaf Trust’s workplace culture?

We know that culture wins and culture with a great workplace environment and great talent really multiplies the opportunity to win. A strong and vibrant workplace culture is extremely important to the mission of Greenleaf Trust.

A “Communication & Culture Workgroup,” formed 17 years ago, meets monthly to focus on nurturing and growing the way we communicate and protect our culture. There is a generous budget assigned to this effort with dollars for recognition and special events. In addition to a constant focus on improved communication strategies, this team organizes events to show employee appreciation, nurture relationships, build trust, and encourage strong relationships. In 2019, we organized and executed 18 events including: a K-Wings hockey game, March Madness lunch, holiday auction benefitting a local non-profit, and sponsorship of holiday gifts for 12 foster children in the community.

In 2020, Greenleaf Trust has continued to support our employees throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the establishment of the Greenleaf Cares Program and COVID-19 Relief Fund, teammates themselves have continued to find ways to remain connected including a virtual wellness challenge, virtual trivia nights, and socially distanced team-building activities. Greenleaf Trust provided graduation signs for children of employees graduating from high school and delivered cookies for graduating college students. Teammates met virtually with the director of human resources and the president to provide feedback in our annual “Perspectives and Solutions” meeting. We held a virtual strategic planning meeting to report on results from the “Perspectives and Solutions” meeting and provide the vision for 2021. Special donations on teammates’ behalf were made to nonprofit organizations. We celebrated the achievements of six recipients of the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship. Each of these students attended Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business and was recognized during a virtual graduation celebration. To finish out the year on a high note and to celebrate the holidays, each of our teammates received a home delivery of a beautiful box of all the necessary ingredients and tools to bake and decorate sugar cookies with their families.

Why do employees at Greenleaf Trust love going to work each day?

2020 has been a very difficult year due to the global pandemic. So much has changed in our world, in our homes, and at work, but Greenleaf Trust’s commitment to our clients, teammates, and the communities in which we live and work has remained steadfast. We wish we could enter our doors and see the smiling faces of teammates, but that is not possible, so we have had to be creative and find ways to wrap our arms around our clients and one another. From the very top of our leadership, the message has been “Business as Unusual.” We never lost sight of our goals and mission. Our unique, client-centric team approach continues to provide highly personal and customized client service with no conflicts of interest.

Greenleaf Trust realizes that our most valuable assets are our team members and understands the importance of ensuring that the talented people who join us are, from day one, nurtured, fulfilled in their work, and made to feel that they’re an integral part of the Greenleaf Trust family. It isn’t enough that we talk about our culture, we also make sure it’s felt.

Greenleaf Trust’s traditional benefits are better than most. But it’s our non-traditional benefits that truly set us apart. Some of the many ways in which we strive to create a work environment that builds collegiality, morale, knowledge, and empathy include:

  • Continuing education and education reimbursement
  • Team member discounts
  • Wellness program dedicated to the health of all teammates
  • Day of caring (coincides with President’s Day), where team members are encouraged to volunteer to a cause of their choice in our community
  • Greenleaf Trust Scholarship Program
  • Holiday giving initiative to benefit Family and Children Services

We make every effort to ensure that our team member’s efforts, large and small, are recognized, rewarded, and encouraged. Some of the ways we do so include:

  • President’s Award
  • Team holiday party
  • Pizza parties
  • Recognition lunches
  • Anniversary celebration
  • Work-iversary celebrations
  • Spot Awards

We also “walk the walk” in terms of our environmental stewardship. All of the newly built Greenleaf Trust buildings are LEED-certified. On a smaller, but equally valuable scale, all offices use real (reusable) glasses, plates, and silverware to reduce our waste stream. We also have robust recycling programs, and everywhere possible we have eliminated paperwork in favor of electronic/digital correspondence and reporting.

We place a steadfast commitment to nurturing a workplace culture that is both diverse and inclusive. We believe it does more than make us different, we believe it makes us stronger. Last and far from least, Greenleaf Trust is a service business in every good sense. Our esprit de corps compels us to support and encourage one another no matter the circumstances. This commitment to helping others is not just top down, but also bottom up. It’s important to our culture that philanthropy is something everyone engages in. In encouraging and applauding that service, we realize the greatest benefit to our clients and to each other.

How do leaders at Greenleaf Trust build engagement within their teams?

Leaders within Greenleaf Trust go above and beyond in support of our employees. Team member engagement is an ongoing priority. Seventeen years ago, we formed a workgroup that meets monthly to focus on nurturing and protecting our workplace culture. Workgroup members are selected from all divisions to ensure fair representation. The mission of the “Communications and Culture Workgroup” is: The Communication and Culture Workgroup is dedicated to cultivating a caring workplace culture that inspires employee connectivity, fosters teamwork, and embodies the core values established by our founder.

Toward the end of 2016, we named “Culture Ambassadors” in each of our markets. These team members are responsible for spearheading events and initiatives that are meaningful to team members who work outside of our corporate headquarters. We realize the importance of holding true to traditions and maintaining our overall core values and culture, but at the same time we want individual offices to create new traditions and opportunities.

In addition to a relentless focus on improved communication strategies, this team organizes numerous opportunities for social engagement and team building activities throughout the year to show employee appreciation, nurture relationships, build trust, and encourage strong relationships. In 2020, we had to pivot from our traditional events and be creative in thinking of ways to build connectivity when we simply could not be together. We hosted outdoor lunches and baby and wedding showers in Bronson Park. We sent hand-written notes and one team member included zinnia and sunflower seeds from her garden. We encouraged team members to pick up the phone and call someone “just to talk.” We sent personalized cookies to college graduates and yard signs to our high school graduates. We also hosted drive by parades to celebrate these achievements. We planned and executed a fabulous outdoor and socially distanced fall festival for our families complete with treats out of decorated cars in our parking lot. We hosted virtual trivia nights and a variety show to raise over $10,000 for Family & Children Services. A holiday sugar cookie kit was delivered to each teammates’ home, and we have received so many words of gratitude and photos. The list goes on. It was not the same, but our efforts were felt and appreciated.

 How did Greenleaf Trust handle workplace status during COVID-19?

Greenleaf Trust has been proactive in supporting teammates and clients during this global pandemic. We continued to wrap our arms around EVERY member of our team. Despite a global pandemic, our communication and culture team successfully implemented a month-long wellness challenge, kept in touch via an internal Facebook page, and gathered acts of kindness teammates have shared with each other over the course of the pandemic. Some examples include a teammate sending seeds to be planted in fellow teammate’s gardens, sending hand written notes, surprising colleagues with cake for their birthday, dropping off lunch to isolated teammates, twice a week virtual team trivia, creating personalized graduation signs for teammates with high school and college seniors, sending custom cookies for graduating high school and college seniors and personalized hand written notes from our president and director of human resources to each senior.

Greenleaf Trust established the Greenleaf Cares COVID-19 Relief Fund which allows all full-time employees of Greenleaf Trust to request and receive reimbursement for the increased resources needed to help “bridge the gap” of a work-from-home arrangement. Each employee is eligible for reimbursement for increased expenses resulting from COVID-19 that are reasonable and necessary. The COVID-19 Relief Fund reimburses employees for increased expenses for childcare which may include, but is not limited to, expenses such as in-home care for school-aged children, tutoring and increased expenses for daycare as a result of COVID-19. The COVID-19 Relief Fund also provides reimbursement to employees for increased expenses due to work-from-home arrangements. This can include expenses such as higher internet costs or to cover the purchase of a comfortable desk chair, computer monitor, or wireless keyboard.

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