Energy Plus Holdings puts morale high on the agenda

At Energy Plus Holdings L.L.C., there is no competition over who gets to occupy the corner office.

There are no corner offices.

Kevin Kleinschmidt (left) and Richard W. Vague, cofounders of Energy Plus Holdings L.L.C., in the company's new offices in January 2011. At this company, the receptionist has the biggest desk.

"We took all the best space and turned it into common areas," said Richard Vague, the chairman and cofounder of the energy supplier that was chosen as the top-rated small employer in the region this year.

Energy Plus maintains an open, informal work environment. All employees, from Vague and his top managers to customer-service representatives working the phones, have identical work spaces - five-by-seven-foot cubicles with a single file drawer to discourage the acquisition and retention of paper.

"Nobody has much drawer space, and that's intentional," said Kevin Kleinschmidt, a cofounder and chief executive.

The receptionist has the biggest desk. One of his responsibilities is to make sure the break rooms remain replenished with free soft drinks and hot-beverage Keurig K-Cups. "Who knew there were so many types of coffee and tea?" Kleinschmidt said, peering inside a cupboard.

The egalitarian work environment is just one of the factors to which Energy Plus, a rapidly growing retail supplier in deregulated energy markets, attributes its success.

"The environment is positive and supportive, decision-making is collaborative, information is freely shared, and we celebrate our successes," one employee said in response to the survey commissioned by The Inquirer, the Daily News and

Energy Plus, which markets electricity in conjunction with airline frequent-flier plans and other loyalty programs, grew from fewer than 10 employees in 2007 to nearly 150 this year. Under the leadership of Vague and Kleinschmidt, who met while marketing bank credit cards, it aspires to be much bigger.

In January, it expanded into a 40,000-square-foot floor of the University City Science Center at 3711 Market St., a LEED-certified building. Though the cubicles are small, the office is ringed by abundant conference rooms where employees can conduct meetings or private calls. The exterior windows are unblocked, so the work space is awash with sunlight.

"We want to instill a fun attitude," said Paul Frantz, the chief marketing officer. The company plans numerous outings, monthly themed "food days" on which colleagues bring a dish to share, and often rewards team-building with prizes.

To encourage community outreach, employees are given time off to volunteer as mentors for first graders at the neighboring Charles R. Drew Elementary School, the company's pet project.

"They're wonderful," said Huie A. Douglas III, the principal at Drew. "They're really interested in my school and what I'm trying to do here."

Vague and Kleinschmidt hired experienced managers from larger companies. "We weren't hiring for the size we are today, but the size we hope to be in five years," Vague said.

The average age of the workforce is thirtysomething, invigorating the office with a youthful vibe. Casual clothing is de rigueur (though not too skimpy, cautions Krista Akyollu, human resources director).

Vague's experience in the banking business - he founded First USA Bank and later Juniper Bank, which became Barclaycard US - has reinforced the importance of building a collaborative work environment. He said the company aims to hire unselfish workers with a "get-it-done" attitude. Prospects who exude a whiff of arrogance are likely to be passed over.

Steve Barnes, the chief financial officer, said the workforce has "very little turnover."

Vague acknowledges that "it's easier to keep morale high" in a company that is growing and successful.

Assuming growth continues, the Energy Plus managers will be increasingly challenged to maintain a close-knit environment through a far-flung bureaucracy.

"If you have 20,000 employees spread out over town, trying to maintain that culture can be difficult," Vague said.


Contact staff writer Andrew Maykuth at 215-854-2947 or