Daring to Be Different

Engagement & Retention

Flavor First are the first words you’ll see when you visit FONA International’s website. But, for those who work there, they know it could easily say Employees First.

It all started in a garage in Illinois, where Joe Slawek, FONA’s founder and CEO had a dream. With perseverance and precision, FONA has grown into a worldwide name to know in the flavor industry.

A family-owned business, located on a beautiful 33-acre campus in Geneva, IL, FONA creates and produces flavors for many of the largest food, beverage, and nutraceutical establishments in the world. The 31-year-old company prides itself on a high-tech, high-touch approach—helping customers grow through both cutting-edge technology and personal customer service.

As might be expected from such a successful business, FONA’s 200-plus employees are the backbone of the company. At FONA, taking great care of customers is how they work, but equally as important, FONA prides itself on taking great care of its employees, with a focus on being a community, rather than just a place of work.

Maybe that’s why FONA is named as one of the country’s best workplaces year after year. In 2018, Fortune magazine and Great Place to Work chose FONA as the number two medium-sized workplace in Chicagoland, the number three manufacturer in the country, and number 58 out of the top 100 overall medium-sized businesses in the country. Most recently, the company was also selected as a National Best and Brightest Company to Work For by the National Association for Business Resources.

FONA logo

FONA’s Core Values:

• Integrity

• Partner Centricity

• Excellence

• Stewardship

• Forward Thinking

• Generosity

• Growth

The Whole Nine Yards

“Our employees are so much more than the job they do at FONA,” says Tonya Hubbartt, HR Director at FONA. “They have professional goals and personal dreams and deserve to achieve both. We believe that all employees should thrive in who they are and what they do.”

FONA is committed to providing their employees a healthy and whole life, one that is open and honest, where all share a strong sense of community and belonging. Equipping employees with a variety of tools that continuously encourage the approach and taking care of the whole person is a must.

At FONA, that starts with transparency. Monthly all-staff meetings provide updates on the current state of the business. Transparency is also a part of their culture. An organization based on faith, FONA exemplifies this by featuring a large rock just outside its entryway with the words engraved In God We Trust.

Transparency doesn’t stop there. “We believe it’s important to have a transparent mindset, to want to be a part of something greater than ourselves,” explains Hubbartt.

And greatness they have achieved—but not just being named as a great place to work by outside sources. FONA has the chops to claim that their people know it’s a great place to be employed. Every other year, FONA engages with a third party to benchmark and validate how they’re doing in the eyes of their employees. Their most recent engagement survey, conducted by MRA in 2017, produced a whopping 96 percent satisfaction score (with a 90 percent response rate) and these results are displayed in FONA’s collaboration café area as clear evidence for all employees, job seekers, customers, and community guests to see.

“Our employees are so much more than the job they do at FONA,” says Tonya Hubbartt, HR Director at FONA. “They have professional goals and personal dreams and deserve to achieve both. We believe that all employees should thrive in who they are and what they do.”

Why All the Accolades?

“We listen to the employees’ wants and needs and implement the ideas we hear from them,” says Hubbartt. “Our goal is to enrich their lives and ease burdens where we can.”

One way this is accomplished is through FONA’s Wellness Committee, which develops programs encompassing the whole self. Working with their motto “Thrive as You,” the goal for all employees at FONA is to be the best they can possibly be.

FONA offers several onsite health and wellbeing activities, like free weekly mindful meditation, yoga twice a week, monthly massages, and nail and hair services. There are a variety of social traditions that make FONA what it is, like monthly employee lunches, an annual all-employee and family picnic, and its all-employee Thanksgiving celebration. And then there are the life skill classes, like financial wellness, mental health first aid, and personal health life coaching.

And what about the benefits? Sticking with the theme of the whole person, FONA wants employees to approach life in a positive, healthy way. That’s why they offer company-paid health benefits for employees and their dependents. No premium costs—just peace of mind that they are covered for wherever life may take them.

A Plethora of Perks.

Check out some of the benefits offered at FONA:

  • Health insurance­ - paid at 100 percent, including dependents
  • A three percent 401(k) contribution (even if the employee doesn’t contribute)
  • Extensive personal and professional learning and development opportunities
  • Fitness center and fitness classes
  • Flexible scheduling
  • 529 college savings plan
  • Tuition reimbursement
  • Parental leave
  • 40 hours of free continuing education per year
  • Internship program
  • Health coaching
  • College scholarship program for children of employees
  • Summer hours
  • Discretionary Thanksgiving bonus
Painting an Even Prettier Picture

FONA is deeply committed to helping out in its community as much as possible. In fact, Slawek sold some of his FONA acreage in order for the Northern Illinois Food Bank to relocate their headquarters right next door, with the foresight of the food bank being an opportunity for his employees to be consistent volunteer supporters of their important work.

In addition to the food bank, FONA leadership believes that there are plenty of needs to be filled right outside their doorstep, so within the surrounding Fox Valley area is where they spend their volunteer energy and focus. There are several charity partners where employees may volunteer including Fox Valley Christian Action, Lazarus House, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates for children), Samaritan’s Purse, and Feed My Starving Children … to name just a few.

The community also has access to the company’s FONA Center, a beautiful 200-person capacity auditorium available for events. It’s also home to Flavor University and Discover FONA.

Flavor University is for food industry professionals to attend complimentary classes, where they learn how to work smarter with flavor. These courses cover everything from an introduction to flavor and the science behind it to the labeling landscape and how to use flavor in specific applications.

Discover FONA is a complimentary food science program for secondary education students and teachers. To date, more than 8,000 students have learned about the world of food and flavor through Discover FONA.

“Working at FONA is all about the great results we produce for our customers, and it’s also about doing our best work with each other,” says Hubbartt. “We want to celebrate all that life has to offer, while embracing what makes us who we are.”

By Sue Piette, Writer

Read the full issue.