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Agora Inc.: Beauty as a benefit

If restored 19th-century mansions appeal to you, you'd enjoy working at Agora, where 408 employees occupy nine such beauties in Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon district.

But architectural aesthetics alone don't explain the appeal of Agora, a holding company for publishers of consumer newsletters and special-interest books established in 1979.

Employees also appreciate the benefits of a workplace with a casual atmosphere, "where self-directed individuals focus on the things they actually enjoy doing," CEO Myles Norin said.

"If you're motivated by something, the sky is the limit," said Brian York, Agora's director of e-commerce.

Added chief financial officer Bob Compton: "We'll tell you what we expect to get done and we want you to figure out how to do it."

Agora enforces no strict hours or dress code. While employees are scattered among the nine buildings, the company brings them together frequently at social events, including summertime receptions in a nearby park, wine tastings, the Flower Mart and an end-of-year holiday party.

At last year's holiday event, each employee received an iPad as a token of the company's appreciation.

Norin says the old buildings that make up Agora's "city campus" come with drawbacks.

"They don't have some of the creature comforts you have in modern buildings," such as central air conditioning, he said.

But employees say the buildings' character creates tangible work results.

Said Megan O'Shea, Agora's communications director: "If you're in a room with a beautiful fireplace and a chandelier, you're able to think more freely."

Agora Inc.

Founded: 1979

Ownership: Parent company

Sector: Advertising and marketing

Locations: 9

Employees: 408


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