Critics say American businesses often pay too much attention to the next quarter's results. Even private companies can succumb, favoring short-term profits over long-term, sustainable growth.

At Chariot Solutions, which led the small-company pack in the Top Workplaces 2010 survey, management has tried to chart a different course.

"We're not your average IT service firm," said Michael Rappaport, chief executive officer of the Fort Washington company. It is a distinction he plainly wears with pride.

Rappaport, 41, founded Chariot in 2002, starting with 10 employees and a plan for a "high-end consultancy" that would serve companies that ran systems built on non-Microsoft technologies.

Chariot's first focus was the Java programming language. Lately, it has specialized in Java enhancements such as the Spring Framework, and platforms built on other languages such as Ruby on Rails.

Before Chariot's launch, Rappaport ran a software company, Skylight Systems, that produced a suite of accounting and distribution modules. As the parent company made plans to sell, Rappaport decided it was time to strike out on his own.

People were the key to the business model he envisioned: People who would do more - and be worth more - than those employed by the competition.

"The idea was that we were going to have a team that was all high-end specialists," said Rappaport, who started with a handful of his top employees from Skylight. "The most important question that goes into the hiring process is: Is this a person you'd like to work with?"

Chariot's focus on team-building among its 50 employees appears to have worked. Rappaport said that over the last eight years, only seven employees had left voluntarily, and only a couple had been dismissed.

In the Top Workplaces survey, those who remain sang the company's praises.

"I am given the responsibility and opportunity to work autonomously. My opinion is respected and I feel genuinely appreciated," said one employee.

"I truly believe the CEO cares more about the well-being of his people than the bottom line of the company," said another.

Of course, Rappaport is not ignoring the bottom line. He said he believed he had found a better way to enhance it - chiefly, by redesigning the traditional six-member team that a typical consultant would provide a company that needed help with a major project or transition.

Instead of throwing all those people at a problem, and billing them at an average of $100 an hour, Chariot will send three "senior technology architects," each billed at $150 an hour.

Rappaport said it was a win-win solution. He can pay his employees a premium and invest more in their professional development, and still bill clients as much as 25 percent less for a given project.

He said Chariot also focused on offering realistic estimates, so projects come in on time and under budget.

"That success has made us heroes to our clients, and that leads to job satisfaction," Rappaport said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or