NO. 1 LARGE COMPANY: U.S. CELLULAR
U.S. Cellular keeps team spirit high with store events such as this pre-Super Bowl party at its Medford store.Photo by Jon Meyers
When U.S. Cellular took home the trophy last year for the very best large company to work for in Oregon — months after announcing 160 layoffs in closing its Medford call center — the local paper covered the award with the headline: “It was a great place to work.”
The closing of the call center posed a challenge to the Medford managers who worked hard to get the word out: U.S. Cellular was still here, still providing jobs, still participating in the community.
And the fact that Chicago-based U.S. Cellular was again named the No. 1 large company to work for in 2007 means that, despite bumps in the road, the company’s vaunted culture — friends of those who work there often say “you can’t love your job that much” and some even accuse employees of belonging to a cult — is still intact.
They call it the D.O.
It stands for dynamic organization. It has to do with open lines of communication and servant leadership and playing to employee strengths and coaching to the company’s values (the standard list: customer service, respect, diversity, empowerment) and so on.
“When I first started here I asked about the whole dynamic organization thing,” says Erin Anderson, who joined the company two years ago to run marketing for Oregon and California.
“I said, ‘I had a plaque on the wall at my old company, too.’ But I’ve learned more about leadership and about myself than I did in six years at that job.”
“It’s almost like we improve people and sell cell phones on the side,” muses her colleague, Kimberly Cocha.
It isn’t so, of course. At the end of the day it’s all about numbers and market share. But that’s what the D.O. is built on: the notion that effective leadership means satisfied employees and satisfied employees will take care of customers and sell more phones. And 2007 was an eventful year for the leadership of U.S. Cellular in Medford.
“It was a fantastic year of change,” says Calvin Emigh, the director of sales for U.S. Cellular’s Oregon and California region and the highest-ranking manager in Medford. “I’m very, very, very proud of this team.” The team includes 140 employees who cover 14 retail locations in Southern, Central and Coastal Oregon.
Emigh has removed his Bluetooth earpiece to talk. His image — wearing a smile and a crisp button-down with the U.S. Cellular logo embroidered over his heart — is reflected in the polish of his desk. Snoopy hangs on the bulletin board over his shoulder, unfurling the words: Happy Birthday From the Whole Gang.
Part of that change was a dozen managers who were promoted to the next level with the company, several of them to other, newer markets such as St. Louis and Texas. While being tapped as a management training ground for U.S. Cellular is a pat on the back, losing seasoned leaders to promotions created its own challenges.
“We had some hiccups. It kicked our butt for two months. Annoyingly, it did,” Emigh says.
Lisa Deascentis was one of the new leaders who stepped up to fill the void. After six months in the sales manager position, she’s now comfortable at her desk in the office behind the bustling Medford store sales floor, though she still wants to paint the walls a brighter color.
She’s been with U.S. Cellular for nine years and says she always put herself in an unofficial leadership role.
“Being what we call a ‘clocker’ wasn’t enough for me,” she says. But with a young son at home, she didn’t feel she could commit to full-time management.
“My son just turned 11. He’s got his own little thing going on,” she says. “It’s time to focus on me.”
She’s had two weeks of leadership and management training — one of them in Chicago — and says she’s relishing the new challenges of the job, especially figuring out how to get her own clockers to see past what they do every day to the true potential in the job.
“I knew it would be rewarding,” Deascentis says. “I love it.”
— Christina Williams
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