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A job's relative worth

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

s_Robin When coming into work seems a little like coming home, I count myself lucky. Feeling like I’m part of a family makes hard days easier and long days shorter. It keeps me coming back.

The 29,049 employees who participated in our 12th annual 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon survey are no different. When any one of the many thousands of people in our survey thought they’d found a family in their company, they were hooked. They felt respected, supported, even loved. They knew somebody was in their corner; in return, they were willing to embrace their company like a long-lost relative.

Steve Smith, CEO of Tec Labs, knows this. It’s part of the reason why his Albany-based family-owned company, makers of anti-itch skin products, is the No. 19 Small Company on the 100 Best list this year. It’s that feeling that Tec Labs is a family that’s clearly one of the most satisfying thing about working there: “I feel like I’m surrounded by a big giant hug,” wrote one worker. “I know that sounds sappy, but that’s the way it feels to me.”

“I’ve worked here for six years and started when I was 17,” wrote another. “This company has been a never-ending support system and a contributor to who I am as a person. We laugh together, spend time together outside of work and cry together.”

Smith’s family ethic comes from his grandfather, an Iowa farmer who worked the land with Belgian draft horses. After long hours in the field, granddad would take his horses to a stream to drink, then let them play for as long as they wanted in return for their unrelenting work. Only after he’d taken care of them would he head home to take care of himself.

Smith’s enduring philosophy about running his company: “Take care of the horses first.’’

“It amazes me that companies don’t do that,” Smith says, because he makes it a point to practice what his granddad preached. His keeps an open, flat management structure, rewards performance (this year each employee received $12,000), gives paid volunteer time and throws a company picnic every month. A company team recommended eliminating a position to fund better health benefits. Each year, Smith uses the results from the 100 Best survey to identify problem areas in the company and correct them. His goal? To be the best, of course.

It’s this kind of treatment that encourages employees to give their respect, creativity, loyalty and hard work. When you’re given your due at the end of a long hard day, you’ll come back the next day ready to pull the plow just as hard. Smith says his 30 employees give him the productivity of 60 workers. “We use the UPS model,” he explains. “When your work is done, you get to go home.”

Tec Labs is just one of a hundred shining examples in this issue of companies that strive to be the very best by re-creating those things we love about family. Maybe it is sappy, but it’s also true. Who wouldn’t like to feel surrounded every day at work by a big giant hug?

I like to think our magazine is also a little like family, the kind that listens to your stories, celebrates your successes, gives you good advice. A place that feels a little like home and keeps you coming back.

— Robin Doussard, editor
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