U.S. Cellular: the No. 1 large Best Company

| Print |  Email
Archives - March 2006
Wednesday, March 01, 2006

2006 100 Best Companies Cultural differences

The U.S Cellular tribe, led by sales director Calvin Emigh, has an office culture built around frontline salespeople.

By Oakley Brooks

Mike Shaw wasn’t sure that he could stomach the vibe at U.S. Cellular, after spending two decades at a Portland paint company in a top-down “old boys club,” as he calls it.

He moved to Medford three years ago to run retail stores sales for U.S. Cellular’s Oregon and Northern California operation and new CEO Jack Rooney, based at corporate headquarters in Chicago, emphasized that managers were around to be resources for the front-line sales people. That often takes the form of being warm and fuzzy toward them.

“This is the most huggy company I’ve ever seen,” Shaw says. “My wife thinks we’re crazy.”

To watch Shaw enter a store now, one would think he had arrived at a high school reunion. Big slaps on the back, chatting up sales associates with a large grin. “It makes such a difference,” says Shaw, now among the converted.

U.S. Cellular’s warm culture is indeed delivering returns. Sales in Oregon, where it has 260 employees, and Northern California grew 18% last year.

There are plenty of perks at U.S. Cellular: Aspiring sales reps are reimbursed for their higher-ed tuition provided they pass their classes. Workers and their families are treated to free cell phones and subsidized service.

But the company spends a massive amount of time honing the continuous feedback loop that is Rooney’s “dynamic organization.” Every opportunity to coach sales associates is seized and they, in turn, have ample time to bend a supervisor’s ear.

Calvin Emigh, the highest-ranking executive in Oregon, is reviewed by his staff as part of a 100-question culture survey every year. (His employees rated their overall experience at 3.94 out of possible 4.) He also has a flip chart page pasted to the door of his Medford office listing goals some of his co-workers recently drew up for him. Prioritize, they tell him, everyone wants a piece of you.

“This is a different train of thought, that I’m here to serve them,” says Emigh, 36, who started as a U.S. West Cellular (later Verizon) technician in 1990. He rarely goes anywhere without his phone earpiece clipped to his shirt collar and has stopped sending Saturday e-mails because co-workers were feeling pressured. “It’s forced me to manage my time better.”

In the highly competitive cell industry, U.S. Cellular’s culture is the way it tries to differentiate itself. To demonstrate they have the right stuff, candidates for entry-level sales positions must walk interviewers through seven different life scenarios where they demonstrated things such as “effective relationships.”

“We’re looking for certain behaviors,” Emigh says.

The ideal disposition lives in someone like young saleswoman Liz Wolgamot in U.S. Cellular’s West Medford store. She doesn’t squirm during a recent encounter in which a young customer tells her boyfriend to change his cell number to cut off the ex-girlfriend, “or the wedding’s off.” Both leave with the phone and the new numbers they need, courtesy of Wolgamot.

In the back offices, she tries to explain the real draw at her workplace: “We care about each other. When my kid is sick, I’m told to go home. I still get here early, four years after I started.”

She sees the year-end survey as a way not to criticize but to compliment. “We love that,” she says. “It’s a chance to say how great our leaders are. Yes, if you needed to complain it would be good for that, too.”
It’s an all-out love-in.


Have an opinion? This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Eco Zoned

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY HANNAH WALLACE

Travelers have always come to Oregon for its natural beauty. But will the increasing popularity of agritourism, European-style hiking getaways and forest resorts relax Oregon's notoriously strict land-use laws?


Read more...

The 5 highest revenue-generating parks in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, June 11, 2015
parksthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

In 2014, total revenue for camping and day use in Oregon State Parks was a little more than $17 million. That figure may even higher this year "because we've had exceptionally nice weather," Hughes says.


Read more...

100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

As momentum grows at the state level to introduce far-reaching environmental regulations, such as carbon pricing and the Clean Fuels Program, Oregon employers continue to go the extra mile to create green workplaces for their employees.


Read more...

No Boundaries

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Floor plans embrace the great wide open.


Read more...

Marijuana law ushers in new business age

The Latest
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
062315panelthumbBY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

Oregon’s new marijuana law is expected to lead to a bevy of new business opportunities for the state. And not just for growers. Law firms, HR consultants, energy efficiency companies and many others are expected to benefit from the decriminalization of pot, according to panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast meeting on Tuesday.


Read more...

6 key things to know about summer baseball in Oregon

The Latest
Friday, June 05, 2015
basedthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

As temperatures in Oregon creep into the 90s this weekend, Oregonians' thoughts are turning to — summer baseball.


Read more...

Apartment Mania

Guest Blog
Thursday, June 18, 2015
4805983977 11466ce1d6 zBY BRAD HOULE | CFA

While most categories of commercial real estate have performed well, one of the most robust has been apartment buildings.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS