Sponsored by Lane Powell

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

Stemming the tide of money in politics

Linda Baker
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
 jeff-lang-2012-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

Jeff Lang and his wife Rae used to dole out campaign checks like candy.  “We were like alcoholics,” Lang says. ”We couldn’t just give a little.”


Read more...

Destination Resorts 2.0

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

As the recession recedes and tourism grows, Central Oregon resorts redefine themselves for a new generation.


Read more...

The ancient fish that stops bullets

The Latest
Friday, May 08, 2015
hagfishthumbBY CHRIS NOBLE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

Hagfish may not have evolved much over the last 300 million years, but their protein-heavy slime promises advances in super-materials.


Read more...

Change at the pump?

The Latest
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
001thumbBY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states in the U.S. that ban self serve gas stations. But these two holdouts may be ready to give up the game. New Jersey is considering legislation that would lift the state's ban on pumping your own gas. Oregon is considering smaller scale changes.


Read more...

5 stats about Oregon fireworks

The Latest
Thursday, June 18, 2015
fireworksthumb001BY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Fireworks are a booming industry, even if the pyrotechnics have turned July 4th into a day fire marshals, and many residents, love to hate.


Read more...

Cherry Raincoat

June 2015
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER

Spring rains are the bane of an Oregon cherry farmer’s existence. Even a few sprinkles can crack the fruit so badly it’s not worth picking. Science to the rescue: Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a spray-on film that cuts rain-related cracking in half, potentially saving a season’s crop. The coating, patented as SureSeal, is made from natural chemicals similar to those found in the skins of cherries: cellulose, palm oil-based wax and calcium.


Read more...

An uncertain future

Guest Blog
Thursday, May 21, 2015
norristhumbBY JASON NORRIS | GUEST BLOGGER

Uncertainty is a part of doing business, whether in through the lens of investment opportunities and risks or the business of running an enterprise.


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