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|Articles - March 2010|
|Thursday, February 25, 2010|
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There were nearly 20,000 employees from 303 companies who participated in our 17th annual 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon survey. It might not have been the best year for business, with a bad economy hanging on, but you wouldn’t know it by how our 2010 winners treated their employees. What makes a great place to work? Robust health care plans were important to being a Best Company. This group offers substantial premium offsets and a surprisingly high number of alternative care and wellness plans. It’s also about inspired leadership, collaboration and caring, along with a healthy dose of fun. Congratulations to the class of 2010!
STORY BY BEN JACKLET // PHOTOS BY LEAH NASH
It’s challenging enough to keep employees happy and workplace morale high during the best of times. But what about in the worst of times? How do companies manage to remain great places to work in the worst economy since the Great Depression?
When Oregon Business sent out its 17th annual workplace satisfaction surveys last fall, markets were beginning to recover but job losses and benefit cuts were still rampant. Many of the state’s top companies had endured two terrible years of cutbacks and downsizing. Yet nearly 20,000 employees responded to the survey, and while overall scores were down, largely because of shrinking benefits packages, satisfaction levels were surprisingly high for the companies that made our 2010 list of the best companies to work for in Oregon.
How did they do it?
Office manager Serene Brown, who has worked at Stamp-Connection for five years, says there is “no comparison” between her current job and past ones, including a stint at a different rubber stamp maker that failed during the last recession. “These other companies I worked for weren’t structured in a way to allow employees to succeed,” she says. “The benefits went to the owner first and rarely to the employees, and people resented it. If we don’t take care of the employees, they won’t take care of our customers.”
In the third room back, where the most intense manufacturing is done, three-year employee Kae Saechao begins by saying he considers his workplace “a pretty chill place.” Pressed for specifics, he shrugs shyly and says, “This company turned my life around.”
Stamp-Connection has a long relationship with Alpha High School, an alternative high school in Gresham for troubled teenagers. Saechao is one of several Alpha graduates who have earned a full-time job at Stamp-Connection through that program. He says he appreciates the opportunity to move beyond the poor choices of his past and prove himself as a reliable employee. He also appreciates the fact that when his car broke down recently his boss paid to get it repaired.
With just $1.25 million in annual gross revenues, Stamp-Connection is one of the smallest companies to make the 100 Best. The company won points for offering 100% percent paid health care for families of employees and paid maternity and paternity leave. But the category that vaulted Stamp-Connection to No. 3 on the list of Best Small Companies was decision-making and trust.
The 37-year-old Clark, a stocky, ebullient man dressed in suspenders and a lavender tie, is a matter-of-fact guy, straight to the point, and he makes no attempt to conceal his pride in the tidy little business he has built from scratch. Clark started Stamp-Connection in the back of his apartment at age 28 and moved into a Gresham storefront in 2001 after getting a bank loan for $18,000. The first time the company cleared $1 million he threw a big party that featured 125 people singing a rousing version of Yellow Submarine.
Clark’s background in accounting taught him the importance of best business practices and attention to detail. A stint at a local stamp company that has since failed offered him plenty of examples of how not to do things.
“The prevailing attitude at that company was that employees are a problem that needs to be dealt with,” Clark recalls. “I view our employees as our No. 1 asset … They’re the ones talking to the customers, manufacturing the stamps, putting pride into their work. We need to make sure they’re well taken care of.”
What better way to take care of the team than to boost pay by 6% during a recession?
When business slowed in 2009, Clark did not cut anyone’s pay or benefits. All workers received their usual 3% cost-of-living increases in the spring and those who qualified also got 3% performance-based raises in the fall. The only compensation package that got cut last year was Clark’s.
Caring for critically injured babies is intense work, and intensely well compensated. Northwest Newborn’s neonatal intensive care units feature state-of-the-art equipment for handling patients with complex problems, including one of the few ECMO lung machines for infants in the Northwest. The group’s North Portland administrative offices are stylish and spacious, with large offices for most employees and a posh conference room.
Even in the worst of recessions no one is likely to recommend cutting back on emergency care for prematurely born babies and infants with life-threatening medical complications. Neonatologists earn on average more than $200,000 per year, and top performers are recruited aggressively. The physicians at Northwest Newborn have ample opportunities to move on to different practices elsewhere. Yet turnover is practically non-existent, say doctors and administrators.
“I can’t even imagine trying to dig my CV out to try to find another job,” says chief medical officer Dr. Craig Novack. “I don’t even know where my CV is.”
The same sense of satisfaction — and loyalty — appears to prevail among Northwest Newborn’s administrative team. The 12 admin employees who work under chief financial officer Cheryl Hughes Gaulke offer a cascade of reasons why they love their work: pride in the mission, comprehensive benefits, mutual respect between physicians and administrators, integrity, a great office space, and extreme flexibility. Four-day work weeks are the rule rather than the exception for full-time administrative employees. Support and praise for Gaulke as a team leader is unanimous.
“I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else,” says Kathy Axelrod, a 13-year employee.
Administrative assistant LaNita Bunch, who had to leave her job at Northwest Newborn for four years to live and work in Kansas City, says she felt fortunate to get hired back upon her return to Portland. Her interim position was “just a job,” she says. “You can’t compare it in any way to what we have here.”
Northwest Newborn is a frequent 100 Best winner, and the super-energetic Gaulke and her management team take the findings from the annual surveys seriously. It’s clear from just a few interactions with Gaulke that she does not do things halfway. Ask to speak with a few employees and you will find yourself interviewing a dozen at once. Ask to speak to one of the physicians and you’ll find three interviews scheduled back-to-back with doctors who specialize in saving the lives of infants. That intense attention to specifics from Gaulke and her colleagues is reflected in Northwest Newborn’s consistently high scores across the board in the 100 Best surveys, especially in the benefits category.
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Thursday, December 04, 2014
BY DEBRA RINGOLD | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
How important are institutional and/or program evaluations provided by third parties in selecting a college or university program?
Thursday, December 11, 2014
There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation.
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR
The Northwest Environmental Business Council previews the 2015 legislative agenda as Hatch Oregon celebrates Oregon's new community crowdfunding rules.
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
The 2014 Bend Venture Conference set a record for the most cash, investments and prizes awarded at an angel conference in the Pacific Northwest. Investments in the six winning companies exceeded $1 million. The 11th annual conference was hosted by Economic Development of Central Oregon.
Monday, January 26, 2015
The day after this issue goes to press, the city of Medford will host its annual business conference. The event features Minoli Ratnatunga, co-author of the Milken Institute’s annual “Best-Performing Cities” report. Preliminary data suggests that Medford is likely to retain its No. 1 ranking among best-performing small cities for having a higher concentration of high-tech firms than the national average.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER
Researchers in a multitude of disciplines are searching for ways to soak up excess carbon dioxide, the compound that contributes to global warming.
Friday, January 23, 2015
BY DAN COOK | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN
A real-estate developer and a Lithia Motors executive aim to revamp the city's forlorn downtown.
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Is your business ready to join us in the call for action? This opening panel includes Oregon businesses who will discuss why they signed the Oregon Climate Declaration, the investments they are making to reduce carbon emissions, and how their actions are affecting their companies.
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How sports tourism is driving economic growth and making cities across Oregon a better place to live.
If you have given a former employee access to your company’s electronic information by virtue of assigning a desktop or laptop computer and you suspect he or she of having taken electronically stored data, there are several steps to follow to preserve electronic forensic evidence from spoliation.
The official launch will be Jan. 14.
In a switch on the traditional trade show, representatives from UO departments and local and state agencies will host tables to connect with businesses and vendors. The fourth Reverse Vendor Fair will take place Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Eugene.