Great Places to Work

58 companies with killer perks, enviable offices and top-notch programs

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Sense Corp.
Industry: Business Consulting
Location: Maplewood
Local Employees: 55

Sense Corp. isn’t your typical consulting firm. Gone are formal titles, a rigid career path or hard-walled offices. In its place is a new-breed firm that encourages employees to take off Fridays while on the road, hosts Monty Python–themed days and offers tailored professional development programs. “Consulting is highly transient, and turnover is typically very high,” says president and cofounder Keat Wilkins. “We try to make employee satisfaction drive policies.” In doing so, the firm has made some major strides. Some are obvious: offering competitive pay and challenging work. But others—development programs that partner with nonprofits, annual meetings in other cities and Beer:30—are far more novel.

“You get training you wouldn’t get as a small cog in a big machine,” says Wilkins, who worked for larger firms in New York City before starting Sense Corp. in 1996. The process starts with communication—both formal and informal. Employees regularly gather in the break room, which houses a pair of kegerators, a big-screen TV and couches. “We want this to be an oasis,” says Wilkins.
Then there are Sense Corp.’s development programs. Though there are only about 55 employees locally (and another 35 in Texas), the firm has a full-time staffer devoted to employee development. New hires start with a two-week orientation before advancing to a “unique, groundbreaking piece of training,” as Wilkins calls it: partnering with a nonprofit. The nonprofit gets pro bono advice while the new Sense Corp. member and a team of co-workers get 360-degree feedback.

John Myers, an employee who at one time worked for a larger consulting firm, praises Sense Corp.’s customized approach. “It comes back to an emphasis on the person,” he says. “Keat allows us to seize opportunities we see and connect with things we might not have been able to do otherwise.”

Peter Siegel, chief financial officer and cofounder (“if you had to give me a title”), ensures that workers aren’t logging more than 60 billable hours per week and gives them Fridays off when they’re traveling. “It’s not a dictatorship,” he explains. “People find enough rope to hang themselves or swing from the trees.” Judging from the low turnover and more than $10 million in annual revenue, Sense Corp.’s formula makes … well, a lot of sense.

Edward Jones
Industry: Investing
Location: Maryland Heights
Local Employees: 4,800

When Nino Clarkin started at Edward Jones, she was given a thick blue binder. Along with information about the brokerage firm’s culture and expectations, she found that the company offered many opportunities to grow. “By my second week, I already knew what I had to do for my development,” she says.

So does every employee at Edward Jones. Each of the company’s 4,800 local employees has a desktop icon called “My Learning Plan” that contains information on the track each has chosen to develop skills, upcoming courses, objectives and a timeline. It’s custom-made to fit each person’s job and help everyone remain current with industry trends and standards.

At the same time, Edward Jones provides other tools, such as mentoring, job shadowing and peer feedback. Employees can take public-speaking classes, in which they’re videotaped while speaking—and while listening. Such courses help them understand their quirks. “Mine is that I say, ‘Um,’ to fill the space,” admits financial advisor Amy Ford.

Speaking of quirks, one of Edward Jones’ seems to be what some describe as “a culture of nice.” So to ensure employees are still able to deal with confrontation, the company recently started a one-day training program called “Candor With Respect.” Employees brought in examples of conflict, then role-played to prepare for the real deal. Such a seminar wasn’t strange to Ford, who’s used to the culture at Jones. “Development isn’t just encouraged,” she says, “it’s supported.”
Daugherty Business Solutions
Industry: I.T. Consulting
Location: Creve Coeur
Local Employees: 250

You know those I.T. people who shun water-cooler conversation for the cold comforts of their computers? They don’t work at Daugherty Business Solutions. The consultants here are a strange brew of counselor, efficiency expert and superhero. To help businesses solve I.T. issues and work more efficiently, they’re continually getting schooled—in a good way.

New hires are cultivated along a number of “learning paths” that cover different aspects of the field. Because the training program is specifically tailored to the company, Daugherty’s employees teach much of it themselves. “You can’t just go out and buy a class,” says Mike Foster, a line-of-service leader. Training happens during lunch, in informal sessions, on the job, between clients and via outside sources. Employees are also given coaching, mentoring and the chance to work on projects alongside other consultants.

After 20 years in the biz, Lawrence Rogers recently joined Daugherty. But he found training at the firm isn’t just learning to code and use computer programs. The company also teaches skills like listening and interviewing, making certain its employees are doing more than swooping in to fix computer problems.

And at the end of the day, Daugherty makes sure everyone is blowing off steam. Employees have bowling and hockey leagues, dance leagues, a company band and, of course, gaming night.

Leadership & Development: Honorable Mentions
Armstrong Teasdale LLP
Women’s career-coaching program offers seminars, one-on-one coaching and a career expert

Bethesda Health Group
School at Work program offers on-site education for entry-level employees

Biomedical Systems
Founder Ray Barrett personally meets with new hires

Pays for college degree pertinent to position; stock awards for degree completion

BJC Healthcare
On-site MBA program, GED prep and ESL classes

Enterprise Rent-A-Car
A management training program that’s one reason BusinessWeek named it one of the “50 Best Places to Launch a Career” for three years in a row

LarsonAllen LLP
Development coaches for each employee offer mentoring and feedback

Lawrence Group
During new employee “boot camp,” staffers show new hires the city

McCarthy Holdings Inc.
Up to $8,000 in annual reimbursement provided for relevant college courses

MERS/Missouri Goodwill Industries
Employees can try on various positions for the best fit

“Build Your Own Career” website helps employees create and track career path; monthly brown-bag lunches with execs; up to 75 percent tuition reimbursement

All-star employees receive standing ovations and $100 at monthly meetings; employees discuss ways to improve over catered breakfast with a DJ

Sansone Group
“Sansone University” pays for continued education, seminars, license fees and training

S.M. Wilson & Co.
“Bucket groups” of employees provide ongoing feedback

St. Luke’s Hospital
Passport to Wellness program provides classes, tools and incentives for employees to live a healthier lifestyle

To learn about the perks at more than a dozen of St. Louis' largest employers, pick up a copy of the January '09 issue.

And be sure to check out SLM's Q&A with Jenna Fischer, star of The Office, as well as our conversation with a local economist.

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