Cool Places to Work
By Traci Angel and Katie O'Connor
Some jobs don’t even feel like work. They are found at places where people take their personal interests, hobbies and values and use them in a way that makes the paycheck secondary to a career they take pride in. People at the following workplaces told us how they loved to go to work, felt appreciated and believed in what their employers were doing to make a difference in the city and the world. That’s cool by any definition.
How fun would it be to have your office in a museum made for children? Elizabeth Parker, director of City Museum (701 N. 15th, 314-231-2489), knows the feeling. “It’s like when you are a kid on the playground and you think about work when you are a grownup and you imagine it one way. Well, what if it really is like that? That is what we have,” she says. One of the best parts of her job is the instant gratification. “You can walk out of the office and hear the kids squeal. It keeps you young.” Other perks of hanging out in the wonderland include sculpted caves, rope tunnels, Beatnik Bob’s café and the World Aquarium. “My two kids still think my job is going down the big slide all day,” Parker says.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Tom Smith was a professor at Purdue University before taking his position as a member and principal investigator at the plant science center (975 N. Warson, 314-587-1000). One of his areas of expertise is studying plants in the very simplest of terms. Smith identifies various plant proteins and how they work and then compares them to other proteins. His findings could help improve nutritional health and help crops to withstand fungi and other harmful growths. “There is encouragement to think about what you are doing that is directly applicable to the outside world,” Smith says. But he also enjoys the work’s cutting-edge appeal. “Every day is potentially different and you could discover something no one knew existed.”
St. Louis Rams
Working for a professional football team is a sport fan’s dream. The “team behind the team” mixes fun with work, along with enjoying shorter days in the off-season and the excitement of being around some of the country’s best athletes. Merritt McCarthy is an executive assistant who helps out many in the office (1 Rams Way, 314-982-7267). She says she loves the variety in her job. “It changes daily. I came from a regimented background in trade shows and public relations so this was refreshing,” McCarthy says. “The people are nice and I get to talk to a variety of people.” Other perks: a state-of-the-art workout facility, elbow-rubbing with the players and “surprise” time off, depending on what is going on.
Saint Louis Zoo
Christy Osborne wanted to work at the Saint Louis Zoo (1 Government Drive, 314-781-0900) so much she started part time in 1998. “I took any job I could get to work there. I started in the library,” she says. Today, she is a zookeeper in the carnivore unit and working on her biology degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She feeds the big cats, sea lions and hyenas. “The best part is the opportunity to work with wildlife every day and be part of the bigger picture of conservation,” Osborne says. “We get to educate zoo visitors and that is something we take seriously.” Her favorite part is working with the geriatric cheetahs. “I’ve found they require specific care and I want to make sure they have a happy life even when they are older,” she says.
Making and testing beer seems more like a Sunday afternoon hobby than a real job. And that is what appeals to Tap Room chief brewer Stephen Hale. He started two months before the brewery (2100 Locust, 314-241-2337) opened in late 1991 and confesses to wearing many hats in the fast-paced beer-making business. “My favorite part of the job is keeping the grand perspective that it is all about making beer,” says Hale, a former grade school teacher and sea urchin scuba diver (for sushi markets). From home brewer to full-time gig, Hale’s motto for a tough day on the job is simple: “At the end of the day, we are brewing beer.”
One day last year owner Mark Schupp told his 25 employees to pack their bags, they were going to Napa Valley the following week. The staff vacation was a surprise treat for the advertising company’s employees, who work on projects for clients such as Miller Brewing Co. and the St. Louis Blues. Among other perks at the rehabbed historic downtown office (401 Pine, 314-421-5200) are a half-court basketball facility and a gym. Account supervisor Kim Jenne didn’t plan to stay at the company long, but finds herself still enjoying her job after six years. “It is very important to me to have a creative environment. One of the unique aspects is that in being small, everyone feels invested in the company,” Jenne says. “My favorite part is working with the creative team and coming up with a strategy that helps our client sell their product. That is what keeps me excited to come to work.”