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Great places to work? Dilbert would choke on his coffee at the very idea. The late Studs Terkel would tell you, “Work is, by its very nature, about violence—to the spirit as well as the body. It’s above all (or beneath all) about daily humiliations. It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”
Yet a string of St. Louisans would disagree with ol’ Studs. Mark Schupp would tell you that work is where he’s forged lifelong friendships. (It doesn’t hurt that Schupp Co. took its employees to Napa Valley in 2004.) Tom Dutton, I.T. director at Clayco, would credit his company for helping him lose 100 pounds. And if dogs could talk, they’d tell you Nestlé Purina is no reason to lift your leg.
While there might not be a definitive list of best workplaces, there are best practices—certain elements of a workplace that make daily life not just bearable but, dare we say, enjoyable. With this in mind, we searched the region for cool perks, inspiring spaces and effective programs. What did we find? St. Louis knows how to work it.
POLICIES & PERKS
Nestlé Purina Petcare
Industry: Pet Products
Local Employees: 1,600
It might be clichéd to say Nestlé Purina’s downtown offices are going to the dogs. But standing in the lobby, where a white bulldog struts by and the receptionist pets a Chihuahua puppy named Bandit, you realize it’s true. “We’re fortunate enough to bring our consumers in-house,” says Brook Lashley, manager of sourcing strategies. That’s one way to put it. Another is to say the company is serious about its love of pets. Outside is “The Barkyard,” a dog park where large and small pets run off-leash in designated areas. Employees are on a first-name basis with the Labs and German shepherds that rest next to desks. “You can pet a dog for a few minutes and feel the stress level go down,” says Mel Kohr, director of talent sourcing.
The pet-friendly policy is just the beginning, though. Downstairs in Nestlé Purina’s main building is a fitness center, a credit union, a medical facility and a store where employees can buy everything from Band-Aids to baby formula. A tailor comes in once a week. On the first floor, employees can grab a bite to eat in the cafeteria or a latte at the coffee bar. Outside, next to the dog park, there are three koi-filled ponds and a gazebo. And an on-site day care oversees 50 to 60 children per day. “You realize employers don’t have to do that,” says environmental engineer Gopi Sandhu. “It’s nice to know management is so supportive.”
And for that rare breed of Nestlé Purina employee who doesn’t own a dog? Lashley smiles. “It’s not a prerequisite,” she says. “You can live vicariously through co-workers’ pets.”
Industry: Real Estate
Local Employees: 350
If you’re lucky, your workplace might have a gym with a whining treadmill and a few mismatched dumbbells. You can shimmy into spandex before work and stink all day or go after work and get home late. Employees at Clayco, however, don’t face that dilemma. Beyond building design and construction projects, many of them build toned bodies in a decked-out gym—complete with a personal trainer on the payroll. And after squeezing a quick workout into the day, they can shower off in bathrooms stocked with hairspray, Tums, mouthwash, floss and more.
Trainer and wellness director Brian Imholz believes he’s the only full-time trainer in the country with such a job. About a third of Clayco’s
350 local employees regularly work out at the gym. “This is a place where you want to perform as well as you can, because you want to work for a company that takes care of you,” says I.T. director Tom Dutton.
When Dutton started at Clayco more than a year ago, he weighed 314 pounds. But he began regularly hitting the gym, drawing inspiration from quotes by Einstein and da Vinci painted on the company’s walls. Now he glides on the elliptical machine while answering emails. So far, he’s lost 104 pounds.
Clayco employees also have access to on-site car washes and oil changes, free breakfasts on Friday, weekly massages and a casual dress code. Tasha Turnbough has worked at Clayco for 14 years. Family and friends often tease her that working out is the only work going on at the company. But she knows better: “It’s work hard, play hard.”
Local Employees: 45
Envision the typical corporate retreat: dry-erase boards and stale bagels, trust exercises and the dissection of company goals. Compare that to Schupp Co. In 2004, the award-winning creative marketing firm flew its employees to Napa Valley, where they played bocce ball and sipped fine wine. Since then, they’ve played in the sand in South Beach and cheered on the Cards at Wrigley Field.
Photos taped to president Mark Schupp’s computer look more like social snapshots than pictures of work. “We don’t create widgets,” says senior vice president Donna MacDonald. “What we create is great thinking.”
To encourage that type of thinking, Schupp created a fun environment inside a historic building at the corner of Fourth and Pine. Step inside the grand lobby, and you immediately see signs that Schupp Co. isn’t your typical office: There are comfy couches for informal brainstorming, a pool table and an arcade machine with Pac-Man and Asteroids. Inside colorful offices that were once medical exam rooms—“cubes on crack,” as Schupp calls them—employees dream up ad and marketing campaigns like “Bleed Blue” for the St. Louis Blues and the “Redbird heist,” in which a dozen 12-foot Cardinals cutouts went missing from local billboards. Schupp gives new hires $50 to decorate their offices to match their personalities.
A meeting room on the second floor feels more like a spa than Office Space, with glass walls and a massage chair. On the third floor, employees can gather in a cool blue gym with views of the Arch for a boot-camp workout led by a visiting instructor. And when the stretching and sweating are done, employees can crack a cold one from the firm’s own beer-vending machine.
“The thing that struck me was, obviously they do good work here,” says copywriter Kate Sinnwell. “But they have fun while doing it.”
St. John’s Mercy Health Care
Location: St. Louis Region
Local Employees: 7,350
A banner inside the emergency room at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center reads, “THANKS TO THE BEST STAFF ON THE PLANET!” It’s a small thing, a detail most patients’ families would miss in the rush of an emergency. But for employees, it’s the small things that set St. John’s Mercy apart. “We recently did a marketing study, and one of consumers’ most frequent observations were ‘happy nurses,’” explains Don Kalicak, vice president of business development and strategic planning.
Ursula Wright, a clinical practice coordinator, had visited St. John’s Mercy since she was a child. When choosing a fellowship, she selected it for several reasons. “I noticed many of the nurses have worked here a long time, some for 15 or 20 years,” she says. The reason? A big one is recognition. It’s not unusual for managers to mail handwritten thank-you cards to the staff. During Nurse Week, RNs receive pedicures, massages and more. A health-incentives program allows employees to earn prizes by staying fit. And throughout the year, St. John’s Mercy hosts events for patients and staff—from ice-cream parties during the summer to a hospital-wide Christmas party. “I used to work the night shift, and you thought they wouldn’t do anything for you,” says Wright. “But they made sure to have events for us, too.”
Then there are the more formal policies at St. John’s Mercy. One advantage is pull pay, in which employees earn more for working shifts outside their typical routine. Another is an on-site day care, which oversees around 1,200 kids. “My two kids go there, and it’s just awesome,” says Cindy Rosburg, executive director of compensation and benefits. And then there is management’s open-door policy: On Wednesdays, president and CEO Denny DeNarvaez clears her calendar for employees to visit. “At every position, I’ve found managers willing to spend time to get to know me and help me move to the next level,” says Wright.
Dietitian Mary Ellen Idstein says such support translates into a close-knit atmosphere. “I work in three different buildings, but no matter where I am, it feels like home,” she says.
Perks & Policies: Honorable Mentions
Two free cases of beer per month
Paid 30-day sabbaticals with $3,500 for travel expenses for every five years with the company
Employees play Halo on two 40-inch TVs
Entire company took a ski trip last winter
Black Twig Communications
Piñata parties for birthdays of employees
Free Sam’s Club memberships; salad and sandwich bar; fully subsidized transit passes; backup day care and elder care
Free cable, Internet and phone service
Cultural events like visits from flamenco dancers and a National Geographic photographer
Four Seasons Wealth Management
Annual corporate retreat at Lake of the Ozarks
Employees play Guitar Hero and watch Mad Men during lunch
Free lunches daily
Dodgeball tourney with winning team facing executives; Cook’s Night Out program offers $10 take-home meals
Popular wellness program includes “Lunch & Learns,” fitness classes, a health fair and a new fitness center
Flexible scheduling and “Working Parents” support group
Employees can ride scooters around the office; pet-friendly policy; full kitchen and bar
CULTURE & ENVIRONMENT
Local Employees: 1,000
Forget hours of toiling under harsh lights, in a stiff chair or trapped in a maze of confined spaces. At Alberici’s headquarters, the light pours in through walls of windows, the chairs are ergonomically designed to draw out body heat, and the space is so open and sleek that it feels as if a library and modern art gallery hooked up. “It’s a little overwhelming when you walk in,” says project engineer Peter Nuernberger.
A native prairie and white wind turbine outside offer a preview of the building’s environmentally friendly design. Inside, bamboo covers elevator walls, and employees dine on heart-healthy subsidized lunches. Everything whispers of the company’s innovative culture—with an emphasis on whispers. In fact, the company even plays white noise throughout the day. “It is kind of like working in a library,” says Jay Reiter, director of marketing.
When the construction firm finished its $20 million LEED-certified building in 2004, commuters along I-170 got a sneak peek at the kind of green projects that Alberici is used to tackling. “We wanted a healthy environment,” says Denay Davis, vice president of employee services, “that’s aesthetic, psychological and physical.”
The green approach is built into the building and the culture, which helps Alberici promote corporate responsibility and teaches visitors about energy-efficient building methods. “I think it makes it easier to do your job,” Reiter says, “because you’re not fighting your environment.”
Location: U. City/Clayton
Local Employees: 12,500
Many offices preach work-life balance, but the reverse is the case at Washington University: Staff and faculty have a new life opened up to them because of the university. “There’s a sense of community that you don’t have in a more classic corporate setting,” explains vice chancellor for human resources Ann Prenatt, as she walks across the Danforth Campus on a crisp November day. Students scurry between collegiate Gothic-style buildings. Some study in the cavernous Holmes Lounge or the recently renovated library. Others grab lunch at the new Danforth Student Center’s dining hall. Visiting professionals unwind at the Knight Center, a hotel-like building for executives.
Inside historic Brookings Hall, executive director of university relations Jim Burmeister explains why he’s worked at Wash. U. for 50-plus years. “It’s not difficult to buy into the whole ethos,” he says. “There’s constantly something happening right at your doorstep.” Fine arts, concerts, academic and sporting events, presidential and vice presidential debates—the list goes on and on. Then there are the other perks of being a Wash. U. employee: free MetroLink passes, a car-sharing program, and a benefits and tuition-assistance package that’s tough to top.
Jane Kraus, head nurse of hematology and oncology, started at Washington University’s School of Medicine last August. After working at other local medical facilities, she was attracted to the competitive pay, 401(k) and academic setting. “If you don’t learn while you’re here, you must have your head in the sand.” Director of athletics John Schael seconds the sentiment. “The atmosphere is challenging and exciting,” he says. “I’ve worked here 31 years, and I look forward to coming to work every day.”
Beyond the perks and collegiate atmosphere, however, there’s something more: a certain sense of purpose. “When you think about the product of a university, which is these incredibly bright students and life-saving research, you just have to feel good,” says Prenatt. “That, to me, is what it’s all about.”
Local Employees: 250
Step onto the seventh floor at Metropolitan Square, and you might think you’ve ended up in the wrong place. “I love the look when the elevator door opens and there are lawyers who look around and ask, ‘When are you putting the carpet in?’” says Michelle Pinkston, a landscape architect at HOK.
Just three years ago, the space was a federal bankruptcy court with courtrooms that “looked like bad funeral-home chapels,” recalls vice chairman Clark Davis. So when executives decided to renew their lease at Met 1 and moved all of their employees to one floor, the world-renowned architecture firm did what it does best: transform the space into one of the most environmentally friendly offices in St. Louis. “We essentially created a loft-quality space inside a 20-year-old building,” says Davis.
Now the office is an airy environment with a prime view of the Arch and Busch Stadium that everyone can share. Stationed in rows of desks, architects and designers debate blueprints for a project in Saudi Arabia. “Almost everything we do is based on collaboration,” says Davis, “so we wanted to encourage communication and bring people together.” An open kitchen serves as a common meeting place. Glass-walled “huddle rooms” offer intimate spaces for employees to chat. Even 85-year-old founding partner Gyo Obata works inside a small cube surrounded by other creative minds.
Almost everything about the firm’s LEED-certified offices is environmentally friendly. Skylights with automatic louvers maximize natural light. Some employees bike to work and shower in HOK’s locker rooms. (Workers can also opt for Metro passes instead of parking permits.) A community-supported agriculture program encourages employees to eat organic food. And the firm started a recycling program for the entire 42-floor building. “You find it spills over into your personal life,” says interior designer Ryan Favier, who’s followed the company’s lead by recycling at home. “You’re more aware of what you do.”
Culture & Environment: Honorable Mentions
Style & Trend Center monitors the world’s latest fashions
“World Bearquarters” boasts cute job titles and a fun-filled environment
Showers for cyclists; inspiring offices inside recently renovated Power House building
Critter-themed caves, a glass studio and an aquarium—what’s not to love?
Danforth Plant Science Center
State-of-the-art facility with atrium, greenhouse and environmentally controlled growth rooms
The Magic House
Rewarding atmosphere where youngsters laugh and learn
Sleek break area, wellness center and bar
Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra
Executive staff enjoys background music when orchestra practices
Saint Louis University
Wireless Internet for entire campus; centrally located next to arts district
Saint Louis Zoo
700 species of animals inside elaborate exhibits—enough said
Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard
Cozy café connected to library
The Solae Company
New headquarters near Forest Park brings business side and research labs under same sleek roof
St. Louis Rams
Workout facility; employees sometimes rub elbows with the pros
TOKY Branding + Design
Loft-like space inside converted warehouse
Wildlife Center of Missouri
Saving thousands of critters annually, the animal rehab center has its own aviary
LEADERSHIP & DEVELOPMENT
Industry: Business Consulting
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.
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
Founder Ray Barrett personally meets with new hires
Pays for college degree pertinent to position; stock awards for degree completion
On-site MBA program, GED prep and ESL classes
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
Development coaches for each employee offer mentoring and feedback
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 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.
By Jarrett Medlin and Kristen Hare