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Great Places To Work


Posted on April 18, 2007

Roy Wilcox

Imagine working for a company that flies all of its employees to Tahoe for three days of fun. Or a place where you're told your kid's soccer game is more important than an afternoon meeting. How about an ad agency where you can shoot a game of pool in the break room?

Dream jobs? Maybe. But companies large and small in the Sacramento region offer these perks and more. Here, we take a look at 15 area workplaces where employees say the 9-to-5 grind is actually sublime.

Nugget Markets

Mission: Family-owned grocery store chain
Employees: Around 1,200
Perks: Bottom-up leadership style; extensive on-the-job training; employees encouraged to ask for training in jobs they want; parties

For the past two years, Nugget Markets has made Fortune magazine's list of the 100 best companies to work for. In 2006, it was ranked the 33rd best employer in the nation. This year, it was ranked 13th.

Why? Executives at Nugget Markets point to the company's inverted-pyramid management style. Top managers view their jobs as serving both customers and sales associates.

It's a servant-leadership culture, says spokeswoman Kate Stille, a member of the Stille family, owners and founders of the Woodland-based company. Our management supports our associates. Rather than have things filter from the top down, it's the opposite.

All of our leaders are coached, and we look for people with the service-leader mindset, says CEO Eric Stille. It helps keep the magic alive.

Apparently, the employee-first mindset is appealing: When the company advertised for sales associates for its new Roseville store, 1,600 people applied for 140 positions.

Lance Benton, who manages the Davis store, says Nugget encourages employees to pursue their passions. There is opportunity at every corner for something new, he says.

BloodSource

Mission: Community blood bank
Employees: About 600 full- and part-time 
Perks: Extensive training program that allows employees to study to become RNs; flexible
schedules; Aloha Fridays 

BloodSource, a nonprofit organization that collects blood from about 700 donors a day at its 15 Northern California centers, is a welcoming, caring workplace, many employees say.

It's fun, says nurse Jackie Coppola. And our donors are wonderful.

According to Leslie Botos, vice president of public affairs at BloodSource, the agency works hard to build worker loyalty. If an employee wants to become a nurse, the organization pays for tuition and adjusts the worker's schedule. And every year, CEO Mike Fuller meets in small groups with every employee to listen to their concerns.

BloodSource also holds frequent events for workers, including holiday parties at the Sheraton Grand. On Aloha Fridays, held every Friday during June, July and August, the agency gives out Hawaiian shirts, and employees can win a trip to Hawaii. One worker received a trip to Italy to mark her 35 years with BloodSource.

Boulder Associates, Inc.

Mission: Health care design firm
Employees: 14
Perks: Protecting the environment is a strong company value; 100 percent of medical premiums paid by employer; company-paid trips; relaxed office atmosphere

The eco-friendly atmosphere at Boulder Associates is one of the reasons employees enjoy working here. In addition to an extensive interoffice recycling program, the company uses natural and diffuse lighting in most areas and pays for employees to use mass transit.

On Pie Fridays, employees take turns bringing in a treat&emdash;usually pie&emdash;to share during relaxed office get-togethers. We enjoy being relaxed at work and doing fun things, says Don Myers, a principal with the Colorado-based firm who works in its Sacramento office.

Boulder Associates encourages camaraderie through company-sponsored ski trips and tickets to sporting events. Says Romano Nickerson, a senior associate, There are pretty strong bonds between folks that are based on true friendship.

California Musical Theatre

Mission: Theater (producer of Broadway Sacramento and Music Circus)
Employees: 30 full-time, 200 seasonal
Perks: Employees see performances on the house and can attend opening-night galas; Fourth of July parties at boss's house; familylike atmosphere

Employees of California Musical Theatre say they get satisfaction from bringing quality theatrical productions to the Sacramento area. Another perk of the job: watching those shows for free and attending opening-night soires.

It's very rewarding to be able to play a part in bringing theater to people, says Chris McSwain, CMT's community affairs director. For a lot of [theatergoers], it's the best moment of their week or month.

Carol Van Bruggen, a certified financial planner who sits on CMT's board, says she's never worked with a nonprofit agency whose employees were as invested in what they do. When she helped the organization establish a foundation, she was floored by the number of employees who contributed their own money. I don't ever think I've seen a company where the people so loved what they did, she says.

Victoria Plata, director of outreach and education, is one of those people. I love the familial sense of belonging to a company that has deep roots in this community, she says. I love the performing arts and couldn't work for a better company.
 

Crocker/Flanagan

Mission: Advertising agency
Employees: 15
Perks: Hip, relaxed office; parties; gift certificates for workers; employees' children welcome any time, any day

If '80s club music interferes with your concentration, you might have to ask someone to turn down the Boy George tunes if you work at Crocker/Flanagan. Employees listen to pulsating music as they create some of the region's most imaginative ad campaigns. Company owners Scot Crocker and David Flanagan believe keeping the mood light and entertaining helps cut some of the tension in the fast-paced world of advertising.

The office dcor is captivating: wooden lofts, antique banisters, an old lamp post from England and a huge fish tank. There's a pool table in the employee break lounge and comfy sofas scattered throughout. The office, a converted antiques-refurnishing warehouse on Sacramento's Elvas Avenue, is full of nooks and crannies where employees can seek peace and privacy. It inspires us to think creatively, says account manager Katie Carlson.

The office often holds impromptu parties on Friday afternoons. Staffers can be found shooting pool long after quitting time. They're not running home, Carlson points out.

Employees receive Crocker/Flanagan Bucks to bestow on co-workers for a job well done. Once a quarter, workers can use the bucks to buy DVDs, Kings tickets and other goodies. Every year, the company hosts an elaborate Oktoberfest and a St. Patrick's Day celebration, changing the firm name to Flanagan/Crocker for the day.

Kids are welcome. Probably every single day, you'll see somebody's kids here doing homework, Crocker says. It's a very family-friendly environment.

The company recently announced plans to merge with the Fresno-based Astone Agency, becoming Astone/Crocker/Flanagan and growing to 50 employees.

Folsom Lake Ford

Mission: Car dealership
Employees: About 200 at three sites
Perks: Employer pays 80 percent of health benefits; trips to Las Vegas for top salespeople; Christmas gift certificates for every employee; company camping trips

If you make the work environment enjoyable, employees will stick around. That's what John Sears, vice president of operations at Folsom Lake Ford, says is one of the secrets to a healthy work atmosphere.

Occasionally, a Sacramento King or two will drop by to sign autographs. Other family-friendly events, such as safety fairs with a bounce house for the kids, are held on weekends for the staff and the public.

We just try to make work fun around here, says Sears.

The powers that be at Folsom Lake Ford occasionally take employees on trips to Alcatraz or the Napa Valley, sponsor outings to Kings and Giants games and organize employee camping trips. And the company gives workers turkeys at Thanksgiving and gift certificates at Christmas.

Freight Solution Providers

Mission: Shipping company
Employees: 78 local, about 230 nationwide
Perks: Full employer-paid health benefits; flexible work hours; annual company-paid three-day trip to Tahoe; frequent catered lunches; bosses take employees out to lunch one-on-one

Freight Solution Providers is the largest female-owned logistics company in the United States, operating across from Mather Field. CEO Leilanie Steers, who founded the company in 1989, operates it with her husband, company president Ken Steers.

They ship goods worldwide, much like FedEx or UPS. But Ken Steers talks of two other missions: to provide health care to employees and to encourage employees to have personal lives.

We try to take away stress and make it more of a family atmosphere, he says. We run flexible hours for the employees. We have a lot of single mothers. As long as they are doing their job, I don't care when they come in. I don't care how many hours a day they work, as long as their job is done.

Full employer-paid health care, he says, is one of the most important things FSP does. Recently, a worker's teenage son was diagnosed with cancer. If they didn't have the medical insurance, their son would have died, Steers notes. We know it's our responsibility.

The couple shows appreciation for employees by hosting elaborate Christmas parties, flying the staff to Tahoe each year for three days of play. Other perks include catered lunches and lunch dates with the bosses.

Apparently, the fine treatment pays off.

We don't have turnover in our company. We don't have people quitting. We have a stable environment, Steers explains. That's a big advantage for us. It takes years for us to train people to do what we do. We look at our employees as assets.

Fulcrum Property

Mission: Development company
Employees: 12 in Sacramento offices, 40 at various properties
Perks: Exquisite art throughout loft offices; company advancement encouraged; employer-sponsored service days at homeless shelter

Looking for the whiteboard conference room in Fulcrum Property's loft offices on 16th Street? Turn left at the gigantic cast-iron baby head, pass the huge glass worktable (there are no desks), then take a right at the painting of women's shoes. Once inside the conference room, feel free to write all over the walls with a dry-erase pen.

If the medium is the message, then the message at Fulcrum Property is design matters, according to company president Mark Friedman. The beautiful art on the walls and the innovative office design speak volumes about this whimsical workplace.

It immediately conveys to the public and employees what we're all about, says Friedman. And because it's a beautiful and graceful place to work, it conveys to the people who work here that they are valued.

Carol Mott, Friedman's assistant, agrees.

It's unlike any office in Sacramento, says Mott. If you have to be somewhere eight hours, this is the place to be.

Friedman thinks the office design has helped him keep his staff. Since we moved into the offices three years ago, we've had no turnover at all, he says.

Friedman sponsors unique office gatherings. Last year, instead of hosting a huge Christmas party, the staff opted to volunteer together at a local homeless shelter. And as a special perk, Friedman frequently flies employees across the country to look at other projects.

 
Greater Sacramento Urban League

Mission: Nonprofit training center
Employees: 22
Perks: Intense on-the-job training; free on-site child care; positive work environment

If turning people's lives around and giving them a leg up in the world sounds like something you'd like to do, get a job at the Greater Sacramento Urban League. At the Urban League, employees provide job training, job referrals and education to people struggling to find work and complete an education.

According to James Shelby, president and CEO, the organization works hard to help its own employees advance professionally. Wal-Mart recently awarded the Urban League a five-year, $250,000 grant to provide management training and other education benefits to employees. We have an opportunity to bring all staff members up to 21st-century standards, says Shelby.

The nonprofit Urban League provides free on-site child care and serves meals at all staff meetings. Sometimes, managers treat the staff to concerts and other outings.

We want a positive work environment, says Shelby. We work with people with barriers to employment. If our staff is not productive, we will not be able to remove barriers for people who come into our building.

Poswall, White & Cutler

Mission: Civil litigation, personal injury law firm
Employees: 12
Perks: Profit-sharing plan; pension; dogs allowed; employer-paid lunches every Friday;
employees' children welcome; lavish parties

R. Parker White, managing partner of Poswall, White & Cutler, believes that those who work hard should play hard. To that end, one of the main goals at PW&C is to have a good time.

A lot of the office chatter revolves around employees' outside activities. We like to hire people who do other things, says White. It's just more fun.

The Sacramento law firm is welcoming to all creatures, large and small. Every day at Poswall, White & Cutler is Bring Your Kid to Work Day, says Cheryl L. Steiner, White's assistant. We constantly have our dogs and/or kids in the office.

Employees are also encouraged to leave the office to attend their children's soccer games or other functions.

You can't slow [life] down, you can't change it, you can't stop it. All you can do is not miss it, says White. I encourage everybody to live their lives and not miss it.

Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn, Inc.

Mission: Public relations firm
Employees: 53
Perks: Employer-paid life insurance and long-term disability; bonuses; free gym access; Halloween decorating party; art everywhere in office
 
It's not enough that employees at Runyon Saltzman & Einhorn, Inc. have killer views of the Sacramento River and downtown Sacramento from their offices at One Capitol Mall. The powers that be at RS&E have turned the place into a veritable art gallery. There is art not just in the common areas but in individual offices, too. The surrounding beauty adds to the great ambiance at RS&E, employees say.

The PR firm, employees report, maintains a familylike atmosphere, where employees work together and receive end-of-year bonuses when the company has a good year. And while they are hammering out PR materials for clients, employees also enjoy themselves. Drawings are held for gift certificates and tickets to sporting and other events. Employees decorate the office for the company Halloween party, and awards are given for best costumes and decorations. Free Peet's coffee flows all day.

But the biggest perk of the job, employees report, is the friendly work atmosphere.

It's a crazy, up-and-down, roller-coaster kind of place, just like any family, says employee Will Holbert. Working around Jean (Runyon) is fun and funny: You get a daily personal connection with how this company got where it is today.

Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau

Mission: Convention and tourism organization
Employees: 47
Perks: Employer-paid health benefits; VIP pass for new employees offering free admission to city attractions; flexible work schedules; children allowed in office after school on a regular basis; extensive training opportunities

Some might argue that the peanut gallery of employees at the Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau calls the shots at work. When it comes to arranging activities, they're in charge, coming up with ways to build camaraderie and keep morale high. The group has organized breakfasts at which top managers cook for employees; Halloween parties where employees trick-or-treat at the office and bring their kids in for craft projects; citywide scavenger hunts; and chair-riot races, in which workers transform their chairs into decorated vehicles to be pushed in a riotous race at Arco Arena.

President and CEO Steve Hammond says the lighthearted atmosphere is just one reason why the place has such low turnover. The bureau also offers ample opportunities for employees to advance in their careers.

Mike Testa, vice president of communications and public affairs, says SCVB leaders really listen to workers.

This is very much an open-door office, says Testa. Everybody on staff has Steve's ear.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District

Mission: Publicly owned utility provider
Employees: 2,200
Perks: On-site child care and fitness center; tuition assistance; frequent in-house training
opportunities; flexible schedules

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District provides publicly owned power to customers in the Sacramento area. According to employees, SMUD also provides its employees a pretty great place to work.

At its East Sacramento headquarters, SMUD offers on-site child care from infancy up to school age. It has a fitness center where employees can lift weights and take exercise classes in their work clothes. (It's called WAC: work-attire conditioning.) If you want to ascend the company ladder, SMUD is a great place to do it. The agency offers on-site management classes and helps employees pay for college and other courses.

The work environment is positive and employee morale is high. J.D. Power and Associates recently ranked SMUD the top utility in California for providing residential and commercial service. In order for us to be able to give that level of customer service . . . our employees have to operate in an environment that is positive and gives them support, says Gary King, human resources manager.

Jan Schori, SMUD's general manager, says treating employees well makes sense.

To succeed as an employer, we need to attract and retain the best talent available. That requires an atmosphere in which all people feel welcome and included, she says.

We realize our employees are parents, sons and daughters, caregivers, and that they might have multiple roles to fill. So we have flexible work patterns, excellent employee and dependent medical benefits, family sick leave and counseling for family and personal issues, Schori adds.

Sacramento River Cats

Mission: Minor league baseball team
Employees: 65 full-time, approximately 1,000 hourly
Perks: A pair of season tickets for each full-time employee; company advancement encouraged; parties

They work in a ballpark&emdash;say no more. But there is more to say about working for the River
Cats franchise, where employees, often starting as interns, are encouraged to ascend the
company ladder.

Our primary goal is to have fun, says Alan Ledford, president and general manager.
If you go to work in a ballpark and you're not having fun every day, something is wrong.

Employees say they definitely have a good time. Company outings are frequent and fabulous, ranging from afternoon bowling to scavenger hunts in limos.

Working from inviting offices on the third floor of the West Sac stadium, employees often hear a bell chime during the workday. It is rung each time someone sells a season-ticket package.

Gaylene Caputo, an executive assistant, says workers are like a family. They hold baseball games and water-balloon fights on the field before the season starts. Some of their parties have included costume contests, for which employees are asked to dress like referees or tourists. The prize one year? A trip to Hawaii.

Oh, one more thing.

My office is a ballpark, says Caputo.

Tosh G. Yamamoto

Mission: Probate and conservatorship law firm
Employees: Nine
Perks: Regular office trips to sporting events; company-paid vacation weekends; employer-paid child care and gym memberships; flexible schedules; generous employee gifts

Listen to some of the things Sacramento attorney Tosh Yamamoto does for his employees: hires a bus to transport everybody to Giants games in San Francisco, then antes up for a tailgate party; sends employees and spouses on weekend trips to Graeagle and Las Vegas; buys lunch every Friday; brings a manicurist into the office on Administrative Professionals Day; buys cool employee gifts such as Nintendo Wiis and big-screen televisions . . . the list goes on.

When one employee reached her 25th anniversary with the firm, Yamamoto sent her and her family to Hawaii for a week and put them up at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa. I told him, ‘That's dangerous,' says office manager Cindy Canaday. He's setting the standard for everybody else who will be here 25 years.

He spoils us rotten, chimes in associate attorney Dave Richardson.  

How To Run a Great Company, From One Who Knows&emdash;

In the Sacramento region, he's known as the guru of good management.  

That's because the company Roger Valine headed up for 14 years has made it on Fortune magazine's 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the past eight years.

Valine retired as CEO of the Rancho Cordova-based Vision Service Plan, or VSP, in July 2006. Now, he speaks to management classes and managers nationwide about how to make a company a great place to work.

As a manager, Valine has lived by the golden rule. That simple thing about treating people the way you want to be treated goes a long way, he says.

That means telling employees the truth, he explains, and having a true open-door policy, so that employees don't suffer retribution for telling you something unpleasant.

Top leaders, says Valine, get out of their offices and walk around.

They need to know you, he says.

It also helps to hire good people. To do that, a boss needs to spend more time screening potential employees. Having talented employees who have great attitudes creates a unique work experience that is powerful, Valine notes.&emdash;Pamela Martineau
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