Great Places to Work
DT surveyed area recruiters, workers, managers and CEOs to find the state's best employers. Your dream job is waiting--and it's right here at home.
photographs all by Luigi Ciuffetelli
The No. 1 reason people leave their jobs has nothing to do with salary. They simply don’t like their bosses. So it’s clear that a great workplace starts at the top. Leaders who value employees make happy workers.
But until an employee experiences the culture of a workplace, leadership styles are impossible to anticipate. The only beta available to job seekers is salary, health and medical benefits, and an inventory of perks such as financial childcare assistance, tuition reimbursement, retirement plans, flextime policies and telecommuting options. At many local companies, such benefits are standard, so the less tangible aspects of work often matter most.
“On any given website, you can see human resources policies in place, but many are not particularly effective,” says Michael Burchell, director of client services at the Great Places to Work Institute in Wilmington. “In other words, they look good in writing, but aren’t implemented well. When people believe there is high trust and high camaraderie, it’s usually a great place to work.”
DT surveyed area recruiters, workers, managers and CEOs, asking the same questions Burchell does: Does management take sincere interest in employees? Does the CEO communicate in a way that makes them feel valued? Are leaders fair? Do they micromanage? Do they look at the long term and big picture?
The companies listed here encourage all employees to contribute ideas, many of which are often implemented. Excellent work is rewarded in meaningful and creative ways. Staffers are result-oriented, but they also have fun on the job. Some even work for salaries that are below market because they value teamwork and respect from leaders. They can make a difference in their communities and maintain a passion for what they do.
About 80 percent of Delaware’s lawyers work solo or in practices of fewer than five lawyers. The rest work in large local firms, chain firms, or in-house for companies such as DuPont and AstraZeneca. Large firms tend to be highly structured. Whether they are good places to work or not depends on the managing partner. The largest local firms are Potter Anderson & Corroon, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell and Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor. Richards Layton & Finger gets great reviews for its mandatory pro-bono program. Morris James boasts the hippest offices and most ergonomic work spaces at Wilmington’s newest business address: 500 Delaware Avenue. The biggest chain is Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, but Attorney General Beau Biden pays the largest number of lawyers; they work at the Department of Justice. Insiders took a secret oath to tell us why some firms are tops.
Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP, one of Delaware’s largest law firms, does corporate, bankruptcy and commercial law for clients at home and abroad. Attorneys have more latitude than at other firms because, unlike larger entities, they are not stymied by overzealous partners and ancient management styles. Great loyalty exists among partners, says partner Bill Johnston, who also chaired the hiring committee. “We try to provide associates with early opportunities, and we encourage partners to serve as mentors.”
Potter Anderson & Corroon is Delaware’s oldest firm, the eighth-oldest continuously operating firm in the country. That could sound like tradition reigns supreme, but Potter Anderson has turned a new leaf by working to attract minority attorneys. It named Theresa Brown-Edwards as its first African-American partner in January, which “showed first and foremost its willingness to evaluate legal skill and talent regardless of the race and gender of the attorney,” says Brown-Edwards. “It also showed the initiative to embrace diversity.” The firm later hired African-American attorney Joshua Martin III, the former CEO of Verizon Delaware, now a partner. Martin chairs the diversity group. “Not only do we do sophisticated, top-notch legal work,” says Brown-Edwards, “but we have a congenial and respectful group of lawyers and staff.”
Schmittinger and Rodriguez, a small Dover firm, wins raves for offering an all-around pleasant environment for secretaries, paralegals, support staff and lawyers. The firm is a favorite among summer clerks, and chances of getting hired are good, which means many of Schmittinger and Rodriguez’s new attorneys are fresh from law school. There’s also a good stable of experienced attorneys who specialize in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and labor, corporate, taxation and trusts, bankruptcy, criminal, and family and domestic law. Several attorneys also practice in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
At Widener University School of Law, professors have enough scheduling flexibility to get to their kids’ soccer games and dance recitals. Full-timers enjoy great benefits, including long holiday breaks and summer schedules that allow for 10 Fridays off. A professor’s paycheck often can’t compete with those of practicing lawyers—but they don’t work 80-hour weeks. Job satisfaction comes from preparing students to enter a challenging profession. Widener welcomes women and minorities. “Anyone who would question that need look only straight to the top of our school. Dean Linda Ammons is an African-American woman,” one of only three black women law deans in the country, says public relations officer Mary Allen.
Accounting managers, real estate and credit analysts, regulatory compliance managers, loan officers, tellers and marketing execs are critical to the field. The question is not where to work, but whether employees want to be big fish in little ponds or little fish in the ocean. Top banks offer competitive benefits packages and a few extras. PNC Financial Services Group, for example, boasts flextime, telecommuting, high salaries, 401(k) options, tuition reimbursement, adoption assistance and paid time off to perform community service. Tiny Artisans is Delaware’s own. By working at one of its 11 branches, employees find fulfillment by helping neighbors start businesses. But the industry is changing. JPMorgan Chase quietly laid off 140 workers over the past few months, and giant Bank of America recently reportedly 100 job cuts (though the figure is likely low). Don’t be discouraged—there are still great jobs to be had.
Maverick bank ING Direct is still proving itself, so it’s working hard to earn loyalty from employees. This year’s launch of electronic checking accounts will mean more hiring in the sales, risk, IT, marketing and treasury departments. There are no titles. And no one, including the famously down-to-earth CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann (though CEO sounds suspiciously like a title), has a private office, so if you are averse to cubes, look elsewhere. Kuhlmann looks to hire anyone but traditional bankers, so those who are eager to prove themselves are welcome here—as long as they do prove themselves. Management rewards hard work with two-day retreats to surprise locations. It rewards underachievers with an invitation to leave. Employees therefore believe ING surpasses most companies in terms of relationship building and camaraderie. Folks exercise together in the state-of-the art fitness center or annihilate each other via paintball matches on company retreats. If ING continues to offer customers the best interest rates in town (4.5 percent on savings accounts, higher for CDs) the likelihood of the standard merger is nil.
Wilmington Trust serves the mid-Atlantic with corporate-trustee and special-purpose services worldwide. The bank offers tremendous benefits and a terrific working atmosphere to 2,500 staffers in 59 countries, contributing to a low employee turnover rate of 12 percent a year. (The average employee tenure is 12 years.) In its 104 years, there have been only 12 chairmen. Like Kuhlmann, CEO Ted Cecala has an open door policy, but no door—only a cubicle, like the rest of the senior staff. Employees say he’s resistant to power-ego syndrome, as proven by his eating lunch in the cafeteria every day.
Affinity Wealth Management is a family-owned financial planning agency in Wilmington that is always on the lookout for financial wizards. Dr. James Kalil, 87 (called Pops around the office) started the company in 1974, then passed the baton to his son, Donald. Denise Madison, an African American who was recently promoted to office manager, says, “Having females and minorities in high-profile positions here is no big deal. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll be recognized.” Aside from generous annual bonuses, the company rewards employee achievement with Caribbean cruises—spouses welcome. Health insurance is free to employees. Flex spending comes through Aflac. And AWM maintains a Safe Harbor 401(k) profit-sharing plan, matching the first 3 percent of one’s pay—decent for a small company. Family issues are respected. “Don and Pops understand that we’re humans and we have lives outside work,” says trading specialist Matt Simpson.
Citizens Bank, now a 1,600-branch franchise, pays employees’ tuition before the start of a semester, not after, like most companies. Its emergency sick childcare reimbursement provides financial help to staffers when their children need care while they’re working. After workers have clocked at least five years with the company, they are entered into a monthly drawing to win a new car. Great benefits and competitive pay applies, but the new car is a biggie.
Barclays Bank Delaware CEO Richard Vague and president Jim Stewart, both formerly of First USA/Bank One, believe employees should get first dibs on Delaware’s coolest cultural events, so each supports the local arts scene. Barclays (formerly Juniper), a fast growing credit card issuer, is headquartered in Wilmington and manages myriad card partnerships with successful travel, entertainment, automotive, educational and financial institutions in the United States. Vague and Stewart seek smart, result-oriented staffers, but list “unselfishness” as a prerequisite trait. Employees do lots of community service. Tutoring children—during work hours—is most popular.
Wanted: IT talent across all sectors. Demand means great salaries for programmers, analysts, administrators and support specialists. Delaware’s largest exclusive IT companies are CAI and Ajilon Consulting. (The firms collectively employ about 2,000 people.) Other great places:
Computer Aid Inc., an IT consulting and services firm, employs 1,700 associates worldwide—700 of them in Wilmington. Big enough to service Fortune 500 companies, it’s small enough that managing director Ernie Dianastasis remembers every employee’s first name. The company takes an old-fashioned approach to rewarding achievement. Employees’ first, third, fifth and 10th anniversaries are big deals, but at year five, employees and their spouses earn a bash at Brantwyn. At year 15, Ernie, his wife and a bunch of friends do an extravagant dinner and secretly create a package of letters and memories recalling the highlights of the celebrant’s career. Always a tearjerker.
The next time you’re stranded with a flat tire at 3 a.m., be thankful you work for AAA. Classic membership (road service, travel discounts, retail deals, etc.) comes free, as does a decent in-house fitness center and one of the best cafeterias around. (Breakfast starts at 7 a.m.) CEO Allen DeWalle knows all 900 people by name. “He’s so approachable, he’s really one of us,” says staffer Ela Voluck. But getting back to IT. Though ever-growing AAA employs accountants, sales agents, compliance specialists, trainers, communications experts—even roadside assistance counselors in Delaware’s high-volume call center—the money is on the IT department. Business analysts, web designers and customer relationship management program specialists are in demand. Credit the company’s need to enhance its online experience for customers and increase web traffic. AAA must grow its e-business to maximize revenue. That’s where its future lies.
For a small IT company (about 145 employees) based in Newark, hostmysite.com is stable, profitable and run by young UD grads Lou Honick and Neil Heuer. Employees, who host 65,000 websites, love the casual environment and cool perks, such as discounts on gym memberships, a break room fully stocked with great snacks and fountain sodas, and full benefits, including free health insurance. Staffers have the tools and the authority to do whatever is necessary to delight customers. Customers are never subjected to bad Barry Manilow or other Muzak-induced punishment because they are never, ever put on hold; staffers IM each other when someone calls. Hardcore techies, salespeople and marketing experts support the company, which ranks at 190 on Inc.’s list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the country. Translation: 573 percent growth over three years.
Placed squarely in the no-brainer category, ING Direct, with more than 15 million customers in nine large countries, boasts only online services, thus explaining the constant search for IT pros. Positions such as management analysts, business infrastructure developers, database administrators and senior developers are up for grabs. As the company grows, especially the paperless checking accounts rolled out this year, the road for info techs gets wider. Perks are considerable. For more on ING, see Financial Services.
Advertising agencies and media outlets employ similar types of workers: agents, designers, editors, writers, broadcasters, entertainers, camera operators, equipment techs and public relations pros. Receptionists, office managers, marketers and salespeople who find their way to the media world are often entertained by lively newsroom antics and bouts of temporary insanity before deadlines. In Georgetown, radio stations WGBG, WJNE, WJWK, WJWL, WKHI and WOCQ co-exist on DuPont Boulevard. A stroll down McKee Road in Dover reveals WDOV and WDSD. On-air jobs are generally locked up at Wilmington’s WJBR, but salespeople do well. The station is ground central in 18 neighboring counties. WJBR smartly lures adult listeners with a contemporary format, and those listeners advertise. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, exciting job, tune in here:
A television newsroom is a frenetic place, but if you care about the community, love to work fast and have a thick skin, consider WHYY-PBS, Delaware’s Wilmington studio, home of “Delaware Tonight,” the only area newscast devoted exclusively to the First State. Though some people devote their careers to public television, others consider PBS a terrific springboard to a network job. WHYY vice president and station manager Paul Gluck visits the newsroom at least once a week, talking to reporters and developing contacts in the community. News programming requires producers, reporters, directors, sportscasters, meteorologists, camera operators and others. The Delaware bureau of WHYY (the station is based in Philly) also employs a corporate underwriter and other administrative positions. The downside of public broadcasting: The pay is far less than that of network TV, but few go into journalism for the money. Good news for downstate job seekers: WHYY opened a Dover bureau in January.
“In terms of talk show hosts, I only hire people who refuse to be told what to think,” says WDEL: 1150 AM program manager and talk show host Rick Jensen. (Two words: Gerry Fulcher.) For people with strong opinions and an ear to the ground, WDEL is good news. (WSTW, a music station, shares the building, management and perks.) Broadcasters, reporters and editors are politically diverse, a mix that makes for lively lunchroom chats. Jensen’s office is in the hallway, so he’s approachable. And he’s approached often. Unlike other stations, WDEL reporters write and produce for both radio and videocasts. They know what their jobs and goals are. So though there are guidelines, they are free to manage their own time. The same goes for sales associates, who’ve been earning better commissions ever since WDEL snatched newsman Allan Loudell from WILM and opinionated Al Mascitti from the News Journal. On-air, full-time jobs are hard to land at WDEL, a Delmarva Broadcasting company, but the station is always looking for savvy part-time anchors. As CEO Pete Booker knows, weekend anchoring is a way in. He started as a part-time deejay.
Here’s something you don’t see often: News-talk station WGMD in Lewes is looking for on-air personalities. On-air gigs at the beach? If owners find the right people, they’ll drop a big hunk of syndicated programming. (They’ve already dumped Dr. Laura.) The 27-year-old business is still owned independently, so employees have not fallen victim to the whims of national conglomerates. WGMD has built a solid reputation with listeners, political icons, and downstate movers and shakers. Sales reps rake in decent bucks, earning up to 25 percent commission on certain contracts—high for a small station. “Most of our personnel is on-air, and we stay informed about local issues. The exciting part is that we’re always at the center of breaking news,” says manager Marie Moulinier. “And we don’t have to play Michael Bolton records.”
Nothing turns clients off more than a bunch of creative types who think they know your business better than you do. Aloysius, Butler and Clark, a PR firm, goes against that grain. Employees are team players who come in all ages and colors. As its website states, there are no “fat cats, hierarchy and prima donnas.” CEO John Hawkins has been spotted cleaning the kitchen for a meeting or assembling client binders when temps don’t show. A five-person management team guides the 51-person staff. On profitable months, each gets $100 in cash. When quarterly goals are met, winning departments share bonuses. The windows open. Parking is free. The kitchen is stocked with candy. (Check with HR about dental insurance.)