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October 15, 2001
Volume 79, Number 42
CENEAR 79 42 pp. 47-59
ISSN 0009-2347
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Researchers reveal which attributes of 'best' companies are most important in a career


When Zhenan Bao was looking for a position after graduate school, she originally intended to get a postdoctoral position and eventually return to academia. Instead, she was offered a permanent staff position at the Bell Labs research and development division of Lucent Technologies in Murray Hill, N.J. As she puts it, "I liked it here so much that I'm still here after six years." Bao is just one example of a scientist who is satisfied with her job.

Variety Of Chemistry-Related Companies Tapped

100 Best Companies To Work For
(as ranked in Fortune, Jan. 8, 2001)

34. Alcon Laboratories, Fort Worth, Texas
39. Merck, Whitehouse Station, N.J.
46. Agilent Technologies, Palo Alto, Calif.
53. Immunex, Seattle
57. Amgen, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
76. Genentech, South San Francisco
79. Eli Lilly, Indianapolis

America's 50 Best Companies For Minorities
(Fortune, July 9, 2001)

9. Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, N.J
.21. S. C. Johnson & Son, Racine, Wis.
27. Schering-Plough, Madison, N.J.
38. Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati
40. Eli Lilly
42. DuPont, Wilmington, Del.
45. Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill.
48. Colgate-Palmolive, New York City

100 Best Companies For Working Mothers
(Working Mother, October 2001)

Abbott Laboratories
American Home Products, Madison, N.J.
BP America, Chicago
Bristol-Myers Squibb, New York City (in Top 10)
Corning, Corning, N.Y.
Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y.
Eli Lilly
GlaxoSmithKline, Philadelphia
Hoffmann-La Roche, Nutley, N.J.
IBM, Armonk, N.Y. (in Top 10)
Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.
Lucent Technologies
Novartis Pharmaceuticals, East Hanover, N.J.
Pfizer, New York City
Procter & Gamble (in Top 10)
S. C. Johnson & Son

a Working Mother notes only which companies are ranked in the Top 10.

SATISFIED Roy Lautomo, a gas chromatography column "guru" at Agilent Technologies, works in the company's GC column R&D lab in Folsom, Calif.
Each year, Fortune magazine publishes a list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For and a list of the 50 Best Companies For Minorities.
Working Mother magazine publishes a similar list of the best companies for working mothers. Once again, companies within the chemical enterprise have made this year's lists. C&EN talked with scientists from a cross-section of these companies--representing industries ranging from consumer products to instrumentation to biotechnology--to see what makes them attractive.

For scientists, the research environment appears to be the most important workplace attribute. When James Kassebaum--a chemist who now serves as a recruiter for Eli Lilly & Co. in Indianapolis--first looked at Lilly as a potential employer, the way the company "values scientists" impressed him.

"They offer the scientists all kinds of opportunities for continuous development, in terms of being able to attend meetings and get training, and support them very well in their laboratory efforts with the right materials and equipment," Kassebaum says.

Challenging science is a big draw at these companies. "One of the fears that some chemists have when they come to industry is that their best days are behind them in terms of the complexity of the science," says Feroze Ujjainwalla, a medicinal chemist at Merck's Rahway, N.J., facility. "That's certainly not the case at Merck. I have enjoyed the benefits of working on a couple of very challenging projects, and it is especially gratifying for me to know that I have the opportunity to do science on par with what I was doing in my Ph.D. days. It's almost like being in academia, but with more resources and none of the worries of funding."

THE QUALITY of their colleagues matters to the people C&EN talked with. "You want to have smart people around you whom you can draw from," Ujjainwalla says. "That's what's so good about being at Merck. There are many people who can intellectually humble you. If you're willing to learn from them, that's a great opportunity for personal growth."

Kassebaum describes Lilly's environment as "energizing." Contributing to that energy is the opportunity to participate in teams with other scientists. "You get all kinds of opportunities to interact with people across the company who are doing all kinds of different functions," he says. "A chemist is probably going to have a biologist on the team, somebody on the product development side, the discovery side, the regulatory side, even the legal side. You get to meet all these people and be part of a team as you're trying to work down the same path of getting your compound to become a marketed drug."

Bao also characterizes working at Bell Labs as stimulating. "I feel I'm learning new things constantly. There are exciting ideas being discussed between colleagues and coworkers. Every day when I come to work, I feel very energized, coming here and interacting with people," she says.

Bao enjoys the freedom that Bell Labs gives its scientists and the guidance that other scientists provide in moving into new areas. "For every new idea or field I want to try, there's always somebody who is expert in that field or area," she says. "I can go to the person and talk to the person and work together, or the person will let me use his or her equipment and get me started really quickly." She believes that the freedom in research is important for encouraging innovation and creativity.

Merck encourages interactions between its scientists by holding off-site mini-retreats. "In medicinal chemistry, we just had a Gordon Conference-like retreat," Ann Weber, director of medicinal chemistry, says. "Everybody could get together and present their work in a more relaxed environment where we also had opportunities to interact nonscientifically." The retreat brought together medicinal chemists from Merck's facilities around the world. Other retreats might bring together scientists from different disciplines--chemistry, biology, pharmacology--who focus on a particular therapeutic area, Weber says.

BALANCING ACT Procter & Gamble's flexibility has allowed Outt to balance her work and family lives.
MENTORING IS another important interaction between colleagues. Rachelle Thomas and Pam Outt, both scientists at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, stress the importance that mentoring has played in their careers. "When I joined P&G, I had the good fortune to encounter people who were and are wonderful mentors, supervisors and peers alike," Outt says. "They began by teaching me the basics, answering questions, finding short courses that would help pave the way to learn the next new skill needed for more independence, and pushing me that one step further. After 17 years, this has not changed. I am still learning and being challenged." Thomas believes that she would not be where she is today without the support of Rosemarie Osborne, her manager and mentor.

The freedom at Bell Labs even gives scientists the opportunity to change direction through an internal internship program. These internships can involve moving from research to a more business-oriented area or from one technical area to another. Bao has not participated in an internship but says that managers have let employees know about the opportunity. The internship program is informal and is run on a case-by-case basis, according to Kara Witzal, a Lucent spokeswoman. "An employee can decide that they'd like to work in another part of the business. For example, a researcher can decide to work in the legal department for one year or a predetermined amount of time," she says.

The Lucent program has been successful, Witzal says. "It's resulted in promotions of the individual once they've returned to their regular job, or employees return to their previous jobs with new skills and experiences. Employees also can opt to stay in the new position," she says.

Lilly also has a program to facilitate employees finding the best fit within the company. Kassebaum took advantage of the services of this internal company career center. "I went through that and got some information that said while I wasn't by any means unfit or uninterested in being a scientist, there could be a better fit in a job where there was a lot more interaction," he says. "I casually scoped out opportunities in the company. Because for the last few years we've been doing a little more hiring than normal, they needed some extra support in recruiting."

The goal of Lilly's career center is to help people put together a long-range career plan. "I think the career center would say that if you find that the job you're in is the right one, that's what they're there for," Kassebaum says. "It doesn't mean just because you take advantage of the resources in the career center that you will make a move. They'd love every employee in the company to go through there, I think. They'd probably have to increase their staffing a lot if that happened. It's a resource to help employees manage their careers."

Joan Todd, a Lilly spokeswoman, says the theory behind the career center is that satisfied employees are more productive than dissatisfied employees. "We have chemists coming in and doing other jobs as well as working as chemists in the lab," she says. "When we hire chemists, we want that expertise. We're not trying to get them away from chemistry." However, she says the company "thinks outside the box" to find the best fit for its employees without "pigeonholing" them. "Usually people of the caliber we hire here are capable of a lot of different things and may not have tapped into the full range of their capabilities before they came here," she says.

At P&G, Thomas, who started out as an analytical chemist in the pharmaceutical division, was able to make the switch to a molecular biology position in the company's hair and scalp care technology division. Her management worked with her to find a position that met both her needs and the company's needs. "We are both happy in the end," she says.

ONE TOOL that is useful for career development at P&G--including moves--is the company's "virtual university," called RapidLEARN. The website gives employees access to more than 300 online courses, including such topics as regulatory standards, employee relationships, diversity, technical skills, and time management. According to Vicky Mayer, a P&G spokeswoman, participation has jumped significantly. Harvard University's ManageMentor, a suite of more than 20 online mentoring tools, will be available by the end of October to those P&G employees with supervisory responsibilities.

Paul Carter, director of protein engineering at Immunex, describes the Seattle company's environment as collaborative. "Certainly, that's part of what excites me about working here--being able to work with people who are not only first-rate scientists, but embrace the idea of working in a collaborative way," he says.

Carter was attracted to Immunex because of its reputation for high-quality science and publishing, as well as its access to key technologies for developing therapeutic antibodies. "To be competitive in the therapeutic antibody area, you need access to a lot of different skill sets, which I would argue no single individual has. An environment where you can tap into a lot of different areas outside of your own primary expertise really profoundly extends what you can do yourself."

Immunex is showing that it values scientists in the construction of its new research facility, called the Helix, which the company will start to occupy at the end of 2003. Immunex employees are currently scattered throughout multiple buildings in the downtown Seattle area, which means that staff interaction occurs primarily in scheduled meetings. The facility is being built "with the guidance of scientists so they can do science," Kris Greco, a company spokeswoman, says. The facility was designed to "foster the discovery process as it will now bring together all of our scientists," she adds.

"It certainly makes life a lot easier and a lot more fun if the building is set up in such a way that it really fosters interactions between people," Carter says. "If the buildings are built in a smart way, you can promote a lot of casual interaction, which can be extremely helpful in pollinating ideas between different people."

Agilent Technologies, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., had a mature culture in place from its very beginning. The company started life as a spin-off from Hewlett-Packard, including the test and measurement businesses, the medical business, and the semiconductor products group.

"The culture is very deeply aligned with the values that Bill [Hewlett] and Dave [Packard] set out for the company," Ted Lancaster, director of design chain solutions at Agilent, says. "I like to remind folks that even though we're called Agilent, the HP way is still alive and well. One of the best things that you can have to start a new company is a great culture that is steeped in technical contribution and respect for the individual."

Agilent's respect for the individual is manifested by involving employees in the decisions that affect them. "We communicate to the maximum extent possible on business conditions and issues that are facing us in order to let employees make better daily decisions that help the company," he says. In addition, work is managed according to objectives rather than tasks and is followed up by "management by walking around."

"YOU GET A CHANCE to stop in and see how people are doing, what the problems are that they're facing, and how the management team can really help clear the barriers in order to help them get their jobs done more effectively," Lancaster explains.

However, Agilent did tweak the culture a little. "In an industry that is somewhat slow-moving like the instrumentation business, the idea was that we wanted to be a start-up," Lancaster says. "Start-ups are known for their ability to focus on the task at hand, make decisions, be accountable for them, and move at decisive speed." He says Agilent has tried to add those characteristics of start-up companies to the basic HP values.

Bao lauds the communication at Lucent. "Over the years, I've seen a strong push toward having more communication between each level. The directors or vice presidents will frequently call for a meeting to get the research people together to update us with what's going on in the company. Also, our vice presidents have an Internet or e-mail site open for us to send questions or concerns from research or everyday things. They generally get back to us fairly quickly."

The ability to make a contribution appears to be another important workplace attribute for scientists. "When you're a scientist or an engineer or in marketing," Lancaster says, "you want to see the work that you do have an impact, both financially for the company and on society and the world as a whole." Speaking of his experiences at Agilent, Lancaster says the company focuses on using its technical capability to "really make a difference."

Lilly's Kassebaum agrees about the allure of working on projects that will benefit society. "You're going to want to be working on something that you think is going to count for something somewhere and be meaningful to you and other people. Of course, the pharmaceutical industry and Lilly in particular provide that part incredibly well. Every project that's going on right now is being worked on because it will meet some medical need. That is pretty motivating and gives people a lot of enthusiasm."

At P&G, employees are evaluated according to the contributions they make to the business. Employees, in conjunction with their managers, have the opportunity to help define what actually qualifies as a contribution. "There's no miscommunication, where a scientist says 'I consider this a contribution' but the manager does not," Thomas says. "You don't just walk in blindly, doing all this work and thinking you were making a contribution and in the end you didn't."

The scientists that C&EN spoke with also value diversity in the workplace. For example, Ujjainwalla describes Merck as a melting pot. "I don't think Merck consciously tries to recruit people from different ethnic origins or backgrounds just for the purpose of being diversified. It's really important in chemistry that you pick the strongest chemists from all backgrounds. No one feels that they've had an easy door in. Everyone's worked, everyone's accomplished in his or her own right, and everyone deserves to be here at Merck. Everyone knows they've worked as hard as everyone else to get a position here."

FLEXIBILITY is another important draw, one that is manifested in many different ways. For example, Lancaster's group at Agilent is scattered throughout the country. His job involves much travel and he can live anywhere he chooses. He often telecommutes from his home outside Reno, Nev.--his office is located in Santa Clara, Calif.

Weber takes advantage of Merck's flexible hours to spend more time with her family. She arrives early so that she can leave early. "Merck is a place that really values results, not 'face time,' " she says.

Outt, a chemist in drug discovery at P&G, also uses flexibility to help balance her family and work lives. "As a working mom, it is at times a struggle to balance the stress of work and family," she says. "P&G has always been very flexible around my needs in regard to family matters. They have flexible working hours that allow me to be involved in my daughter's life."

Of course, each of these companies has an excellent benefits package. However, benefits are not of primary importance to these scientists in determining the attractiveness of their workplace.

"You either have a competitive benefits package or you don't," Lancaster points out. "There's that binary test that you have to go through. I still care that the company benchmarks and stays competitive with its benefits and is constantly reassessing and trying to bring some of the more recent thinking in benefits packages back to us." However, he says the benefits package did not play a major role in his decision to join HP and then Agilent.

"You have to have a competitive benefits package, but it's not the thing that really makes or breaks you," Lancaster says. "It's much more important to be part of a company that's creating things you really identify with."

Todd points out that Lilly views its benefits as "work tools" rather than perks. "A lot of these benefits enable people to focus on their work instead of being distracted," she says. "I've worked for a company where I wondered if my insurance claims were going to get paid. These things are terribly stressful and distracting. If you're not having to worry about things like that, it takes a lot of psychic weight off you so you can jump into your work and know that those other things are going to be taken care of."

Lucent's Bao believes that a company's benefits package has some weight in determining how happy employees are, but that the working environment is more important. "For people who are doing basic research, a lot of the satisfaction comes from being able to publish your work and being able to present your work at conferences," she says. "We do have very strong support from Lucent and Bell Labs. Actually, we are encouraged to go to conferences and talk about our work."

DESPITE ALL the good things they have to say, people still have areas where they feel their companies need to watch out. "If you were to ask me what's the single most important thing that we could do as a company in terms of our culture, it would be to embrace our new value of speed," Lancaster says. "One of the issues that you have being in a relatively large company is that it's hard to change the pace of doing things. We like to overanalyze at times."

Lilly's Kassebaum points out that his company, like most, could improve communication about strategy and the big picture to employees. "That's important because it's something that goes a long way toward making people feel that they're valued if they understand what's going on," he says.

VALUABLE An energized and collaborative research environment is important to scientists.
FOR THE FUTURE, Bao hopes that Lucent will continue to safeguard the culture at Bell Labs. "The strong point is the diversity of the people here, the freedom of research, the working environment. As Lucent continues to restructure the company, I hope they will take that into account and continue to support this kind of environment."

These companies aren't just resting on their laurels--they continue to try to improve themselves.

For example, two years ago Merck's medicinal chemistry division undertook a "fishbowl exercise," or complete evaluation. Representatives from each of the division's employee levels ("promotion bands") were tapped to seek out all the other employees in their promotion band and gather their opinions on different aspects of the company--gripes and kudos.

Ujjainwalla was one of two representatives from his band. "We had a one-day gathering where all members of the medicinal chemistry department were invited. The band leaders like myself were at the front around a table. Management sat in the front rows of the auditorium. They heard what we had to say about every issue. It was completely uncensored. All the things that you would love to say that you hate about Merck or you love about Merck came out. Lots of people in [one of the bands] felt that they didn't have as much access to information as they might. That changed overnight. The company listened, and whatever it could do, it did."

The methods used in medicinal chemistry were taken even further. "The entire management committee did a worldwide survey about what Merck employees felt. They promised if people would take the time to fill in the survey accurately, they would look at the results and make changes. They've already started to make changes," Ujjainwalla says.

At P&G, Thomas is a second-generation employee--her father retired from the company. "I can proudly say that it's a different environment now than it was when he was here," she says. The company is "open to new ideas and new ways of doing things. I never hear, 'We used to do it this way and it always worked for us.' "

The ability to reinvent themselves and to improve where they fall short is a critical characteristic that keeps these companies among the best.

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