Best Places to Work Industry: 2009
Companies atop this year's survey provide their employees with a sense of security in a risky economic climate
Biotech firms have taken a beating in the last year, but some companies are finding ways to survive— and thrive—despite the downturn. In this year's Best Places to Work in Industry survey, the highest rated companies bucked the general downward trend in the industry, instead maintaining steady growth and expanding into new areas. Room for intellectual and career development, a family-friendly environment, and less hierarchy also topped scientists' list of priorities in this year's survey.
With the risk of layoffs and reorganizations, scientists are most content in companies that offer solid job security and that continue to fulfill and expand their research goals. "That's a real luxury for us," says Akin Akinc, associate director of research at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, the seventh-ranked small company. To maintain their growth, smaller companies such as Alnylam and Infinity Pharmaceuticals forged partnerships, while others like GeneDX secured stable funding from the big pharma companies that acquired them.
Regardless of what the market is doing, some things never change. Whether it's in a tiny company like GeneDx, with a total workforce of 90, or the 8500-strong best large company Pioneer Hi-Bred, responsive leadership is key. Many employees at high-ranked companies say they appreciate the casual, flat organizational structure that allowed anyone easy access to the top brass. "People can go up to our chief scientific officer and say, 'I don't understand why we are using the following strategy,' and he'll just explain," says Christian Fritz, senior director of cancer biology at Infinity Pharmaceuticals.
Researchers at this year's Best Places also prize the ability to do cutting edge research, maintain ties to the wider world of academic science, and the room to grow within the company. GeneDx, for instance, provides tuition reimbursements for people wanting to further their education, while Alnylam keeps close ties to top scientists in the field of RNA interference. These connections to academic science are a "nice touch because it allows us to remain in the community," says Swaroop Aradhya, director of microarray clinical services. Employees at all the small companies valued that scientists with drive could go from entrylevel scientist to a senior scientific director over the course of several years.
Corrected 2nd June 2009: The original version of this article stated that Infinity Pharmaceuticals had secured funding through acquisition. Infinity Pharmaceuticals was not acquired, but rather, maintained its growth by entering into partnerships. The Scientist regrets the error.
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