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Best Places to Work in Industry, 2007

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Edyta Zielinska

Best Places to Work 2007 Best Places to Work in Industry, 2007

Failure parties, foosball tables, and scientific sabbaticals are just some of the things that make this year's top companies stand out from the crowd.
By Edyta Zielinska


When a project gets cut, Inspire Pharmaceuticals acknowledges the amount of work a team had invested into a project in a rather unusual way. "We have failure parties," says Ward Peterson, vice president of discovery. The company, which develops treatments for ophthalmic and respiratory/allergy diseases, placed fourth in this year's survey by The Scientist of Best Places to Work in Industry. Before taking the team out for a dinner to celebrate their efforts, employees at Inspire write out their...


Best Places to Work 2007 Best Places to Work in Industry, 2007

Failure parties, foosball tables, and scientific sabbaticals are just some of the things that make this year's top companies stand out from the crowd.
By Edyta Zielinska


When a project gets cut, Inspire Pharmaceuticals acknowledges the amount of work a team had invested into a project in a rather unusual way. "We have failure parties," says Ward Peterson, vice president of discovery. The company, which develops treatments for ophthalmic and respiratory/allergy diseases, placed fourth in this year's survey by The Scientist of Best Places to Work in Industry. Before taking the team out for a dinner to celebrate their efforts, employees at Inspire write out their favorite things about the project and plaster a wall with their comments.

In our fifth annual survey, scientists ranked appreciation for their efforts as the second most important factor that defines a good workplace, right behind personal satisfaction. "Trying to find new therapeutics to help patients is hard work," says Joseph Miletich, senior vice president of research and development at Amgen (ranking sixth overall), who says he expects a lot from his scientists. "You really have to have a balanced life to sustain that kind of energy." The highest ranking companies this year, both big and small, go the extra step to balance the high work demands with fun and play, while making sure that scientists are genuinely recognized for their work.

To many scientists, the top factor - personal satisfaction - means feeling constantly challenged by the problems they are working on. The major challenge that Kristen Jorden felt when she started working at Targacept (10th overall) in 2001 as a pharmacologist was how quickly she became responsible for many aspects of pushing a drug through the clinical hoops. "You sort of get attached to a compound; you start to build a cheering section for it," she says. After only two years with the company she advanced to a position as a group leader in the behavioral neuroscience division. Scientists ranked opportunities for advancement as the 10th most important factor out of a total of 45.

Having moved from the American Red Cross as a platelet specialist, Narendra Tandon says he enjoys the scientific resources available to him at Otsuka Maryland Medicinal Laboratories (ranked eighth overall), an R&D subsidiary of Otsuka America. With a research staff of 45, Otsuka, Md., is considered a small company. But when considering the 11,000 employees in the parent company in Japan, Tandon says, "I don't think I work for a small company ... I think I work for Otsuka." His coworkers, who echo Tandon's satisfaction with his job, contributed to giving Otsuka, Md., the fourth highest ranking in job satisfaction (see Table, Top Companies on Most Important Factor Categories).

Labs at TransForm Pharmaceuticals

© Greg Premru

Small companies with a family feel

When Colin Gardner left Merck & Co., he never imagined he'd take a job with a small company. He interviewed at TransForm Pharmaceuticals (third best company overall), a company that Johnson & Johnson recently acquired, and says he was immediately drawn to the excitement and drive of the people he met there. With an average age of 34, Transform draws on the ideas and talents of all of its employees "whether you have a bachelor's or a PhD," says Gardner, the senior vice president of research.

Friday afternoons at Inspire, Thomas Navritil, an associate director of molecular pharmacology at Inspire, organizes his colleagues into impromptu parties. They fling open loading-dock doors that look out on the company's backyard and relax "on the dock" with a few beers and chips. At Transform, visitors walk into the building to hear yells from scientists taking a break to play foosball or ping-pong out in the hallway. "It's just a way to relieve some tension, change your pace, or sharpen your focus," says Jay Saoud, senior director of exploratory development at TransForm, who made it to the quarter finals of this year's foosball contest. "Everybody, from new hires to senior management, works very hard," says Saoud, "These perks help us stay interested in what we do and in the company."

Allowing informal meeting places for their scientists pays great dividends in the long run. Both TransForm and Inspire say that their scientists feel more connected, both to each other and to the company.

Companies with fewer than 2,000 employees made up the majority of the top 10 companies in the overall ranking this year and may have an easier time creating an atmosphere of collegiality. The smallest of the group, Tec Laboratories with only 11 R&D employees, heads the pack, with a method to create an intimate atmosphere that larger companies might have difficulty mimicking.

At the monthly bagel meetings organized for the entire company of 30 people, employees are encouraged to stand up and acknowledge their gratitude for an act or achievement of another employee. Nikki Frum, a quality control chemist at Tec Laboratories, a family-owned and operated company, says that she was overwhelmed the first time she received such approval. "It's the first place I've worked where I felt like people actually cared about me."

Big Companies With A Winning Formula

Almost 50% of respondents have worked for their current employer five years or less; 37% have served between five and 10 years and only 9% have remained with their company for more than 15 years.

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The majority of this year's respondents work for pharmaceutical companies, and biotechnology is the company focus for nearly half of respondents.

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Nearly three-fourths of this year's respondents reported that laboratory research is their work responsibility. Only 28% are managers and 14% are focused on clinical research.

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The only two large companies that made it into the top 10 this year, Novartis and Amgen, have a number of programs to make their scientists feel like invaluable partners in the enterprise of bringing a drug to market. According to the scientists at these companies, the research environment is great, ranking first at Novartis and seventh (out of 30) at Amgen.

Novartis, coming in at No. 2, creates an research atmosphere scientists like by giving them intellectual freedom and real world perspective. Scientists can apply for a sabbatical program that lets them pursue other research interests for a six-month period, a program the company introduced last year. In order to give scientists a different angle on the diseases they study, Novartis managers from its eight research institutes worldwide, bring patients in to speak about what it's like to have illnesses such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis. "Everyone walked away from [those meetings] energized and with completely new perspectives on what they were doing," says Jeffrey Lockwood, a company spokesperson.

Amgen aims to integrate their scientists into the business of bringing novel drugs to market by "redesigning the way we work on projects to find their value," says Miletich. Research scientists play a major role in deciding which therapeutic areas and compounds to pursue, he says. As scientists become involved in the course of a particular compound, they are allowed to broaden their horizons and "travel with the molecule down on its development path," says Miletich, through a program called "the scientific track."

Despite its large size, Amgen (see chart, Top Large Companies), makes the "work hard, play hard" credo an important part of its culture, says Miletich. The company-sponsored chili cook-off "gets quite competitive with the chemists," says Steve Bertram, executive director of human resources. Amgen has also tried to create the feel of a small company by organizing "affinity groups," for its employees. Some of these associations include a women's network, Asian network, Black network, and a gay and lesbian network. These groups become valuable networking tools, whose members often fall into mentoring roles, says Bertram.

There is always room for improvement at the best and worst companies alike. The key says Inspire's Bennett, is to survey employees frequently and with many different methods. The company surveys their employees on things they'd like to improve at least once per year, but instead of using the same questionnaire every time, they also create focus groups, "so that it doesn't feel like a corporate initiative," says Bennett.

 

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