Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 100 Best Places for Work: Where are the FI's?

Fortune Magazine is prominently known for its lists--the vaunted Fortune 500 the best known of them all. Its latest issue ( announces its annual 100 Best Companies to Work For. In November, it listed the top companies that develop leaders, and its Most Powerful People series attracts scrutiny and analysis, if not greater readership.

Financial institutions continue to dig themelves out of the crisis, devoting time and resources to regain profitability, sprucing up balance sheets, attracting new capital, recruiting talent that fled elsewhere, and facing off with the public about out-sized bonuses. With these distractions and priorities, are any on Fortune's latest list--best places for employers, places that prize people, pay them fairly, coach them to contribute and be productive, and honestly try to keep them for long careers?

Banks, broker/dealers, investment banks, finance companies, mortgage companies, and insurance companies have faced their share of hardships the past year and more. Some have failed, and most have cut jobs, pared business lines, or allowed employees to work under a constant threat of losing their positions. It's not a surprise financial institutions don't fare well on Fortune's list.

Fortune's list is based on a widely distribributed employee survey on management, job satisfaction, and experiences with colleagues. It's also based on an objective assessment of pay, benefits, perks, hiring practices, communications, and, yes, diversity.

A few financial institutions make the list and are worth highlighting. It takes only one hand to count them up. Some are Consortium sponsors and deserve attention, too, in that they tend to show up on top diversity lists, as well.

The St. Louis-based brokerage firm, Edward Jones, was no. 2 on Fortune's new list for the second year in a row. Edward Jones isn't a national household name, although it has been a revered name in retail brokerage for decades. It is known for being a consistent performer, a firm that sticks to its roots and basics and maintains thousands of small-town officers all over the country.

One of its competitors is, just like Jones, headquartered in downtown St. Louis and focuses on retail brokerage--Scottrade. It appears at no. 27 and claims not to have laid off any employees over the past year. Scottrade's roots are retail brokerage with an online specialty (and Arizona heritage). It has expanded aggressively in recent years and even opened 58 branches while its peer firms struggled to retain disappointed customers and accounts in the current environment.

It may not be a coincidence that Jones and Scottrade, both based in the Midwest and both focusing on few business lines with a basic objective of assisting individuals in investing, are also ideal places to work. Both firms have not necessarily been popular destinations for MBA's, although they wouldn't hesitate to hire top MBA's interested in financial counseling or assisting in investment advice--and interested in doing that for a long time.

American Express, a Consortium sponsor for many years, appeared at no. 73. The firm has long had a reputation for hiring management talent, nurturing it, developing it and giving it responsibility soon--an attraction for many top MBA students. Although it has endured a rocky road in performance the past year, employees rate it highly. CEO Kenneth Chenault is a product of that management-development process.

Goldman Sachs, a Consortium sponsor in recent years, is in the headlines almost everyday--whether because of its role in the crisis, its extraordinary profitability in recent quarters (comig out of the crisis), and its attempts to quiet all fuss over its bonus payouts. Nonetheless, the firm appeared at no. 24 on the list. Employees at Goldman toil for long hours and work non-stop on deals, transactions, investments, and trades all over the globe. But employees--from an operations/systems analyst to the top managing director in M&A--like working there.
Besides compensation, employees appreciate a culture that discourages a"star system" and attracts large numbers of smart people. The culture, too, is maniacal about teamwork, talent development, and recruiting the right people. Ask anybody who has interviewed at Goldman in recent weeks.

Other financial institutions include Robert Baird, the Milwaukee brokerage firm and Quicken Loans.

Other non-financial Consortium sponsors (past and present) on the list of 100 include Colgate-Palmolive, Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte (Note the prominence of accounting/consulting firms on the list), General Mills, and FedEx.

Tracy Williams

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