Companies, former staffers look back on 25 years of the 100 Best

To celebrate 25 years of our flagship workplace survey, Oregon Business asked former staffers and 100 Best companies to recall highlights from the survey process and celebratory events.

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The year one 100 Best company decided  to star in Ocean’s Twelve…

guarded vault“This would have been about 10 years ago. The magazines were put into clear plastic boxes with small locks on each box and then placed in the center of each table. Guests could see the magazines during the event but would not be given the combination until the end as the ‘grand finale.’ One determined guest used his butter knife as a screwdriver and unscrewed the hinges of the boxes so he could get the magazines and see the rankings early. That’s why we now keep them under guard in a secret off site vault until the reveal.”

Andrew Insinga, publisher, MEDIAmerica

BWGroupPhotoOctober Diane“We are proud of making the list so many years. Employees look forward to getting on the list – it is a bonding experience. We get a table at the event. Our colleagues go, too. It helps us validate that we understand workplace culture. We hear from others in the list about what they do. It has helped us get creative. We have always been pro-benefits. We found out what other things are important, like wellness teams. We added a pet-bereavement policy. We incorporated more casual dress. We changed from maternity leave to parental leave. If we don’t make the list, it would be heartbreaking.”

Karen Fogg, HR manager, Boly:Welch

The year spouses got in on the game…

“One year Regence was the top-dog sponsor, and [former CEO] Bill Barr gave a speech. I was also giving a speech. My husband had slipped me a note, and somehow it got into Bill’s notes. So Bill is giving this totally boilerplate-sponsor speech, when all of a sudden he starts reading: ‘My dear Gillian, I’m with you. You will do a terrific job.’ Bill was totally deadpan as he read my husband’s note. It was hilarious.”

Gillian Floren, former publisher, Oregon Business

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 “Last year senior VP Ed Perez was in town and was able to see the awards ceremony. We went out before the event; he looked at me and said, ‘We won, right?’ I said I had no idea if we won. I did say we had a decade of great performance. I felt so much pressure. It was a great moment when we did win. I took him to the airport the next morning, and he said to me, ‘I haven’t felt that pride in a long time.'”

Erryn Andersen, director of sales, U.S. Cellular

The year the secret slipped out…

robin aghast“Much of the excitement of the 100 Best Companies is the big reveal each year at the event to honor the winners and reveal the rankings. We keep the 100 Best issue of the magazine and website under strict guard until it is released at the end of the awards night – except for the year when our printer mistakenly sent it out to all subscribers a week in advance. I started getting calls from companies saying how excited they were to have won. Aghast, I asked how they knew. Well, they read it in the magazine!

After the paramedics resuscitated me, publisher Andrew Insinga and I figured the only thing to do was hope everyone still showed up for the awards and then have a good laugh at the whole mess. But all of the companies still showed, even if they weren’t in the top tier to be honored onstage. In the true spirit of being a great place to work, they and their employees came to applaud the top winners, and all of the 100 companies, and to celebrate themselves. It was a memorable night, but one I was glad we never repeated.”

Robin Doussard, former editor, Oregon Business

“I used the survey as a jumping-off board to change and get better. We would get employee comments back, which were awesome and funny. Some were not doable, like getting a Wendy’s drive-thru in the parking lot. I remember trying to convince management to get a nap room. That didn’t get traction.”

Keeley Weber-Jones, HR manager, Carr Auto Group

CardinalSvc 1“Cardinal Services was one of the original 10 Best companies featured in 1994. In fact, we were the very first one featured. We used to joke we were ‘Oregon’s original best place to work.’ By using the survey as a benchmark, we sought to match the  survey categories with our company’s core values, which in turn led us to develop new employee-support programs and to implement a new internal company infrastructure that reflected those values. Cardinal adopted a flat management approach by giving our employees louder voices-giving them more say and more responsibility in getting work done and to solve any problems.”

Mike Freeman, chair of the board, Cardinal Services

The year the music died…

drunkenPoet1“We used to have a poet called Scott Poole, who would make a poem with all the names of the companies in the 100 Best. One time he had a few too many glasses of wine, dropped some of the papers of his poem and missed some of the companies on the list. We didn’t use him after that.”

Brandon Sawyer, former research director, Oregon Business

045 Vernier Halloween 2017“We take to heart what employees say and try to make changes. The majority of comments are positive, but if a comment is negative, we try to act on it.

We go to the awards dinner and enjoy listening to what other companies are doing. The main change we made is offering an employee appreciation week. The employees don’t know when it is coming. It is a whole week – we have employee breakfasts and lunches, we give out gift baskets.”

Kathy Higashihara, project manager, Vernier Software & Technology

Tec labs

“We’re perpetually trying to improve. We have a monthly company-wide meeting, we all talk about the survey. The best-places-to-work survey is a cornerstone of our culture; it gives us a gauge where we’re at. It’s really powerful for us. Our CEO is all in 100%, and the rest of us are too.”

Gary Burris, e-commerce and industrial sales, Tec Labs

The year worker well-being became a calling…

“One year Matt Hennessee was our keynote. He was chair of PDC and ran a company called Quiktrak. Hennessee had trained as a preacher and was an incredible speaker. He delivered a speech talking about how the workplace should reach out to employees’ hearts and ended with the Martin Luther King line: ‘If you’re going to be a street sweeper, be the best damn street sweeper you can be.’

Everyone leapt to their feet like we were having a revival.We were expecting energy, but nothing like that.” [Hennessee later admitted to sexual abuse of a relative.]

Oakley Brooks, former managing editor, Oregon Business

“I was at the awards dinner  in 2016 and was really impressed. It’s an amazing, inspiring event, lots of energy. I imagine the next Monday there’s a buzz from people floating on the spirit of accomplishment.”

Steve Vincent, Oregon regional business manager, Avista

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 “We use the results as a tool to gauge satisfaction – it gives employees a voice about how we are doing. We track our results every year to see how we are doing and whether we need to improve. We talk about the results with our employees.”

Randa Brooks, managing partner,  Pittman & Brooks

“Each year when we get the survey back, we meet with a random group of employees to discuss areas we can work on. We have increased the PTO employees receive and added more team-building activities.”

Jason John, COO, Hagan Hamilton Insurance