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Genencor Is 'best Place to Work'

Enzyme maker is cited as a top company for its imaginative and comprehensive benefits

by Corinne A. Marasco
October 3, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 40

A great company is more than just the sum of its individual talent. It also establishes policies and practices that bring out the best in its employees. Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard set the standard in 1957 when they established "the HP Way" to make Hewlett-Packard a company that was fun to work for; treated its employees well; and nurtured a sense of loyalty, trust, and community service.

Genencor International is another example of what happens when companies think innovatively about employee needs. In June, Genencor was named "the Best Place to Work in America for 2005" by the Great Places to Work Institute and the Society of Human Resource Management. It was the only biotechnology company to make the list for small- and medium-sized companies. The firm was cited for "its human resources practices, which directly contribute to attracting and retaining that workforce to create a sustainable business." Genencor's top slot beat its fourth-place showing last year.


Founded as a joint venture between Genentech and Corning Glassworks in 1982, Genencor is headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., with facilities in three other U.S. locations--Rochester, N.Y.; Beloit, Wis.; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Now a division of Danisco (C&EN, May 2, page 12), Genencor is a diversified biotechnology company with more than $410 million in revenues in 2004. It makes and sells biocatalysts and other biochemicals for the industrial, consumer, and agriprocessing markets.

Employees celebrate Genencor being named Best Place to Work in America; with employee input, Genencor designed its headquarters to include labs along the exterior of the building where there is natural light. The facility was named Lab of the Year by R&D Magazine in 1997.
Employees celebrate Genencor being named Best Place to Work in America; with employee input, Genencor designed its headquarters to include labs along the exterior of the building where there is natural light. The facility was named Lab of the Year by R&D Magazine in 1997.

"We have always believed that investing in employees will give the company external value," says Jim Sjoerdsma, vice president of human resources. "We never thought along the lines of being recognized as an employer of choice. Talent means everything in the biotech industry. It was not until we really invested more in employee programs and articulated the fun and social spirit here that candidates recognized that we are different."

According to Sjoerdsma, there is something for everyone in the five corporate values that weave through Genencor's philosophy of "Work Hard, Play Hard, Change the World": health and wellness, creative work-life solutions, social fun, a vibrant community spirit, and diversity. Each Genencor location has the latitude to build unique programs important to their employees based on those values.

THAT ATTITUDE is why people stay at Genencor. Annual turnover at the company is very low: 8%, compared with an industry standard of 20% (27% in the Bay Area), Sjoerdsma says. He tells the story of an HR consultant who was asked at a conference what company she would like to work for. She replied that if she were looking for a job, it would be at Genencor. "That just reconfirmed that we were a special place to work for," he adds. "Our applicant flow has increased, even for positions that we're not advertising, and that's nice to know."

Sjoerdsma says that employees are polled about which benefits they would like to see added and which benefits they currently enjoy. The top three are the backup child care center, the commuting program, and on-site services to help employees save time. The backup child care center is available when an employee's regular caregiver is unavailable, for example, and is within walking distance of Genencor facilities. Employees can use the center up to 20 days per year without charge.

Approximately one-third of employees commute to work by public transportation, so Genencor offers a commuter subsidy. Genencor also instituted a car loan program, which makes two cars available to employees during the day for medical appointments, errands, or emergencies. And there are bicycles on-site that employees can check out. This benefit was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency's "Best Workplace for Commuters" program.

Genencor also offers several on-site services that allow employees to do errands without leaving work, such as dry cleaning, photo finishing, shoe repair, and eyeglass repair. There's also an on-site dental program; an on-site auto service program is coming soon. "Anything to save people a trip or an errand," Sjoerdsma says. "Whatever saves time is what we look for."

OTHER BENEFITS include a cafeteria called the "Zyme and Dine" (named after industrial enzymes that Genencor makes) that is the setting for Friday afternoon socials, also called "Zymes." The Friday Zymes are weekly social gatherings that usually have a theme, such as "Name That Tune." A peer-recognition program allows employees to nominate coworkers for acknowledgment, such as with a bookstore gift card or a gift certificate to dinner, to thank their colleagues for a job well done. Employees can also join any number of company-sponsored clubs, including a rock band. The largest club is a cooking club, according to Sjoerdsma.

The Genencor employees whom C&EN talked to clearly love what they do and where they work. "There's a reason why people have been here long term," says Toby Baldwin, a research associate who joined Genencor in 1999. "The company genuinely cares about its employees, and they want people to be happy and comfortable because they really want to retain them. They want people to continually develop." Baldwin says he's taken advantage of travel opportunities and has worked at Genencor's Netherlands R&D center.

"They've created a nice environment to work in," he says. "Considering that you spend most of your time at work, to be able to work somewhere that has a really nice culture--it's the little things that are indicative of the big picture."

Genencor's Palo Alto location--in Silicon Valley near Stanford University and not too far from the University of California, Berkeley--is ideal for research. "It's a dream for science and engineering," says John Kan, a Genencor staff scientist in technology management. Kan, a chemical engineer, has worked at Genencor since 1983. "You're collaborating with people from many different disciplines, and we are able to leverage each other's skills and knowledge," he says. Kan has had a diversified career at Genencor--moving among various departments, from manufacturing to R&D--with diverse responsibilities.

Ken Herfert, vice president of R&D operations, agrees that Genencor provides a supportive environment for science. Herfert, another chemical engineer, joined Genencor in 1990 and has also had a varied career. He started as a facility manager in Rochester; became the plant manager at Cedar Rapids; and then advanced to vice president of global production and to multiple roles in R&D, including vice president of development. "We're surrounded by other biotech companies, and there's a huge competition for talent," he says. "Here, people are allowed to work in different areas or move from project to project as long as their primary goals are met. It's an open and entrepreneurial environment that lets scientists flourish."

However, "the location can be a double-edged sword," Herfert adds. "There is a lot of talent in the area, and we collaborate with Stanford and Berkeley and academics around the world. The other side is the high cost of living here, which is always a challenge, so we do a lot of things to help employees."

Other Top Workplaces

Companies that employ chemical scientists are among those that have made national "best workplace" lists.

(FORTUNE, JAN. 24, 2005)

2. W. L. Gore & Associates, Newark, Del.
4. Genentech, San Francisco
7. SC Johnson & Son, Racine, Wis.
23. Valero Energy, San Antonio
33. Amgen, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
42. Alcon Laboratories, Fort Worth
66. Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati
71. Medtronic, Minneapolis
73. Eli Lilly, Indianapolis
76. Pfizer, New York City
83. Monsanto, St. Louis
99. Sherwin-Williams, Cleveland

(FORTUNE, AUG. 22, 2005)

Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill.
Alcoa, Pittsburgh
Applied Materials, Santa Clara, Calif.
Avon Products, New York City
Coca-Cola, Atlanta
DaimlerChrysler, Auburn Hills, Mich.
DuPont, Wilmington, Del.
General Motors, Detroit
H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh
Intel, Santa Clara
Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich.
Lucent Technologies, Murray Hill, N.J.
Nike, Beaverton, Ore.
PepsiCo, Purchase, N.Y.


Abbott Laboratories
Accenture, New York City
AstraZeneca, Wilmington, Del.
Avon Products
Bayer Corp., Pittsburgh
BP America, Warrenville, Ill.
Bristol-Myers Squibb, New York City2
Colgate-Palmolive, New York City
Dow Corning, Midland, Mich.
Eli Lilly2
GlaxoSmithKline, Philadelphia
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
IBM, Armonk, N.Y.2
Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J.
Merck & Co., Whitehouse Station, N.J.
Novartis Pharmaceuticals, East Hanover, N.J.
Procter & Gamble
SC Johnson & Son2
Schering-Plough, Kenilworth, N.J.2
Wyeth, Madison, N.J.

1. This list was created by Fortune Custom Projects through SmartRevenue Research. 2. Top 10.

TEAMWORK IS especially prized at Genencor. Teams work collectively to ensure that projects progress smoothly. "This is a fabulous place to work. When I come to work, I feel like my job is valuable to the company," says environmental health and safety specialist Susan Pepper. "People are so willing to share what they know, and we work well together. The sense of teamwork is fostered by social activities, which give you an opportunity to get to know people better." Pepper notes that the flat company structure is also important. "I can bring an idea to any of the vice presidents and know they're open to discussion," she says. "We're all driving the culture."

Interdisciplinary teams, composed of staff with different points of view and expertise, help employees learn about other parts of the business. "The thing that struck me in interviews," Pepper adds, "is that I spoke to everyone--research associates, scientists, people in my department, human resources--a whole cross-section of people. The company really wants us to be involved with other groups and everyone on-site."

Roopa Ghirnikar, senior scientific writer in R&D, says she appreciates the autonomy: "You get the supervision you need, but then you have the freedom to manage your work the way you see best, as long as the work gets done and you've met the deadline. The flexibility comes in handy because it takes away a lot of stress. People understand what is expected, and the company provides an environment where you can do your best."

Genencor has a strong commitment to social responsibility, integrating community service into corporate life. The company participates in a number of service activities, such as celebrating Earth Day, fundraising for America's Second Harvest, and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. In addition, each site participates in local charitable causes. For example, employees in Palo Alto purchased backpacks and collected school supplies for underprivileged schoolchildren, while Rochester employees decorated an "Angel Tree" at holiday time with wish lists from area children in need.

Genencor's commitment to social responsibility extends to its sustainability program. The firm is serious about becoming a leader in sustainability. "Our environmental and personnel activities are tied closely to our sustainability commitment," Sjoerdsma says. Genencor's key performance indicators are "People, Planet, and Profit"--achieving a competitive advantage by integrating socially, financially, and environmentally responsible business practices. In addition to its work environment, the company's performance relies on the effective use of its resources and on reducing environmental impact through operational efficiency and a strong portfolio.

At its heart, Genencor is a scientific company. Among its hires are chemical engineers, biochemical engineers, microbiologists, enzymologists, protein chemists, X-ray crystallographers, and bioinformaticists. "We hire a wide variety of skill bases," Herfert says. "The majority of our hires come from natural science and engineering. We're always looking for top talent as needs arise along a spectrum of experience, degree levels, and backgrounds."

R&D seminars are held on Friday mornings, "just like graduate school," says Robin B. Fong, a scientist in the global engineering group. "Each week, people--from research assistants to senior scientists--share their work. It could be on a very specific topic or a teaching seminar, but the meetings expose you to what other people are doing outside of your project. Regardless of your specialty, you eventually begin to pick up the nuances of other areas, which is useful if you move from one group to another." Not only are the seminars an opportunity to hear about what is going on in other areas, but attendees are encouraged to speak up and contribute their ideas to the topic that is on the table.

GENENCOR PROVIDES opportunities for and assistance with continuing education and professional development to help employees reach their full potential. "There are plenty of opportunities for career development if you need to learn more about a new research area," Ghirnikar says. "We're encouraged to take courses, attend meetings, and do what we need to stay current. Our IT department has ongoing courses throughout the year, such as on PowerPoint. We can also attend extension courses at the University of California, Santa Cruz, or UC Santa Clara to learn new skills. When I joined the company, I did not have formal writing experience, so I was able to take courses in marketing, writing, communications, and public relations, which helped me to assist the scientists in presenting their work and in writing assignments." Genencor also has an internal Ph.D. program through the University of Manchester, in England, for employees who want to continue their education but don't want to leave Genencor.


Genencor honors its employees' contributions in a tangible format. "The company creates a plaque for every journal article that is published by a staff member," Fong says. "The bronze plaque has the title, author, and abstract, and it's placed on a wall with the others so you can see a history of research at the company."

Employee involvement is so valued that "when Genencor built its headquarters in Palo Alto in 1996, many employees were directly involved in the architectural design. For example, they recommended placing the labs along the building's exterior so there would be a lot of natural light, encouraging people to spend more time there. It's an open design that creates better communication and collaboration," Kan says. The building features an internal pedestrian "spine" that links labs and other work spaces with the gardens and entries. The facility was honored with the Laboratory of the Year Award from R&D Magazine in 1997.

"Industrial biotech may not have the same lure as drug discovery might," Herfert says, "but from a scientific perspective the challenges are huge, and you can see the fruits of your endeavor much faster than you would in drug discovery."

"Genencor is one of those rare biotechs that has a large-scale manufacturing process," Fong adds, "compared with the majority of biotechs that are still developing their first products."

"Our systems demand that employees take responsibility for their own motivation," Herfert says. "We don't provide a lot of structure. If you have drive, motivation, and energy and can work well with others, then you can flourish here. People are empowered to make things happen." Although Genencor has undergone significant change in recent months--the divestiture of its health care business in June and its acquisition by Danisco in April--"the employees haven't changed the way they feel about the company," Herfert adds. "I think it speaks highly to what we've got going on."

"The sky is the limit in terms of what a person can accomplish in terms of professional growth," Sjoerdsma says. "We're not looking for them to fit in but to stand out and make an impact on science and on the culture.

"We are a special place to work," he adds. "Our employees look forward to Mondays."


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