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Great Places to Work: Where to Launch a Career
These five companies aren’t just for the young, but with good benefits like tuition reimbursement, mentoring, and even on-site MBA classes, they encourage employees to learn and grow. By Sherri Dalphonse, Mary Clare Glover
At Project Performance Corporation, CEO Mike Nigro leaves time in his schedule each week so employees can challenge him to Ping-Pong in the game room. Photograph by Vincent Ricardel.
Comments () | Published November 1, 2007

Great Places to Work > Where to Launch a Career 

There is no association between this article and the San Francisco consulting firm that uses the trademark GREAT PLACES TO WORK ®

These workplaces aren’t just for those in a first or second job: The benefits are so good that some people never leave.

Most of our great places to work encourage employees to learn and grow. At these five places, that’s especially true.

At Booz Allen Hamilton, young management consultants find a “career mobility” program and an on-site university—including an MBA program through Johns Hopkins. At Host Hotels & Resorts, employees get as much as $15,000 in annual tuition reimbursement.

At consulting companies such as Booz Allen, many employees put in a few years, gain a lot of experience, and move on. Others stay; in fact, many managers at Booz Allen came up through the ranks—and know what it’s like.

“In a firm of almost 19,000, it is important for junior staff to have accessible leadership, and I have found that most senior employees are genuinely interested in supporting the advancement of the junior staff,” says Booz Allen senior consultant Gil Unangst, 26, who has been at Booz Allen for 15 months.

At large firms, if an employee isn’t happy in one job, he or she can usually find another position without leaving.

There are advantages to a smaller firm. The boss knows everyone by name. With less bureaucracy, a young employee can take on more responsibility sooner. “We empower people at the lowest levels,” says Project Performance Corporation CEO Mike Nigro. “We are willing to take risks and make mistakes.”

At smaller firms, staffers can learn at the boss’s knee. The staffing agency HireStrategy holds weekly sessions at which senior managers share expertise in everything from recruiting fundamentals to economic trends.

Sometimes a good place to start a career is simply where most others are also young and can learn together. At Envision EMI, more than half of the staff is under age 34.

Other companies that are good fits for those starting a career: Food & Friends, Forum One Communications, Merritt Group, and Motley Fool.

Booz Allen Hamilton
Industry: Strategy and technology consulting
Total staff local/world: 6,200/ 17,000
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 16/26
Interesting perks: On-site university; contributes about 10% of salary to 401(k); on-site daycare and gym; forums or clubs for every group, from Asian Pacific Americans to marathon runners; $5,000 tuition reimbursement a year.

Booz Allen Hamilton will hire 2,000 people this year at its McLean campus. While most of those hires at this strategy-and-technology consulting firm will be experienced professionals, a good number will be fresh out of college.
Young consultants find challenging work, a “career mobility” program, and an on-site university—including an MBA program through Johns Hopkins. In 2006, the firm ranked first in training and development in Training magazine’s Top 100 list.
“In a firm of almost 19,000, it is important for junior staff to have accessible leadership, and I have found that most senior employees have an open-door policy and are genuinely interested in supporting the advancement of the junior staff,” says senior consultant Gil Unangst, 26, who has been at Booz Allen for 15 months.
Many managers came up through the ranks. Employees say no one is discriminated against, because diversity is celebrated.
Booz Allen Hamilton, 8283 Greensboro Dr., McLean; 703-902-5000; boozallen.com.

Envision EMI
Industry: Educational seminars and conferences
Total staff local/world: 200/210
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 24/24
Interesting perks: Brainstorming room with beanbag chairs and basketball hoop; cafe with foosball and XBox; profit sharing; matches 30% of employee’s 401(k) contribution; 100% paid healthcare premiums; $50 for gym membership.

At Envision EMI in Vienna, co-owners Richard Rossi and Barbara Harris share an office without a door. “Management is completely approachable,” says admissions adviser Laura Stevenson. “Your opinion is always taken into consideration and addressed thoroughly.”
Envision EMI plans, organizes, and runs seminars and conferences around the world for high-achieving students of all ages. “Every day, you feel as though you are part of something that impacts the life of a young person,” says Jaimi Luckett, executive assistant to the chief education officer.
A generous benefits package includes 100-percent employer-paid healthcare premiums, profit sharing, and a 401(k) match. Work/life balance is a priority: Everyone gets 24 vacation days plus 12 companywide leave days.
Envision EMI, 1919 Gallows Rd., Suite 700, Vienna; 703-584-9200; envisionemi.com.

HireStrategy
Industry: Recruitment and staffing
Total staff local/world: 70/210
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 15/20
Interesting perks: Profit sharing; stock equity; winter trip to warm spot for top performers; 401(k) match of 50% on first 6% contribution; incentive awards have included wardrobe makeovers; $3,000 tuition reimbursement a year.

HireStrategy employees are in the business of helping clients advance their careers—the staffing firm specializes in placing people in jobs in technology, finance and accounting, sales, and human resources.
“My job affects people’s lives,” says Steve Burman, director of finance and accounting.
The mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings at HireStrategy are helping their own careers, too. A weekly program brings the staff together for training in everything from recruiting fundamentals to labor-economy trends.
There’s also friendly competition. Hire­Strategy offers an incentive trip for top performers: Those who meet or exceed their goal, usually a sales goal, get a warm winter break. Last year, 60 percent of the sales and recruiting staff went to South Beach.
HireStrategy, 11730 Plaza America Dr., Suite 340, Reston; 703-547-6700; hirestrategy.com.

Host Hotels & Resorts
Industry: Lodging
Total staff local/world: 203/234
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 20/30
Interesting perks:Hotel discounts; 401(k) match of 50% on first 6%; profit sharing; stock; fitness room; half-day Fridays in summer; monthly awards including gift cards, car detailing, massages; up to $15,000 in yearly tuition reimbursement.

Even before a new hire starts at Host Hotels & Resorts, the person gets a welcome call from human resources and a new-hire kit with information on everything from benefits to the office floor plan. New employees also get a buddy to help them through the 24-week introduction to the company.
Once on board, employees find an emphasis on professional development: Those enrolled in undergraduate programs receive as much as $10,000 a year in reimbursement and up to $15,000 for a master’s degree.
Those aren’t the only good benefits. A much-appreciated perk is early leave on Fridays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Employees get discounted room rates at Marriott hotels.
Employees report satisfaction in being at a company that works with high-quality hotels. This year, Fortune magazine named Host one of the most admired companies in America. Employees are proud, too: Fifty percent of new hires come from employee referrals, and the turnover rate is less than 5 percent.
Host Hotels & Resorts, 6903 Rockledge Dr., Suite 1500, Bethesda; 240-744-1000; hosthotels.com.

Project Performance Corporation
Industry: Management and IT consulting
Total staff: 325
Vacation/personal days to start/max: 15/25
Interesting perks: Game room with pool, foosball, big-screen TV, Wii; 401(k) match of 50% on first 15% of salary; $30 a month for public transportation or carpool; cruise or other trip for staff and guest on major company anniversaries; $5,250 tuition reimbursement a year.

In four years, PPC—a management and IT consulting firm that works mainly for civil agencies such as the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and Patent and Trade Office—has grown from 130 employees to 325. But CEO Mike Nigro still handwrites a birthday card—not just “happy birthday” but a note—for every employee. “People need to know you care,” he says.
He also has his assistant leave time in his schedule each week so employees can challenge him to Ping-Pong in the game room. Knowing the CEO isn’t the only perk for the mostly young staff. Employees are given a good deal of autonomy and responsibility, no matter the position. “We empower people at the lowest levels,” Nigro says. “We are willing to take risks and make mistakes.”
The goal is to build a team. And a community: Employees do everything from picking up litter through Adopt-a-Highway to buying and delivering Girl Scout cookies to soldiers in hospitals. After Hurricane Katrina, PPC adopted a Mississippi town; they’ve not only delivered food, water, and supplies but cooked the residents holiday dinner and built a park.
It is not a place for the serious. One April Fool’s Day, someone replaced soda in the Coke machine with beer. “This is a dangerous place on April Fool’s,” says human-resources manager Wendy Henninger.
Project Performance Corporation, 1760 Old Meadow Rd., First Floor, McLean; 703-748-7000; www.ppc.com. 

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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 11/01/2007 RSS | Print | Permalink | Washingtonian.com Articles