When Lisa Drake is recruiting on campuses, her 21-year career in the Cargill Inc. finance department evokes skepticism among students. “They think you must be leftovers if you’ve been with a company that long,” she says. With the notion of corporate family often considered an oxymoron, and employer-hopping now the norm, those studying finance and accounting seem to believe that “staying with one company isn’t a cool thing anymore.”
Cargill and several other companies are working to change such downbeat opinions. These companies are striving to make the finance environment if not exactly fun, then at least rewarding enough to inspire loyalty and improve retention. Far from a leftover, Drake has had a new finance job every 18 to 24 months, along a clear advancement track. That’s not uncommon for high-potential employees at the $49.4 billion, Minneapolis-based agricultural and food products concern, says vice president and controller Galen Johnson, who lists his management priorities as “career planning, individual development, and the blending of work and family” through jobs patterned on a worker’s needs.
Such priorities, it seems, can make the difference between a good finance environment and a great one. And while certain elements are needed for success in any workplace–fair compensation, the opportunity for advancement, flexible work scheduling, and innovation, to name a few–those elements must also elevate finance above its still all-too- accepted image as some Dickensian back-office backwater. Fundamentally, says Eugene McQuade, vice chairman and CFO of FleetBoston Financial Corp., finance employees want to “feel that they’re adding value to the organization, and that somebody appreciates what they do.”
To identify companies that truly value finance employees, this year CFO magazine teamed up with the 14,000-member Association for Financial Professionals and Hackett Benchmarking & Research to establish a system for tracking best workplace practices. Says AFP president and CEO Jim Kaitz: “As finance has changed from tactical to strategic, we wanted to see what role human capital has played.” The hope of the Best Workplaces for Financial Professionals program, he adds, is “to give companies a new benchmarking tool, and to encourage them to use it to improve the processes within their organizations.”
More than 100 corporations completed a Web survey and employee questionnaires. From their responses, the research recognized Cargill, First Data Corp., and FleetBoston for overall performance. Other companies were acknowledged in five specific categories: Sodexho, for personal and professional development; Johnson Controls, for technology; Putnam Investments, for job satisfaction; the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), for quality of work life; and First Data, again, for innovation.
Together, these companies demonstrate the balance that must be struck between meeting employees’ personal and professional goals and fulfilling the finance mission. Creating this balance, however, requires as much art as science. Hackett’s Brian Lowenthal likens the effort to building the perfect house: “You can take high-quality components and assemble them, but a house isn’t truly wonderful without the skill of the architect and the builder. And even then, some home buyers like oriental-style houses and some like Early American.”