100 Best Companies to Work For 2012: Large Companies

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FIRST PLACE: Apptio

Though it’s barely five years old, Bellevue-based Apptio is off to an incredibly strong start. In Q1 2012, the software startup scored $50 million in venture capital, quickly outpacing its peers in the region. And for good reason: Apptio is at the forefront of the emerging field of Technology Business Management, or TBM. Apptio’s TBM tools enable managers to assess the cost of IT services, to communicate those costs to corporate leadership, and then to plan, budget and forecast accordingly.

Still, that rapid influx of cash raises this question: What sets Apptio apart from the multitude of software firms competing for the attention of venture capitalists?

Chris Pick, Apptio’s chief marketing officer, says the answer is simple: Apptio’s people.

“Our DNA is all about coming up with elegant solutions to very complex problems,” Pick explains. “This is ultimately the type of individual we attract and, perhaps more important, retain—someone who actively seeks out the path of most resistance because they’re innately curious about the world they live in.”

At Apptio, that curiosity is rewarded handsomely. Employees receive full health insurance coverage, a substantial allotment of paid time off and a first-rate reimbursement program for professional development activities. Every six weeks, Apptio’s employees nominate two Apptio Superstars, both of whom receive a cash bonus and the opportunity to win the calendar-year Superstar Award—a distinction that comes with an all-expenses-paid vacation for two.

The list of perks continues: All employees are eligible for a $2,500 bonus if a referral results in the hiring of a full-time employee, and workers often host “Bite of Apptio” events, at which regional food and beverage pairings are served to all comers. (We’d be remiss if we failed to mention that the company serves free beer on Friday afternoons.)

Pick says the greatest reward from working at Apptio is the chance to change the marketplace. “It’s the opportunity to disrupt traditional enterprise software paradigms and build something that is radically new,” Pick notes. “That is ultimately what makes Apptio an exciting place to work.”

SECOND PLACE: Baker Boyer Bank

It’s been 143 years since Walla Walla’s Baker Boyer Bank was founded, and much has changed in southeastern Washington since then. Washington became a state. Whitman College grew into a respected liberal arts institution. The Snake River was dammed and converted into a high-volume, inland shipping route. Through it all, the employees of Baker Boyer Bank have enjoyed one of the best workplaces in the state. In addition to fully funded medical, dental and vision insurance, the bank offers an industry-best wellness program. (On-site personal trainers, cooking classes and fitness reimbursements, anyone?) Baker Boyer tops it off with a 6 percent match on employees’ 401(k) contributions and a generous profit-sharing program.

THIRD PLACE: Synapse Product Development

Simply put, Synapse is a company that makes cool stuff. Whether it’s building a best-of-breed GPS sport watch with Nike and TomTom, creating new AirFloss technology with Philips’ Sonicare, or designing field-ready DNA analysis devices, Synapse is always building something brilliant. Aside from their thrilling work, Synapse’s employees—including inventors, designers, engineers, technologists and strategists—are rewarded with full medical coverage for themselves and their dependents, a 4 percent match on employee 401(k)s and company-sponsored health savings accounts. Those benefits, combined with a sparkling, newly remodeled downtown office complete with rock-climbing wall and foosball table, place Synapse amongst our top three large companies in 2012.

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.
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Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.