Great places to work: Okla. companies get high marks

Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 7:00 am By: Tom Lindley

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - Judging by Fortune magazine's new job satisfaction survey, it's apparently not as hard to get up in the morning and go to work in Oklahoma City.

That's the case, anyway, for employees of Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy and American Fidelity Assurance Co., which ranked 20th, 34th and 35th, respectively, on Fortune's list of the 100 best companies to work for in the U.S. The list was released Thursday.

With three companies in the top 35, Oklahoma City did something no other city did, which was further proof to Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, that "Oklahoma City has always been committed to developing and maintaining a strong work force."

QuikTrip convenience stores of Tulsa rounded out the list of Oklahoma-based companies at 41st.

For all four companies, employee satisfaction is becoming a trend. It's the seventh consecutive year both American Fidelity Assurance Co. and QuikTrip have made the list, while Devon and Chesapeake showed up for the third consecutive year.

Devon, which ranked 13th last year, continued to rank higher than any other energy company has ever placed. Its employees singled out the accessibility of upper management, the company's caring nature and its high ethical standards.

"It's a great matter of pride that people enjoy working here and enjoy the atmosphere," Larry Nichols, Devon's chairman and chief executive officer, said. "When we say we want to do things right, we really mean it. And when we make a mistake, we fix it."

Because it started as a family company, Nichols said Devon's managers have always recognized the importance of being accessible.

"Anyone with big egos doesn't last long at Devon," Nichols said.

The recognition also was gratifying because the deepening recession made 2009 a challenging year and because of the extensive nature of the magazine's survey, Nichols said.

"It's not just some popularity contest," Nichols said. "It's a thoughtful analysis."

Chesapeake made the biggest jump on the list, moving up from the 73rd spot, partly on the strength of its employee benefits package, which includes a 15-percent employer 401(k) match and medical and dental care at Chesapeake's Oklahoma City headquarters.

"We place a very high priority on creating a work environment and culture in which our employees deliver extraordinary performance while achieving professional and personal growth," said Aubrey K. McClendon, Chesapeake's CEO.

Unlike many companies, Chesapeake also remained in a hiring mode in 2009, adding more than 500 employees across the nation. The company currently has more than 300 open positions.

To celebrate the day, American Fidelity Assurance Co., which is marking its 50th year in business as an Oklahoma company, turned its family-oriented workplace into a festive place Wednesday with banners and music. Employees also were treated to lunch, received a voucher for a free T-shirt and were given an extra paid day off from work.

"Our family atmosphere makes AFA a great place to work and extends to our customers through exceptional service," AFA CEO Bill Cameron said.

The insurer looks for employees wanting long-term careers and has a turnover rate of only 7 percent, according to Fortune's survey.

QuikTrip was lauded for its new employee mentoring program, for having a full-time turnover rate of only 12 percent, low by industry standards, and for maintaining an IT staff of 79 to keep things running smoothly.

A North Carolina software company, SAS, topped the national rankings, taking a leap from 20th, while California placed five companies in the top 10.

Fortune Deputy Managing Editor Hank Gilman said the most important considerations for this year's list were hiring and the ways in which companies are helping their employees weather the recession.

Fortune partners with the Great Place to Work Institute to determine the rankings. Two-thirds of a company's score is based on a random sample of employees. The other third is based on company responses to the institute's culture audit, which focuses on pay and benefit programs and open-ended questions about hiring, communication and diversity.

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