Genencor Stays Ahead of the Curve

By Ann Pomeroy Jul 1, 2005

HR Magazine, July 2005#1 Medium Company

For scientists, this biotech firm in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley represents the best of both worlds. Located a stone’s throw from Stanford University in Palo Alto, the company offers the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge scientific research in a highly supportive environment.

“The setup here is ideal for doing research,” says scientist Don Ward, who came to Genencor three years ago. With a Ph.D. in biochemistry plus postdoctoral training, Ward had expected to make his career in academia. But at Genencor, he has found more freedom to experiment and explore ideas than he had in the university setting.

Kenneth Herbert, vice president of research and development (R&D), is a chemical engineer who joined Genencor in 1990. Herbert agrees that Genencor offers an exciting environment for scientists. He’s stayed for 15 years because “it’s been a lot of fun.”

Part of the fun for him, he says, comes from the “thrill” of seeing the impact he can make as a mentor on the members of his team. “Scientific continuity is built on mentoring,” Herbert says, “both technical mentoring and mentoring to get our future leaders ready.”

As a manager, he is well aware that there is “tremendous competition for our people.” That’s why Senior HR Director Jim Sjoerdsma is an important member of the R&D management team, says Herbert.

Sjoerdsma and his HR staff regularly poll employees to find out which benefits they enjoy and which programs aren’t working out. “If we don’t have it and enough people want it, we go out and get it!” they say.

For example, the recently opened “Zyme and Dine” cafeteria is a response to employee requests. Employees chose the name, a play on words that comes from “enzyme” (the company makes the industrial enzymes used in laundry detergent) and is also the name of the Friday afternoon social hour that meets in the cafeteria.

Employees also have a wide choice of Genencor-sponsored clubs tailored to their interests. From the “B-Team,” an employee band, to yoga classes, ski trips and cooking clubs, there seems to be something for everyone. At a recent employee staff meeting, Sjoerdsma asked for a show of hands of anyone who didn’t belong to at least one Genencor club. “Not a single hand went up,” he says.

It’s all part of the HR department’s attention to employee needs. In addition to excellent benefits like health insurance, stock options and 401(k) plans, Sjoerdsma and his team are constantly on the alert for unmet needs that can be addressed.

For example, because many employees commute some distance to work, Genencor subsidizes public transportation and provides “G cars” that can be checked out by employees who need a car during the workday. This “commute connection” program won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Employer Commuter of Choice” award three times.

Further, parents who find themselves in a bind when the regular caregiver is unavailable or the after-school program is closed for the day can get emergency child care at ChildrenFirst, a backup child care center located within walking distance of Genencor.

In short, Genencor treats its employees as the valuable assets it knows them to be, which allows them to focus on the work that drives the company’s success. As Ward says, “We have to stay ahead of the curve here [in their scientific work].”

And it’s clear that Genencor’s HR professionals also are staying ahead of the curve as they anticipate and deliver what their employees need to succeed.

—Ann Pomeroy


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