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#1 Medium Company on the 2008 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America List
Kip Irvine was so impressed with the buzz Ultimate Software was generating around Florida International University’s campus, he decided to check out the company for himself.
So in January, Irvine, 56, a full-time computer science instructor at the university, with advanced degrees and five books to his credit, set professional ego aside and began working side by side with several of his students as an intern at the Weston, Fla., company.
“The students have a chance to do actual software development, work on professional teams and just really do cutting-edge stuff,” Irvine says. “With the skills they learn at Ultimate, I’m sure they would be in demand anywhere.”
In fact, some of what Irvine has learned during the last six months likely will figure in an upcoming book, he says.
What’s more, the company more than measures up to other local employers: “In South Florida, we have a lot of small players that can’t really afford to offer much in the way of benefits,” he says. “But Ultimate shows favorably among the best and largest companies, including the Microsofts.”
It’s the rare employer that can offer up the perfect blend of training, advancement opportunity, camaraderie and perks. But Ultimate, No. 1 on this year’s list of the Best Medium Companies to Work for in America, comes as close as any. Founded in 1990 with four employees, Ultimate launched its first product in 1993, a DOS-based human resource, benefits and payroll package. Scott Scherr, Ultimate’s founder and chief executive officer, took the company public five years later.
Today, most of Ultimate’s 810 employees work out of two sunny lakeside buildings on the edge of the Everglades. Last year, the company posted revenue of more than $151 million -- a 33 percent increase over the previous year’s earnings, even during these tough economic times. Company officials maintain that their business model -- based on month-to-month payments rather than pricey long-term licenses -- makes it easier to hold onto cash-strapped clients.
Employees credit Scherr for setting a tone that fosters loyalty and trust and makes the company a great place to work. Scherr sees the relationship with employees more pragmatically.
“If you take care of your employees, then they take care of you,” says Scherr, a Bronx native who cut his teeth working for ADP, now one of Ultimate’s competitors.
Ultimate employees rave about such uncommon benefits as fully paid health premiums for themselves, family members and domestic partners; a 30 percent company match on 401(k) contributions; stock options; and annual tuition reimbursement of up to $5,280.
The education benefit -- the maximum eligible for tax benefits -- enables employees such as Jose Chinea, systems engineer, to return to school to hone their skills and, in turn, become more valuable.
“Ultimate understands the importance of helping to grow their employees and helping educate them,” says Chinea, who received a master’s degree in management and information systems in January and hopes to parlay that into a promotion.
Sales Analyst Lisa Jameson, who works out of her home in Dallas, still tears up when she recalls how Ultimate took her suggestion that the company offer paid adoption leave just before she adopted her oldest son, Conner, in 2004. “I just thought I would ask,” she says, adding that the congratulatory note she received from Scherr following the adoption was icing on the cake. Jameson used the benefit -- six weeks of paid leave, on par with maternity leave -- again in 2007 when she adopted son Tyler.
Several workers devastated in 2005 by back-to-back hurricanes also say the company came through for them, providing financial assistance and emotional support.
When sales representative Kathy Collins tried to return an advance she had requested after her home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, company officials waved her off. “That’s the type of family I have at Ultimate Software,” she says.
Marva Gentles, who lost power for more than a week following the hurricanes, also thinks of Ultimate peers as kin. “They provided what we needed,” says Gentles, a 10-year employee. “It’s like a whole family. When something happens, everyone comes together and the bonds get even stronger.”
List of Best Small Companies to Work for in America, 2008
List of Best Medium Companies to Work for in America, 2008
50 Best Small & Medium Companies To Work for in America home page
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