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100 Pass ‘Best’ Test

The number of “best places to work” in Orange County continues to grow.

This week’s Business Journal lists includes 100 companies that earned the distinction, the highest number yet for the annual compilation, which started in 2009 with 40 companies.

The listed companies scored highest among voluntary participants in proprietary research done for the Business Journal by Harrisburg, Pa.-based Best Companies Group. The rankings hinge largely on employees’ views; their responses carry a 75% weight for the overall scores.

Surveys of employees included queries covering 72 areas across eight categories of workplace-related conditions, such as relationships with supervisors, corporate culture and communication, and pay and benefits.

Employees were asked to indicate whether they agreed with statements in those categories. Researchers calculated for each statement the proportions of those who “agree somewhat” and “agree strongly” and figured them into an overall percentage score.

“In order to be considered for the list, [an applicant company] has to have an 80% overall score for the employee survey,” said Susan Springer, director of workplace assessments at Best Companies Group. “And we need to have at least a 40% response rate from those employers that have 25 or more employees. If you have less than that, we’re looking for an 80% response rate. Those are the basic criteria to be considered for the list. Once we make that initial cut, we look at all the employers in comparison to one another and see who has the highest score.”

This week’s entries are separated by company size. The lists includes 32 small businesses, defined as those with between 15 and 49 U.S. employees; 34 midsize companies with 50 to 249 employees; and 34 large companies with 250 or more employees. (The Special Report, which includes lists, stories and graphics, starts on page 25.)

Positive Feedback

Workers at small companies generally responded more positively than those at larger ones, with 93% positive feedback overall, compared with 91% and 90% for medium-sized and large companies, respectively.

The work environment category received the highest percentage of positive responses. About 96% of all employees at listed companies agreed with statements such as, “There is adequate noise control to allow me to focus on my work,” and “I feel physically safe in my work environment.”

About 95% of employees at small businesses said they felt positively about their relationships with supervisors. Researchers asked them if they “trust what my supervisor tells me” and if the supervisor engages in clear communication “when I do my work well” and “when my work needs improvement.”

The figures were 94% for medium-sized companies and 92% for large companies.

Employees at medium-sized businesses appeared the most satisfied with their pay and benefits, with 86% agreeing to statements such as, “My pay is fair for the work I perform,” and, “I’m satisfied with this organization’s benefits package,” including sick-leave policy and tuition-reimbursement benefits.

About 83% of employees at small companies and 84% at large companies responded positively in the pay-and-benefits category.

Taking Care

Irvine-based hedge fund manager Pacific Alternative Asset Management Co. is big on “taking care of our people,” especially when it comes to providing health insurance and health-related perks, said Chief Executive Jane Buchan.

“One of the things we try very hard to do is to provide very nice health insurance,” Buchan said. “It’s a PPO, and we pay the entire premium for you and your dependent. There is no copay.”

That makes PAAMCO—which ranked No. 15 on the Medium Companies list—one of the 26 firms that picks up 100% of the tab for their employees’ medical coverage. It’s also one of two that pay for all of dependents’ coverage.

PAAMCO manages about $9 billion in assets globally and has offices in London and Singapore. Its Irvine headquarters houses about 110 employees, and another 30 or so workers work overseas, flying into OC once a year for several days of firmwide meetings and training that end with a party.

Buchan founded PAAMCO in 2000 with Judith Posnikoff, who serves as a managing director. They are regularly featured in the annual 50 Leading Women in Hedge Funds reports published by the Hedge Fund Journal and Ernst & Young LLP.

Other Benefits

PAAMCO’s other benefits include free Equinox gym memberships and twice-weekly catered lunches, but “it’s not just the perks … it’s also the fact that we’re an employee-owned company,” said Mayer Cherem, a managing director and chair of the firm’s Strategy Allocation committee.

“People have the potential to become partners, and that attracts top-notch people who could go to a private equity company or an investment bank,” Cherem said. “They come here. They understand they can be part of the firm. There are people from everywhere and with different backgrounds.”

Cherem is from Venezuela and joined PAAMCO nine years ago after earning his MBA degree from Columbia University.

TCA Architects Inc. in Irvine, ranked No. 6 on the Medium Companies list, provides extensive educational programs for its employees. The firm, which focuses on designing multifamily, high-density properties, has 86 employees, including those in its Los Angeles and Oakland offices.

“There are a couple of things we do [for] employee growth, and TCA University is the most important one,” President Aram Chahbazian said. “We do … meetings where we basically dissect our own work. We put all our work on the wall and invite teammates and other teams to critique the work. It’s to offer up ideas. It’s very much like an academic environment. Those things really work together to create a collegial work environment.”

TCA is one of the top architecture firms in Orange County, landing on the Business Journal’s Architecture Firms list last fall as the 10th-largest here, with annual billings of more than $12 million.

“One of the things that’s a great benefit for everybody is that we have flexible work hours,” Chahbazian said. “We have a four-and-a-half-day work week. Obviously, if we have deadlines, we’ll work, but generally that’s the baseline.”

A few TCA employees on the administrative side utilize the flexible work hours by working from home on Friday mornings.

“They have a considerable travel distance, and [rather than] coming in for four hours, it makes it more efficient to telecommute,” Chahbazian said. “That’s not widespread in the office, but it’s part of the flexible work week. That’s centered around our core belief to balance work and life. We don’t encourage overtime. We don’t need to be laboring all night on a weekly basis. Believe it or not, that’s engraved in our industry. Architects are famous for it, actually.”


Download the 2013 OC’s BEST PLACES TO WORK list (pdf)

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