Capital Group

This investment company earned the top spot by cultivating its IT workers.

If you're an IT worker who thrives on competing with colleagues, takes pride in acquiring higher titles and believes that working crazy hours to meet a tight deadline is just part of the job, The Capital Group Cos. is the last place you'd want to work — and the last place that's likely to hire you.

But if you want a competitive salary, flexible working arrangements, a supportive and nurturing manager, extensive health and retirement benefits, even more extensive training and growth opportunities, and three weeks of vacation time to start, get hired at this 77-year-old privately held investment company, and you'll most likely want to spend your career there.

That's Vianney Stovall's plan.

"The company is so big and so open that you can do anything," says Stovall, who was hired as a desktop support associate a little over three years ago and is now a project management coordinator at Capital Group's headquarters in Irvine, Calif.

As an IT employer, Capital Group adheres to the same long-term philosophy and strategy that it applies to financial investments. It wants and expects workers to grow with the company over time. This makes hiring people who fit well with the company's highly collaborative, input-driven, collegial culture absolutely critical. It also helps explain the company's comprehensive interviewing process. Even candidates for a junior-level position must meet with six or seven staffers, each one focusing on a different area, such as strategy, communications or technical knowledge. Julie St. John, who 15 months ago was recruited from her CIO post at Fannie Mae, went through 40 interviews before joining the company as CIO and president of its investment technology group.

"Capital is very careful in their hiring. We're also very purposeful about how we think about interviewing," St. John says. "What I found in the interviews is incredible intellectual bandwidth, humility and integrity" among Capital Group employees, she says.

That rigorous attention to cultural fit is one of the things many people like best about working there. Employees regularly eat lunch together on the lawn or sit around the fountain that is the centerpiece of the new 40-acre Irvine campus. For those who'd like to sit and work in the Southern California sunshine, there is wireless access throughout the campus.

No Blame Game

"What's unique about Capital is the very strong relationship between business and IT," says Clay Sterzik, a 15-year veteran of the IT organization. "They take the wins together, and they take the knocks together. You never hear anyone in the business say, 'They blew it in IT.' That's what makes morale so high on the IT side."

Rama Iyer, who manages the technology team that supports Capital's mutual fund activities, echoes this view. "There are any number of times a project can go south, even with the best of intentions. Almost never has the business pointed at IT and said IT screwed up," says Iyer.

But what really appeals to him is Capital Group's long-term view about investing in technology.

"Long-term is connected with whatever we do," Iyer says. As a result, he notes, IT is able to invest in technology and build systems that Capital Group might not need immediately but will need in the future. In the meantime, the IT teams can build them right the first time, he says. "This is what makes my job a lot more fun," Iyer says.

That measured approach to technology investments and projects makes for better work/life balance, says Maurice Heffernan, who has been with the company just under two years and leads the investment systems group.

"Because of the long-term focus, there isn't this overly tactical emphasis on bursts of energy and stretches of long hours as the fallback strategy to get something done quickly," Heffernan says. "On a typical day, I wrap up at 5, get home to see my daughter and read her a bedtime story. And then, if I need to, I can get back online and talk to people in Singapore and Tokyo."

Capital Group invests generously and regularly in its roughly 1,600 IT workers, who, like a majority of Capital Group's 8,000 employees worldwide, rate the company's Master Retirement Plan (MRP) as one of its best benefits. The company establishes an account for each employee, or "associate," as they're known, as soon as they're hired. Every year, Capital Group contributes an amount equal to 15% of each associate's total annual cash compensation (including bonuses) to the account, up to the statutory limit of $33,750. Employees are fully vested in their MRP accounts after six years.

"The whole retirement-benefit package is phenomenal. I appreciate that more and more as I grow here at Capital," says Patricia Ong, a senior business systems analyst who has worked at Capital Group for 15 years.

Here to Stay

Not surprisingly, "people who come to Capital tend to stay at Capital," says St. John. The employee attrition rate is about 4% annually in IT.

People who come to Capital Group to work in IT are also likely to move into various roles around the company, since it has a track record of discovering and promoting talent from within. Each year, the company budgets $3,500 per IT employee for in-person training. IT workers are also reimbursed up to $5,000 annually for technical certifications they earn. All employees are eligible for 100% tuition reimbursement, up to $10,000 annually.

Right now, Sterzik is especially jazzed about the opportunity to help rewrite Capital Group's equity trading system. "We're in the first phase of rolling the system out. It's a brand-new, custom-built, state-of-the-art equity trading system, and it's the slickest system I've ever seen in my life," he says. "The team has done a great job."

Stovall, meanwhile, is considering her next career move at Capital Group.

"I definitely see this as a place to be long term, because there are so many directions I can take and areas I can go into," she says. "It's like your one-stop shop in terms of a career."

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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