What It's Like to Work at Weber, the Grill Maker

Interviewee: Bill Krieger, vice president of information services

Company: Weber-Stephen Products Co., a manufacturer of barbecue grills

Location: Palatine, Ill.

Tenure: Since 1979

Number of information technology employees: 14

Number of employees (end users): About 500 within Weber, plus manufacturers' representatives nationwide

Major IT initiatives: Getting the representatives online, bringing up a corporate intranet and working on the corporate Web site. "Weber is also evaluating e-commerce as a means of selling low-volume items and other merchandise that its retailers don't carry."

Labor Day is a big day for grilling. What does it mean for Weber's IT department? "All summer, we support a 24-hour 800 line - the Grill Out line - and it closes on Labor Day. Customers can call in and ask real-time cooking questions about recipes or why their turkey seems too rare or what to do when a thunderstorm puts out their charcoal grill. . . .

After Labor Day is when we release software upgrades and prepare for the physical inventory that happens in late September. This is a time to sit back, see what the demands of the previous season were and get ourselves ready for the next coming season."

IT training plans: "We work across so many different areas that training plans are handled on an individual basis. I have someone doing Java training, someone doing Web design training and someone doing FrontPage training so they can teach users to write their own Web pages."

Bonus programs: "We have a companywide program called EVA [Extra Value-Added], which is an incentive for people to go out there and work for the betterment of the company, make sure our customers are well-serviced and hold costs down. We give out bonuses based on how well the company is doing on the EVA plan, and we have an IS-specific EVA plan."

Dress code: "Slacks and a golf shirt. And we have dress-down Fridays, when we can wear blue jeans. The dress code was a big thing for me when I came here in '79 because I came from a three-piece-suit environment. Even on Saturdays, we were expected to wear a tie. So here, I wore a tie my first three days on the job, and the company chairman [and founder], George Stephen, said, 'Willy, if you come in one more day with that tie, I'll cut it off.' "

Must people carry beepers? Cell phones? "Most of our critical, on-call people have Nextel phones with the two-way radio feature. And I encourage them to keep those on their person at all times. The cost of it is nowhere near the cost of a user who can't get their problem resolved. After all, the name of our department is information services. We have to be there to service the whole company or we're falling down on the job, end of story."

Percentage of staff that telecommutes on a given day: "None."

Office decor: "The outside offices have great color shots of the history of Weber and different grills and how manufacturing works."

On-site day care or other amenities? "Not right now."

Free refreshments: Coffee and tea. "Also, we have a chef who tests recipes on our grills, and that's a fun time here because you can smell what's cooking all throughout the building. Then we get to sample the results, and it's a feeding frenzy - like a shark attack when they sense blood in the water."

Favorite item in candy dish: M&Ms.

The one thing everyone complains about: "I really don't know, because we just got brand-new offices, we've got the staff we need to handle the job in a professional manner and any requests I've ever made to the president of the company for new equipment or personnel, he says, 'Go get it.' "

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing CEO James Stephen? "Definitely."

- Leslie Goff (lgoff@ix.netcom.com)

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Copyright © 2000 IDG Communications, Inc.

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