Best Places to Work 2011

Don’t believe everything you read—there are dozens of great places to work that are hiring.

By Christianna McCausland, with Christina Antoniades, Ken Iglehart, and Martha Thomas.

–Illustration by Peter Oumanski

If you believe the experts, the economy is returning to health in almost every way. The ways that it’s still anemic? Well, housing would be one of them. And, unfortunately, jobs is the other.

So plenty of people are still thankful to be holding onto any job, much less a great one. But, believe it or not, good companies are hiring out there, and we went looking for them.

Whatever your reason for looking—whether you’ve been out of work or just fallen out of love with your current gig—these are the 35 best places in Baltimore to start your search.

AAI Corporation

Location: Hunt Valley.
Employees: 1,600 local, 2,600 total.
What they do: Aerospace and defense technology with special emphasis on unmanned aircraft, training and simulation systems.
Why we like them: All the benefits of a big defense contractor but with a familial environment.
Best benefits: Interest-free loans to buy computers for kids or home, on-site Weight Watchers and smoking-cessation programs, $4,000 adoption reimbursement.

Six years ago, Jenn Hervy didn’t know anything more about AAI than what she could see over the security fence from the nearby Home Depot. But when she interviewed there, she was drawn in by the friendly atmosphere. Just as she was hired, though, she discovered she was pregnant. And three days into her new job, she was hospitalized with complications.

“Here I am, a new hire and I’m so anxious that, the third day, I’m in the hospital,” Hervy, director of human resources, recalls. “They laughed at me and said, ‘We’ve gotten along this long without you, we’ll be okay. Take care of yourself and come back when you’re ready.’ That’s really what life is like here. There’s a general understanding that people are human and things happen.”

Though AAI, a division of Textron, is smaller than many of its defense-contractor competitors, it’s growing at a time when others are shrinking. Also unique is that 42 percent of the executive leadership are women, relatively unusual in the defense world.

Over her six years at the company, Hervy has enjoyed informal mentorship herself and was program manager of a formal mentoring program that links high-potential employees with knowledgable staff—and that translates into a good chance for advancement. The Hunt Valley incarnation of the program ranked highest in satisfaction across all Textron companies.

Accella

Location: Odenton.
Employees: 14.
What they do: Mobile app and website development.
Why we like them: Don’t expect to find anyone in the corporate office—100 percent of the staffers telecommute.
Best benefits: Did we mention that everyone works from home? Also a matching 401(k) and health and dental benefits.

Marketing VP Jon Stroz had a meeting on a recent morning with Accella’s 13 employees without ever leaving his house in Canton. Using GoToMeeting, an online web-conferencing technology, the team was able to talk shop from their respective homes. According to Stroz, the arrangement isn’t for everyone, but for the right person, Accella’s telecommuting culture provides unprecedented flexibility and job autonomy.

“There’s a certain level of trust at a company like ours that you’re going to get the work done,” he explains. “You don’t have someone peering over your shoulder and you don’t
watch a clock.”

The model works for Accella, which employs programmers, coders, and designers and plans to soon beef up its sales and marketing staff. They’ve recently designed mobile apps for Runner’s World and the National Archives and a website for Bay Bank of Maryland. Their work is done online and is not a tangible product, so a virtual office environment makes sense. But it does make hiring a little more unique.

“It takes more work in the hiring process to find someone who can work from home,” says Stroz. Although the company doesn’t care if you do the work from midnight to sunrise, or 9 to 5, employees must exhibit the discipline to hit major deadlines and benchmarks.

You can find Stroz at his local coffee shop several days a week. Other employees, especially those with small children, enjoy the freedom of running errands and attending kids’ events without being a slave to a manager. “The entire organization is built on trust,” says Stroz.

ADG Creative

Location: Columbia.
Employees: 45.
What they do: Strategic communications, marketing, advertising, interactive media production, eLearning, publications and graphic design, video production.
Why we like them: Giving employees the freedom to create both the product and the corporate culture.
Best benefits: Strong representation of women in leadership and sweet new offices complete with retail-style coffeehouse.

While most other creative agencies have been hit hard by the recession, ADG is growing, posting more than 10 jobs on their site last autumn alone. Chief creative officer and founder Jeff Antkowiak credits their success to a good balance of clients and services.

“We serve two main audiences, the private sector and the federal sector. Neither is bulletproof, but serving both communities in about 50-50 proportion has been great because when one is slow the other tends to be busy,” he explains. “We also have diversification of skill-sets in-house—we do video in-house, we do strategy and PR in-house, we do design and interactive in-house.” Clients include the Department of Defense as well as banking, pharmaceutical, and tech companies. And the company’s growth recently inspired a move to a larger, 28,000-square-foot space.

Just because there’s a lot of work doesn’t mean there’s no fun. Antkowiak still remembers his days as an underappreciated creative in a different agency and has vowed to treat his employees as he would want to be treated. That includes yearly awards of bonus vacation days and a trip allowance. Recent awards have been given for the individual who sacrificed the most for the company and most innovative team member. F-BOM (First Beverage is On Me) outings at a nearby restaurant are agenda-less meetings that allow employees to mull over creative ideas outside the confines of the office.

Advance—The Document Specialists

Location: Cockeysville.
Employees: 180.
What they do: Provide multifunctional printers and copiers, electronic document management, and print services.
Why we like them: Even as they’ve grown, they’ve kept that family feel established by husband-and-wife cofounders Alan and Lois Elkin.
Best benefits: Twice weekly personal trainer, advancement training through a designated management council.

When most people think of Advance, they think of Alan Elkin’s wacky commercials: Elkin dangling out of a helicopter being air-dropped onto the deck of a clipper ship; Elkin putt-putting away from a cruise ship in a dinghy wearing a tuxedo; or Elkin in faux fashion strutting down a catwalk, all to demonstrate his commitment to service. Those commercials show that Elkin, and his co-owner wife Lois, may take their work seriously, but they don’t necessarily take themselves seriously. And that same attitude—warm, parental, maybe a little silly—permeates the Cockeysville office where their company is headquartered. They even bring their golden retriever, Matti, in to work every day.

“Lois always says something along the lines of, ‘We have a very large family and not everyone’s last name is Elkin,’” says Lindsay Kelley, marketing manager. It’s not uncommon for children to be in the office, stopping by to have lunch with a parent. Advance is heavily involved in local nonprofits (both philanthropically and through discounts on products and services) and has internal contests, picnics, and luaus to keep up company morale. Each year, as part of the company’s emphasis on wellness, they host a weight-loss challenge. And to encourage promotion from within, there’s a management council to cross-train and develop staffers beyond just the discipline they were hired for.

“We look for the best people and provide an environment that helps the best people achieve their professional objectives,” says Jeff Elkin, Alan and Lois’s son and the current COO. “We believe strongly that it’s impossible to be passionate about our customers if our people don’t feel that we’re passionate about them.”

Ascend One

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Five
Location: Columbia
Employees: 753 total, 511 in Maryland.
What they do: Provide financial management services to help highly leveraged consumers get out of debt.

BD (formerly Becton Dickinson)

Location: Sparks.
Employees: 1,600 in Baltimore, 28,000 worldwide.
What they do: Combat global disease through the development of medical devices, instruments, drugs, and vaccines.
Why we like them: They are a big company that shares the wealth with employees.
Best benefits: Generous tuition reimbursement (and scholarships for dependents) and health care, bonuses and matching 401(k), Ethics Hot Line for airing disputes.

When LuQuonda Waters was debating a job offer at BD against a nearby competitor, she asked to see the other company’s benefit package.

“There was no tuition assistance and you had to earn your vacation,” she recalls. “I love that, at BD, you start out each year with three weeks’ vacation. And there is no probation period on benefits. At BD, I could use the tuition benefit from day one.”

Waters came to BD with a high school diploma and a certificate from a laboratory training program. She wanted to get a bachelor’s degree. So when she learned at orientation that BD would pay 100 percent of her tuition as long as she managed a C average, she was thrilled. She’s currently in her final year at CCBC Essex getting an associate degree in medical laboratory technology (MLT). To date, BD has footed the bill for about $12,000 including reimbursement for books and school supplies.

“And not only did they pay for my degree, but they will honor it by giving me a raise for it,” she says. “This shows me that they actually care about their employees.”

In addition to tuition reimbursement, the company gives scholastic-based scholarships to employees’ children of up to $3,000 a year. And employees can choose from 24 online classes a year through BD University on topics like conflict resolution, career development, and finance. Says human resources representative Amanda Peterson, “BD looks at it as good for the company, but also good for the associate.”

BTS

Location: Columbia.
Employees: 39.
What they do: A veteran-owned small business providing mobile telecommunications, software, and integration support to the U.S. government and private sector.
Why we like them: Thirty-year-old CEO Sean Lane oversees a fun, start-up culture where folks work hard, play hard, and get paid well for it.
Best benefits: All health insurance costs are 100 percent paid, free food and drinks provided on-site every day, iPhones for all new hires, and access to a vacation condo in Florida.

When Rachel Charlesworth showed her parents her offer letter for her job as an executive assistant at BTS, they couldn’t believe their eyes. “My dad was shocked that all medical benefits were covered,” she says. “He said that never happens anymore and certainly not for someone just starting out their career.”

Indeed, although BTS was formed in 2008 in the heart of the recession, the company is heavy on perks. In addition to full medical coverage, iPhones, and free breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the company cafe, there’s an on-site gym with a Wii Fit and putting green, yoga classes for a mere $5 a class, and at least two weeks’ paid vacation from the get-go. Because the company has substantial government contracts involving military force protection, the average salary is a hefty $101,000.

“We’re a very progressive, forward-thinking company,” says HR manager Beth Schaefer. “We have a lot of young people [the average employee age is 31] and young families; we don’t want people to worry about how they’re going to pay for health care,” she says. They also don’t want employees to burn out, which is why they encourage people to use their vacation time. So much so, that the company recently invested in a condo outside of West Palm Beach that’s open to all employees.

“The perks are simple and basic,” says Robert Croxton, a division GM who’s been with BTS since it opened, “but they’re powerful when you present them against other benefits, or lack thereof, at other companies.”

Chapin Davis Investments

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 59.
What they do: Full-service investment company.
Why we like them: One of the few independent financial-services firms in Baltimore, they try to take the cookie-cutter solutions out of money management.
Best benefits: Large 401(k) match, fee reductions for gym memberships, generous health-care coverage, flexible schedules.

The offices of the Cross Keys headquarters of Chapin Davis Investments don’t quite fit the stereotype of a hive of money managers: Instead of the typical pressure-cooker environment, it seems quite calm, with windows overlooking leafy Roland Park, creamy yellow walls, and comforting artwork of clippers under sail.

“Our industry has come under great scrutiny and many of our competitors had to take bailout money from the federal government,” says Kevin Goodman, managing director. “Because of what they went through, the bureaucracy has become even more entrenched, and, as a result, the big companies are more heavy-handed with their employees. But we don’t beat our financial advisers over the head.”

This freedom to handle their clients the way they feel is best is what keeps Chapin Davis’s employees so happy. “Here, the quality of life is in the camaraderie within the group, and growing your business, and making money the way you want to, versus how the firm wants you to,” says Thomas Thibeault, vice president and financial adviser.

Autonomy also means no clock-watching.

Michael Dougherty Jr. says it isn’t uncommon for him to leave at 4 p.m. and no one gives you the evil eye if you take a two-hour lunch. “You have the freedom to do business the way you want to do it,” he says. Chapin Davis also has a higher number of women on staff than some finance shops (21 percent). And they’re stable: They have about $1 billion under management, set a revenue record in 2009, and were up 55 percent in 2010. The acid test? In the past seven years, the firm hasn’t lost one adviser to a competitor.

CollabraSpace

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Annapolis.
Employees: 52.
What they do: Create enterprise application development and web-based collaboration solutions for government and commercial entities.

CyberPoint International

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 46 in the city, three internationally.
What they do: A privately held cyber-security company protecting government and private interests.
Why we like them: A family-friendly workplace that has shown extraordinary interest in developing the local workforce.
Best benefits: Generous coverage of health insurance and tuition costs, $500 allowance for professional-development expenses, family-friendly policies including a designated kids’ and mothers’ room on-site.

Even when CyberPoint was housed in the condo of its founders Vicki and Karl Gumtow, the couple knew they wanted their fledgling business to be one that contributed to the community. In January 2010, they got office space and have grown from a staff of two to more than 40, including three employees in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the demands of explosive growth, they’ve kept their philanthropic promise.

“We strongly believe that we’ve gotten where we are through education, and we wanted to share that with young people who might not have the same opportunities we had,” says Vicki Gumtow, who also serves as director of human resources.

CyberPoint connected with Cristo Rey, a Jesuit high school in Fells Point serving at-risk youth, and joined the school’s mentoring program, which is like an internship, hosting four students at the company per year. CyberPoint kicks in half the students’ tuition (about $24,000 for all four kids) and at least one teenager is in the offices each day.

“The program definitely makes me feel better about the company,” says Matt Marshall, principal network engineer and a team leader for the mentoring program. “The company is very Baltimore-oriented and the fact that they want to do this for these kids is great. I’m helping someone to strive to want something better.”

DLA Piper

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 3,500 globally, 350 in Baltimore.
What they do: Law firm.

Financial Advantage

Location: Columbia.
Employees: 11.
What they do: Fee-only advisory firm focused on retirement planning and investment management.
Why we like them: Their respect for people's personal and family lives and commitment to gender diversity in top management.
Best benefits: 100 percent health-care coverage, bereavement leave, flextime and telework options, free investment and retirement planning services.

Mary Thompson worked at the highest level of IT in the financial industry for many years, then put her career on hold when she had two children. When her youngest entered kindergarten, she faced what many women dread: reentering the workforce. She was hired at Financial Advantage to do client services, for which she was overqualified, but the company let her work the part-time schedule she wanted.

Before long, though, management at Financial Advantage saw potential in Thompson that she hadn't even seen herself. "Once I started working here, the company spoke to me about whether I'd be interested in pursing a career as a financial planner and adviser," she recalls. The company supported her through the Certified Financial Planner exam, which she passed in July, and honored her certification by making her a financial planning associate full time.

"Being able to reenter the workforce and have someone take you seriously and be willing to work with you and build your skill set is rare," she says.

Training the right person for the right job—or creating a job when the right candidate comes along—is standard operating procedure, according to Lyn Dippel, vice president and senior adviser at Financial Advantage. In January 2010, she also became a principal in the firm. "We really try not to pigeonhole people," she explains. "We try to create the job around the person's interests and skill sets."

Financial Advantage's small size and commitment to grow quickly (yet sensibly) makes it perhaps more open to trying new things, like writing flexible-work job descriptions and finding unusual ways to divide responsibility. Thompson has seen that firsthand. "At a big company, you might get put on a path and it's harder to jump out of it," she states. "Here, if you're interested in doing something, they'll give you the opportunity and support you in pursuing that opportunity."

Grant Thornton

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 32,000 globally, 60 in Baltimore.
What they do: Accounting firm.
Why we like them: They offer a lot of flexible work options and many benefits to help with work-life balance like dependent care, commuter spending accounts, and an employee assistance program.
Best benefits: $10,000 adoption reimbursement, 80 percent coverage of tuition with no annual limit, yearly bonuses, over three weeks' vacation to start.

Tax manager Kellee DiAngelo loves the view from her office on the 24th floor of the old Alex. Brown Building. But things inside the Grant Thornton office are just as sweet. In the decade she's worked for the firm, it's grown from a regional to a global company, which has only increased her love of her work.

"It's why I stay here," she explains. "I feel like there are so many opportunities now that we're not just Baltimore-based anymore. I don't feel stagnant. I feel challenged, and we can work between regions and use our international relations."

Matt Gerkens, an audit manager, got the opportunity of a lifetime when he was offered a position in Grant Thornton's Shanghai office for three years. "That's really shaped my professional career," he says. "Being an international firm, you can take advantage of those opportunities."

In 2004, GT launched a committee, Women at Grant Thornton, of which DiAngelo is a new member. The group will help women assess their work-life issues, and progress toward leadership in their professional careers.

Although GT has the resources of a big firm, it's the family feel of the place that retains people. The company encourages employees to participate as a team in community-service projects. They also have an annual awards banquet where triumphs, even those as seemingly minor as passing a CPA exam, are recognized. "It's not just a shallow celebration," says Gerkens. "People really, legitimately want to celebrate with you, and that adds to a family-like environment."

Employees can compress their work week, use flextime and telework, or create their own hybrid schedules. According to DiAngelo, now that the company is using Tax Symphony, an electronic work system, she can work from anywhere. Recently she was logged in while waiting for her five-year-old daughter's pediatrician. Later, she sat in on a web conference from her sofa at home. In a few months, she'll be able to enjoy another benefit—eight weeks of maternity leave—when her second child arrives. 

The Johns Hopkins University

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Four
Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 33,170.
What they do: A world-class research university with multiple satellite campuses here and abroad that lays claim to 34 Nobel Prize winners.

Hodes, Pessin & Katz, P.A.

Location: Towson, Bel Air, Cambridge, Columbia.
Employees: 97.
What they do: Law firm.
Why we like them: They’re willing to loosen the ties occasionally and have a little fun.
Best benefits: Matching 401(k), generous vacation, partial tuition reimbursement, and on-site vaccinations.

Billy Apostolou is a member of the Fun Committee at Hodes, Pessin & Katz, P.A. (HPK), a group comprised of staffers at various levels who do pretty much what the name suggests: They help plan monthly events that include laser tag, community service days, and barbecue kick-offs for the Ravens and Orioles seasons. “Obviously, it’s a law firm,” he says. “It’s a stress level not everyone can take, but it’s managed by balancing work stress with work fun.” Not only are the events a chance to blow off steam, they help integrate everyone, from the top attorneys to the legal secretaries, in a social setting.

But there’s more to offer at HPK than fun and games (and HD televisions in the attorney lounges): Apostolou is looking forward to attending law school, for which HPK will pay some of the tab. To help him transition into school, the firm enrolled him in classes at a community college in legal research and writing and also footed the bill. HPK honors its promises to promote from within, having moved paralegals to attorney status when they pass the bar. And unlike some firms that have cut staff and frozen hiring, HPK is looking for new talent to meet a growing demand.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Laurel.
Employees: 4,700.
What they do: A not-for-profit engineering, research, and development organization. Technically a part of the university, but conducts mostly government-sponsored work ranging from space probes to undersea warfare technology.

Next Century Corporation

Location: Columbia.
Employees: 65.
What they do: Software services, much of which are classified.
Why we like them: They do Department of Defense work that saves the lives of first responders and war fighters in a culture that underscores the value of ethical behavior.
Best benefits: Optional free HMO or generous coverage of other health plans, 100 percent tuition reimbursement, free on-site gym.

In their applications to be considered for Baltimore’s “Best Places to Work” feature, Next Century’s employees routinely commented on the level of integrity within the company.
“The company is led by enthusiastic, ethical people,” wrote Jocelyn Casto, a software engineer. “To the owners, this company is not about the bottom dollar, it’s about doing the right thing, which leads to customers who trust us and give us work faster than we can find people to fulfill it.”

Upon hiring, every employee receives the company’s “guiding principles,” which have ethics at the top of the list. This emphasis can be traced to John McBeth, the company’s president and CEO and one of four people who founded Next Century in 2002.

The hiring process at Next Century is grueling (and jobs often require some level of security clearance). The leadership team, including McBeth, still meets with every candidate. “I’m looking to find out the kind of person you are,” he says.

For cynics who question McBeth’s commitment to his own jargon, any doubt is dispelled at a new-employee orientation where he is the first presenter. “I like to talk about the experiences that I’ve had in the industry in the past,” he explains. By way of illustration, he points to companies like Arthur Andersen, where ethics violations precipitated a downfall. “As a company, growth is important, but not as important as integrity. We will stop growing, we’ll shrink if we have to, but we won’t compromise those values.”

The Johns Hopkins Hospital/The Johns Hopkins Health System

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Five
Location: Baltimore and statewide.
Employees: 30,000.
What they do: Hopkins Hospital is one of the top hospitals in the nation and a major employer in the region, hiring approximately 1,800 new employees annually. But it is just the best known part of a sprawling health-care system.

Praxis Engineering

Location: Annapolis Junction.
Employees: 200.
What they do: Provide consulting, products, and software, mostly to the feds and mostly classified.
Why we like them: Ninety-five percent of employees get a yearly bonus, and the company hasn’t missed a year since 2002.
Best benefits: Contribution to 401(k) with no match required, up to $10,000 referral bonus, substantial continuing-ed allowance.

Debbie Mobley has been in human resources for 25 years, but since coming on board at Praxis as an HR manager last year, she’s seen something she hasn’t seen elsewhere: a company with a well-articulated mission. “Many companies do not have a vision, or, if they do, it’s so squishy they can’t state it to their workforce and it’s very difficult for the employees to have a focus,” she says. “Here, the vision is stated: To be a preeminent provider of solutions to our customers.”

Praxis takes its core values so seriously, they’re incorporated into annual reviews. Staff know they will be measured by their contributions to the success of customers, employee development, technical excellence, fiscal responsibility, and community involvement. By structuring the company on these strong pillars, it creates a unified corporate culture.

New hires have plenty of time to get accustomed to the Praxis ways. “Unlike most organizations, where orientation is enroll-in-your-benefits-and-have-a-nice-day, we do significant on-boarding to help new employees assimilate into the culture,” says Mobley. “In addition, we have a new-employee immersion program that is actually conducted by the founding partners of the organization, typically once a quarter.”

To keep employees happy from the inside out, there are always free snacks and drinks in the office, and technology—a key part of Praxis’s business—gets upgraded regularly to keep employees on the cutting edge.

Praxis is hiring a lot, but most positions require U.S. citizenship and some security clearance.

LifeBridge Health

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 6,961.
What they do: A comprehensive health-care provider in Northwest Baltimore whose entities include Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, Northwest Hospital, Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital, and Courtland Gardens Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Studio 921 Salon & Day Spa

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 50.
What they do: Full-service salon and spa.
Why we like them: Breaking the mold of how salons treat employees.
Best benefits: Matching 401(k), access to health care, paid vacation.

Until now, salons haven’t made the “Best Places to Work” list because they haven’t been able to compete with the benefits provided by traditional companies. Studio 921 Salon & Day Spa is trying to change that.

“Most salons don’t give paid vacation, and if there’s a 401(k), they certainly don’t match it,” says stylist Amber Rohleder. Another stylist, Susan Channell, sums it up this way: “My previous salon experience was ‘fend for yourself.’ This is the first of the three salons I’ve worked in that offered so many benefits.”

Studio 921 offers a 401(k) with a three percent match, one week of paid vacation (after the first year), flexible schedules (hey, the owners are mothers, too), and access to affordable group health insurance. This year, partners Colleen Smith and Judy Sulisufaj Kelly added dental and vision benefits at the request of employees. When the staff asked if the salon could be open seven days a week, they listened. The co-owners say they’re running the salon the way they would any other business, with common sense they picked up working at staffing giant Aerotek, where Smith was in finance and Kelly in sales.

In addition, the salon picks up 50 percent of the tab for continuing education and sponsors free in-salon training at least once a quarter to keep up with the rapidly changing beauty industry. “This is the first salon I’ve worked in where the ownership doesn’t get in your way,” says Janet Stephens, a stylist. “They’re always willing to try new things or add new services if you can bring in the business for it.” For example, when a massage therapist wanted to learn Thai massage, the owners gave her leave to go there.

“We learned a lot from Aerotek about retaining employees,” says Kelly. “Typically, salons are a revolving door. We wanted to be the antithesis of that.”

McCormick & Company

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Five
Location: Sparks.
Employees: 5,500 outside Maryland, 2,200 in the state.
What they do: Strive to make foods taste better through multiple brands and business units focused on spices and flavoring.

T. Rowe Price

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 4,925.
What they do: Global investment management.
Why we like them: They keep up a familial environment in a high-stakes industry and help people thrive in their careers.
Best benefits: Generous retirement benefits, stock purchase plans to all employees, gym reimbursement program, health benefits extended to same- and opposite-gender domestic partners.

Diana Kendall might be a little biased in her affinity for T. Rowe Price—after all, she met her husband on the company softball team. In fact, it was things like coed sports teams and the congenial atmosphere that brought her to the company 10 years ago. She is also involved in community service and was able to take a day off last fall to help out with preparation for The Maryland Zoo’s ZooBoo fundraiser.

She’s stayed for the growth opportunities. Kendall has had a chance to advance five times and is now manager of mutual fund administration. “Our senior managers are very approachable,” she says. “You never feel an intimidating, hierarchical structure. I personally have had a lot of face time with our president and CEO, our chairman, our head of investments——some of my friends find that mind-boggling.”

August Vanderdonckt joined a T. Rowe call center straight from hogeschool, or post-secondary education, in his home country of Belgium. He, too, worked his way up, taking advantage of formal and informal training along the way. He’s now lead manager within global investment services. “I always felt, and I don’t think I’m an exception, that my boss was looking out for me, making sure I did my job right, but also how do we keep this person here and challenge him and make him grow if he wants to grow,” he explains.

In uncertain times, it’s important to Kendall that when her company is in the headlines, it is generally for something good. “We’re coming off a challenging time in the market,” she admits. “The company maintained a conservative stance, and I feel so many of us are proud of the decisions senior management made. I’m happy about the image we portray to the community.”

Merkle

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Columbia.
Employees: 1,400 nationally, about 400 in Maryland.
What they do: Marketing.

Under Armour

Location: Baltimore.
Employees: 3,363.
What they do: Design, produce, and distribute sports apparel, accessories, and, now footwear, coveted by pro-athletes and amateurs alike.
Why we like them: Team spirit doesn't just apply to the end user of the products—it's part of the corporate culture.
Best benefits: Company-wide bonus eligibility, subsidized cafe and fitness center at HQ, 50 percent discount on merchandise, discounts on sporting event tickets.

"You don't have to be an athlete to work here, though many of our employees are, " says Melissa Wallace, senior vice president of talent. "What you need is a love of the game, and, by game, I mean sport, whether it's running or a team sport like football."

The team spirit she alludes to is so important that every new hire (no matter how senior) attends UA 101, a two-day orientation. After a day of classroom work, newbies are sent to the distribution house to pack orders, ship products, and learn other basic operational and retail skills. "It's important that every employee understand the complete lifespan of the product," says Wallace.

Not surprisingly, the fitness of employees is encouraged. In 2010, Under Armour opened a new, subsidized gym at its Tide Point campus, the Combine 360 Training Center (CTC), which is managed by FX Studios. The Humble & Hungry Café (named after one of CEO Kevin Plank's favorite expressions) is also a new addition. It serves healthy meals and snacks designed by the CTC's trainers. The cafe is trying to be a zero-waste operation to increase Under Armour's "green" impact. (It gets some of its organic vegetables and herbs from an employee-maintained urban garden.)

Under Armour is one of the fastest-growing companies in its industry, and sales in 2010 came within a few dollars of the $1 billion goal post.

Says Wallace, "Our mantra is to be the biggest, baddest brand on the planet."

Northrop Grumman Corporation (Electronic Systems Sector)

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Five
Location: Linthicum.
Employees: 21,200 worldwide, 8,500 in Maryland.
What they do: Develop electronic systems and sensors for the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies.

VA Maryland Health Care System

Location: Baltimore (with facilities statewide).
Employees: 2,876, system-wide.
What they do: Health care for America’s veterans.
Why we like them: Beating that bad, old rap of VA hospitals as broken-down places with outdated technology and understaffing—and doing it with a remarkable esprit de corps.
Best benefits: It’s a federal agency, so there are competitive salaries, up to five weeks’ paid vacation a year, pension plans, and subsidies for transit and child care. The hospital foots the bill for continuing education, too.

There are a few things you notice when you enter the VA Maryland Health Care System. First is the volume of veterans sporting ball caps with their military designation. The hospital serves a distinct population and it’s evident right away. Second, you can’t miss the construction. The entry lobby atrium is sheathed in plastic to accommodate growth. Although the hospital has been in its current location less than 20 years, the aging of the Vietnam and Korean War population, coupled with young vet patients from Afghanistan and Iraq, have the hospital scurrying to keep up. The paint is just dry on a new women’s health center.

When the dust clears, the most defining thing about the hospital is the sheer number of computers. The hospital operates under a completely electronic recordkeeping system so a doctor (or team of doctors) can easily track and share a patient’s information across departments—or across the country. All medicines are tracked with a computerized bar-coding system. In the office of the trauma recovery program, clinical psychologist Sushma Roberts, Ph.D., demonstrates a new virtual reality simulator that helps vets with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) revisit battlegrounds from Vietnam up to Afghanistan to confront their repressed memories. For PTSD and substance-abuse patients in the hospital’s 10-bed residential facility, small but comfortable bedrooms open onto a pleasant living room with a flat screen TV, computer with Internet access, Xbox, and a Wii.

“The system performs better than its reputation would lead you to believe,” says Dr. Richard Pierson, director of the Surgical Care Clinical Center, who has overseen a 30 percent growth in access to surgical services in less than five years. “That perception of the VA is outdated. If you look at the New England Journal of Medicine, the VA is frequently cited as a leader in innovation, outcomes, and quality.”

That pride in one’s mission is something you hear time and again when you talk to staffers, many vets themselves, at Baltimore’s VA Hospital, which is next to the University of Maryland Medical Center. (VA docs there are also on the UM School of Medicine staff.) And aside from benefits, pay, and perks, that’s something that makes people want to roll out of bed for work in the morning.

There’s no outmoded technology here. In fact, the surgery department just rehabbed all its outpatient rooms and the radiology department just got new CT and MRI scanners, not to mention a state-of-the-art new reading room that Eliot Siegel, chief of imaging services, calls “the reading room of the future.” Designed with a grant from General Electric, it features blue lighting (better to read scans by), ergonomic chairs, and radiology-inspired artwork on the walls. VA Maryland was one of the first hospitals in the world to go completely filmless with radiology.

“As a patient here, you have access to the best equipment in the city,” says Siegel.

Chris Buser, clinical director of the Post Deployment Health Reintegration Program, was so inspired by his work at the VA that he joined the reserves and served two active-duty stints. “This really is a place where the staff, the equipment, and patients are on the cutting-edge; this isn’t some broken-down system no one would want to go to,” he explains. “This is a place where our nation can be proud of how we take care of veterans.”

TESSCO Technologies

Number of times on this list in the past five years: Three
Location: Hunt Valley.
Employees: 950.
What they do: Creates and delivers products to support wireless systems.

Verizon Wireless

Location: Laurel.
Employees: 80,000 nationwide, 2,000 in Maryland.
What they do: Wireless service provider.
Why we like them: They’re committed to diversity and career development and share the company’s financial success with employees.
Best benefits: Many retirement-plan benefits, profit sharing, and comprehensive health coverage including on-site mammography.

Charlene Harvin lost her cousin to breast cancer, so she knows how important getting a regular mammogram is to her own health. However, at age 44, with two active teenagers to keep up with, as well as her job as a customer-service supervisor at Verizon Wireless, making the time for the screening just never seemed to happen. She was in the on-site gym at company headquarters when she saw the notice that Verizon Wireless was hosting mammography screenings right there in the offices.

“Once I saw it, I signed up because I realized it had been two years since my last mammogram,” she says. “You get busy, you’re running around and you just forget to take care of yourself when you are taking care of everyone else.”

Robin Bell-Crawford, an administrative coordinator, also took advantage of the on-site screening: “I welcomed the opportunity to go downstairs and be in and out in 20 minutes,” she says. The results showed an anomaly that turned out to be benign, but required a follow up with her primary doctor. “In my doctor’s office, they were shocked that the company paid for the exam. They said I was very fortunate to have that opportunity.”

As a busy working mother, Bell-Crawford has taken advantage of other Verizon Wireless benefits, such as tuition reimbursement that paid for credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Verizon Wireless’s commitment to women carries outside the company, too: Through its HopeLine program that responsibly recycles old phones, the company has distributed more than 90,000 phones with the equivalent of more than 300 million minutes of free wireless service to be used by victims of domestic violence.

W.R. Grace & Co.

Location: Columbia.
Employees: 5,910 total, 1,114 in Maryland.
What they do: Create and produce specialty materials and chemical products.
Why we like them: They’re generous to employees with extraordinary emphasis on health care and safety; also have a foundation for charitable works.
Best benefits: 100 percent tuition reimbursement, on-site medical clinic at headquarters, paternity leave for dads, 100 percent company match on 401(k) up to six percent of base salary.

You’d never know where W.R. Grace is located until you’re actually on top of it. The campus of its Columbia headquarters is tucked onto 166 verdant acres shaded by old-growth trees and embraced by a wooded walking path. It begs the question: Is this what a big, bad chemical company looks like?

Grace took a publicity hit a decade ago when it was forced to file for bankruptcy after facing several asbestos-related lawsuits. However, the Grace of today is profitable, with annual sales of $3 billion, has an impressive voluntary staff turnover rate of only five percent, and ranks high for safety: In 2009, their recordable safety incident rate was 0.70. (Anything below 1.0 is considered world-class.)

Matt Terpay, a supply-chain financial analyst, applied for a job at Grace after reading about the company in a past year’s “Best Places to Work” list in Baltimore. Grace has lived up to his expectations: “I love it here,” he says. “There are a lot of great people, the benefits are great. I just went and saw our company doctor on Monday, and she gave me some prescriptions.”

On-site medical care is a major bonus of working for Grace. A complete primary-care facility provides employees with fairly comprehensive health care including help monitoring chronic conditions like diabetes, full physicals, immunization for international travel, and flu shots. In another nod to wellness, the on-site gym has free personal training.

Another benefit Terpay has enjoyed is tuition reimbursement. Grace is currently paying for him to get his MBA at night. As part of its commitment to higher education, Grace has given more than $1.6 million in college scholarships to the children of its employees since that program started in 1989.

Grace is a major community presence, too. Its foundation, an independent 501(c)(3) founded in 1961, gives about $1.2 million annually to charitable causes.

Zynga

Location: Timonium.
Employees: 1,300, about 35 in Baltimore.
What they do: Develop social games for the Web.
Why we like them: They’ve transplanted a slice of the quirky Silicon Valley startup vibe to Timonium.
Best benefits: Quarterly bonuses, free gym membership, free catered lunch daily, four weeks vacation to start.

The Timonium offices of Zynga look a bit like a college dorm room. There are oversized black leather sofas strewn with gaming consoles for Xbox, several large, flat-screen TVs, and a Razor scooter that is propped against a desk where a houseplant is losing its battle for life. Even the employees look like they could be college kids. Everyone is young and wearing jeans with rumpled T-shirts and an array of colorful knit caps.

“It’s the Silicon Valley ghetto aesthetic,” laughs Brian Reynolds, chief game designer who got Zynga East off the ground about a year ago.

If you ever planted a virtual field on Facebook, you know Zynga. The San Francisco-based company is behind the popular FarmVille and Mafia Wars games on the social networking site. The staff designs and writes the games, deploying them online and managing the play of millions of people a day. “It’s sort of like running a television show,” says Reynolds. “You need to keep new episodes coming or players won’t come back.”

FrontierVille, which was developed in the Timonium office and launched in June 2010 and which is also a role-playing game like FarmVille (instead of a farm, though, the player plays the role of a pioneer in the American West), is the second most popular game on Facebook, a success that took the Maryland team by surprise and fueled tremendous growth.

As a thank you to the employees who built FrontierVille, the entire team went to Manhattan in December and took over the Rockefeller Center skating rink for an evening. The free lunch delivery from local restaurants every day and the super-casual dress code are also morale boosters. The company is at the forefront of a burgeoning industry and making serious money even in a recession, which it shares with employees through quarterly bonuses and generous awards. (Atlas Award winners who exemplify the Zynga work ethic get a $5,000 trip anywhere in the world; Zynga Spirit award winners get $100,000 of vested stock.)

The vacation picture is a winner, too: Zynga’s policy is an informal “take a break when you need one,” except for hourly employees, who get four weeks. “We try to get people to take a week off a quarter,” says Reynolds. “There’s only so much work people can do in a crunch.”


Avoiding Online Faux Pas
A job search is the time to clean up your e-act.

If you don’t think your employer is looking at your online presence, think again. Managers are now savvy about social media and look at a candidate’s profile online. Everything from your credit score to your legal history is only a few clicks away.

It isn’t always pretty. Just ask independent management consultant Alison Green who, until recently, served as the chief of staff for a local nonprofit. When an entry-level applicant included a link to his blog in his e-mail cover letter, the staff naturally clicked it.

“My hiring assistant forwarded it to me with a note that said ‘I can’t believe he talks about his blog in his cover letter, because if you notice, he writes all about chronic masturbation.’ I immediately clicked on it thinking she had to be exaggerating,” says Green. “Sure enough, he wrote about it frequently and not in a literary, Philip Roth way, but in a 22-year-old guy way.”

Needless to say, he didn’t get the job.

Although the applicant had given information on his blog to the potential employer, Green says her cursory Google search would have turned it up anyway. And it wasn’t the subject matter that bothered her, but what it revealed about the candidate.

“For me, it’s all about judgment,” she explains. “As an aspiring professional in the middle of a job search, there’s an issue with making it so easy for an employer to stumble on that.” Hiring isn’t an exact science and there’s only so much you can learn about a person in a one-hour interview, which is why the Web is so helpful.

“The Internet functions a little bit like being in a small town used to be, it’s a way to learn more about someone,” Green says.

Employers can find you online (those privacy settings aren’t firewalls, you know). Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t blog about your sex life or put topless photos on Facebook. Just don’t expect HR not to find it.


GETTING HIRED IN A RECESSION
Regardless of the industry, there are some job-seeking practices that always apply, even in a downturn.

“As a recruiter, our first impression is how you submit your application online,” says Joanie Montgomery, in HR at Levindale LifeBridge Health Center. “If the person isn’t taking the time to put what is necessary that we require on the application, it’s not a good show for us. I’m looking for those who take the time to give the attention to what we’re looking for.”
“Details are very important to us,” says Deborah Mello, a nursing recruitment and retention consultant at Sinai Hospital. “When we’re reviewing applications, we’re sorting out, not in.” That means making sure your cover letter and resume are tailored to a job. On a resume, put the most important and relevant criteria at the top. In cut-and-paste haste, don’t get sloppy and put another company’s name or the wrong position title on a cover letter. Remember there are at least five applicants for every one job, and HR can cut you for carelessness alone.
Many job seekers think they’re judged on their resume and interview, but every facet of your life, from your e-mail address to your online presence, speaks to your on-the-job potential. Make sure your e-mail address and voicemail message put forth a professional vibe. “I recently called someone and had to sit through a song message with really foul language,” recalls Mello. “If you are honestly seeking a position, every aspect of your life needs to be tailored.”
Certainly, many are career shifting these days, which can be hard when you’re up against people who have the exact criteria for a position. If you are trying to apply for a job where your soft skills—such as being articulate and poised—translate, but your hard skills—actual experience in a specific area—are lacking, take a course, get a certification, or somehow demonstrate a willingness to be educated in the new field.
If you make it to the interview, don’t blow it with silly mistakes. According to Montgomery, a few things turn an interviewer off right away. Wearing blue jeans is one. Multiple piercings are another. “Jeans and piercings might be okay if you are going to work in a rock band,” she explains. Even if you know staffers dress casually in the workplace where you’re applying, it’s still wise to dress up, not down. Another assignment is learning about the organization you’re interviewing with. “There’s nothing worse than asking an applicant, ‘What do you know about us?’ and them saying, ‘Not much,’” says Montgomery.
With so many qualified candidates, attitude is everything. Resumes of potential employees who demonstrate a flexible, can-do attitude and can offer examples of their ability to work with a team, meet deadlines, and exceed quality expectations will end up in that tiny “good pile.”
To really push yourself over the top, always follow up your interview with a thank-you note, either mailed or e-mailed. They get forwarded up the chain of command and show an extra level of effort others might forget.


RECESSION GOT YOU DOWN? CAREER CHANGE!

Plenty of jobs tanked in the bad economy, which has many people wondering if their industry will rebound before the bill collector comes knocking. If you're one of them, the best idea might be to career shift.

"If you are doing everything right and the market isn't biting, out of necessity you may need to expand your search," says Cheryl Heisler, president and founder of the Chicago-based, national consultancy Lawternatives, used to help disgruntled lawyers find new career paths. With a glut of law school grads stagnating on the unemployment line, she now finds herself helping even happy lawyers to find a new way.

"There's more to a person than the title on their diploma," she explains. "I have an exercise where I ask people to strip away the label and break down their skill sets into things that are more generic and marketable, so you can see yourself as someone who can do something besides practice law, design a building, or finance deals."

That's what Mark Debinski did. When he joined CSD Architects in 2007, he couldn't imagine a safer job than to be with a firm with over six decades of successful history and a national reputation. Debinski joined as CFO/COO to oversee a generational ownership change.

"In the spring of 2007, I realized the Titanic had indeed hit an iceberg and was taking on water," he recalls. "Then the economy struck, and I found myself in the precarious position of telling a boardroom of people, ŒYour company is going out of business.'" The firm was dissolved in 2009. After seeing the company through its liquidation, Debinski had the misfortune of needing a job in the middle of a recession. Rather than beat down already well-beaten doors, he decided to listen to a voice inside his head that was telling him to pursue a long languishing desire to go into consulting. "I never had the risk tolerance to go out on my own," he says. "This opened my eyes that the risk, in today's economy, is no different whether you're on your own or working for a firm. Who would have thought a solid, 62-year-old company would be out of business a few years ago?"

In summer 2010, he started Bluewater Advisory to do business consulting, team and executive coaching, and talent management. By working his professional network and word-of-mouth referrals, he's got more business than he can handle.

According to Heisler, career change, especially in a recession can be liberating. "Once you realize your raw skills can find you opportunities, for the rest of your career you'll realize you aren't limited to one job title."


HOW WE FOUND THEM

We started our process eight months ago with a round of calls and news releases to recruiters, business development leaders, community leaders and, of course, employees. And we promoted our survey on our website. To be considered, employers and/or employees then filled out two distinct, detailed questionnaires, which sought information on 401(k) programs, health benefits, career development offerings, and much more. As always, companies on our list, which is not ranked, had to be financial healthy, which we verified to the best of our ability, and hiring in the coming year.