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Communal commitment

At the behest of a much-maligned generation, our Best Companies increasingly involve their employees in community causes.

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Medium Company Winner

Roche Sequencing Solutions Madison

What do an African train, Second Harvest Foodbank Madison, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum have in common? They are all philanthropic or community-building thrusts of Roche Sequencing Solutions Madison (formerly Roche NimbleGen).

Rebecca Selzer, president and CEO of the Madison genomic sequencing company, notes that the aforementioned train, the Transnet Phelophepa, is not just any train. It’s really a rolling, 18-coach medical clinic owned and operated by Transnet Limited, which is South Africa’s largest state-owned freight transportation company. The train and its younger brother, Phelophepa II, are supported by the entire 90,000-employee strong Roche global organization, and the company’s sponsorship is perfectly aligned with its health care mission.

Phelophepa means good, clean health, and that’s what both versions seek to deliver as they bring to rural African communities the facilities to conduct primary health, dental, and eye checks and provide treatments for any diagnosed conditions. Each local Roche location, including Madison, holds fundraising events to support the trains and local nonprofits that serve the cause of children’s health.

At the Madison location, employees take part in the Roche Children’s Walk, which raises money for the health care clinic on wheels and for American Family Children’s Hospital. “We have a walking path through the university research park,” Selzer notes. “The people who participate all walk it together and so you’ll see people with Roche T-shirts walking through the path.”

The path to local philanthropy begins with employee groups who annually choose one charity and one environmental cause for Roche employees to support. Roche offers eight hours of paid volunteer time, and for the past two years the company’s Adventure Club has coordinated half-day site events at Second Harvest Foodbank, which relies on volunteers to sort food donations. Roche’s environmental group coordinates a half day of weeding and other spruce-up work at the UW Arboretum.

Throughout the year, employees suggest miscellaneous things such as entering a team in Carbone’s Race for Research 5K Run/Walk or having Roche scientists visit local high school science classes. The company believes a community-supporting culture is a vital part of successful workforce recruitment and retention. “It’s definitely making an impact on retention,” Selzer says. “Employees really appreciate the social outreach because it’s important to them, particularly those who go to work for a health care company.”

Michelle Venturini, director of human resources and Site SHE (safety, health, and environmental) Officer, says community engagement gets people’s attention in a job interview. “If everything else is equal, it might tip the scales,” she states. “I can’t say it’s a deal breaker, but it definitely gets a candidate’s attention and interest.”

Small Company Winner

Terso Solutions

Joe Pleshek, president and CEO of Terso Solutions, is fully aware of the expectations employees have for community engagement, which is why Terso is flexible enough to accommodate different levels and types of engagement.

Such contributions, he notes, vary according to your time of life. A young, single worker has more time to get involved with the broader community than parents whose focus naturally turns to their children’s activities until they become empty nesters and can rediscover the joys of broader engagement.

“There is an expectation, increasingly with employees both new and existing, to do more for the community and for families,” Pleshek says. “The key there for individual employees is flexible time. We’re very flexible with our work hours in terms of volunteering at school. A lot of our employees are parents who are taking time off to help out in their children’s schools.”

Pleshek acknowledges that since most of his employee base is salaried, Terso Solutions is in a better position to be flexible as long as the work gets done. “We’re not in the process of counting hours, so it’s more about are you getting the job done? More broadly, we have an expectation as a company that employees are doing things and giving back. We don’t have a specific policy that says we offer eight hours of PTO and you should use those, it’s more of a flexible approach to encouraging people to be involved.”

When they are not working on RFID-enabled inventory-management products for scientific and health care customers, Terso employees volunteer for organizations such as Second Harvest Foodbank, the Underground Pet Rescue organization, and Habitat for Humanity of Dane County.

Whether the cause is company sponsored or an individual interest, the effort usually is employee driven. That’s fine with Pleshek because the above activities contribute to the core value of energy. “We know that bringing a positive energy to work every day really evolves from a balance between the work that we do, our families, and the community,” he explains. “If you have those things in balance in your life, typically you’re going to have energy to bring to your role here at Terso, so that’s where we really push the idea of community involvement.”

Pleshek is gratified that company-wide initiatives result in a high level of staff participation, especially framing houses for Habitat for Humanity.

“When you actually put up those walls together, working side by side with the actual family that will move into the Habitat house, that has just been a wonderful experience for us.”

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