Treating Them Right

List of winners in the Large Companies category

Moneytree Inc.’s co-founders, CEO Dennis Bassford (left),
design director Sara Bassford (center) and executive vice president David
Bassford have a a work environment that follows the company’s core ethos of
treating the customer right.

Winner: Moneytree
At Moneytree Inc., it’s all about the corporate buy-in: Treat people how you want to be treated. That is the mantra, the foundation on which every other corporate decision at the quarter-century-old company is based.
As a result of that buy-in, amazing things have happened over the years at Moneytree. The Seattle payday lender has received 27 civic and corporate awards, including repeat turns as a finalist in the Best Companies to Work For competition. This year marks the second in a row Moneytree has won the award in the large-company category.
And the accolades keep coming, be they customer reviews from Yahoo! and or the Better Business Bureau, which gave Moneytree an A+ rating. Not bad for a 1983 startup in humble Renton headquarters with three owners, David Bassford, Sara Bassford (David and Sara are married) and CEO Dennis Bassford, David’s brother. The business has since spread to five states with 1,100 total employees.
And all of it from treating people well?
“It comes from the customer’s standpoint, what makes sense for the customer,” says David Bassford, the company’s executive vice president. “It sounds clichéd but it’s not.”
The company has 675 employees in Washington, and of the hundreds who responded to the Best Companies survey, most sang Moneytree’s praises in such wide-ranging categories as communication, benefits, training and education opportunities, and recognition.
“They gave me a chance when no one else would and I am so grateful to them for that,” wrote one employee. “I love this job and the company and the people I get to work with every day. Moneytree saved my life emotionally and financially and I will never forget that.”
Such loyalty has been infectious. At a recent companywide branch managers’ meeting facilitated by President Aggie Clark, the manager with the shortest tenure had been with the company for four years. With such low turnover, the corporate buy-in just solidifies and then becomes self-perpetuating. “They understand the [golden] rule as an intuitive thing,” Clark says.
This tendency among employees to think of others has generated ideas such as providing interpreters for non-English-speaking customers and giving a bump in pay to bilingual employees. If a customer speaks Swahili, for example, a branch manager can get on the inhouse hotline and locate an employee, regardless of department, who speaks the language and can help that customer.
The rule further extends to the benefit package, which leadership regards as a sacred document. After 90 days, the company fully pays the employee-only health coverage premium, and the insurance plan has an annual deductible of $200. As every business knows, providing coverage gets harder each year, especially in this economy. Dozens of Moneytree employees surveyed tipped their hat to the available benefits.
And co-owner Sara Bassford, who also serves as the company’s design director, knows the importance of these perks.
“We make a lot of tough decisions,” she says, “but we’ll get rid of nonessential elements like the plants in the lobby before we give up benefits.”
Second place: Columbia Bank

Personal Touch
Columbia Bank’s CEO even answers the phone.

Columbia Bank CEO Melanie Dressel once received a letter from an employee thanking her and the company itself for providing a work environment she felt good about.
In the letter, the employee explained how her husband had been laid off and that more than one co-worker had come up to her and expressed sympathy and told her to hang in there. That letter, that genuine concern for co-workers, Dressel says, embodies what Columbia Bank is all about.
“We have a real low tolerance for people who are just not nice,” says Dressel. “We always try to hire people who really do care about each other.” Dressel and staff look for people who, during interviews, are very good at conveying what “type of person they are,” she says. So, if the person is friendly, is someone whom others would like to have around, this candidate would more likely make the short list at Columbia.
To further illustrate that ideal, Dressel visits each department and branch at least once a year, and there are 50 branches. No computers answer the phone, just employees—sometimes even Dressel. She also hosts an event called “Breakfast with Melanie,” in which she invites a random group of employees to talk about the industry and what’s happening with the company. Culture remains king at Columbia.
“In life,” she says, “you realize it’s really about the relationships that you form and how quality-of-life issues become more important to you.”
Third place: PAML

Healthy by Example
PAML’s tireless CEO leads his staff to good health.

There was a time when it looked as if Pathology Associates Medical Laboratories (PAML) CEO Thomas Tiffany was taking care of everybody but himself. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago, he was severely overweight and lacked exercise. Not the best role model at a full-service medical reference company that performs just about every kind of health test for physicians, hospitals and employers.
But he changed his ways, and his example has inspired the more than 1,000 employees in Spokane and helped make PAML one of the best places to work in Washington.
Perhaps the best set example was the “Walking with the President” program. Tiffany set aside his lunch hour on specific days and walked around the campus with a handful of employees. They had the opportunity to interact with the CEO, and he was able to show them his commitment to change. At first, about 35 people joined him, but soon, there were more than 100. Now the company is also a participant in the city’s popular Bloomsday race.
The result? Tiffany has lost 60 pounds, while his employees are fitter and are taking fewer sick days.
The company takes other measures to encourage its employees to stay healthy. Employees get a $25 gift certificate for taking a mammogram and a $50 certificate for completing an online health risk assessment form.
“These are things that make people like working here,” Tiffany says.

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