Family firms excel as ‘best places to work’

By April Hall

Fortune magazine recently released the latest edition of its “100 Best Places to Work” list. This is the 20th year the magazine has compiled the list, and it marked the occasion by recognizing the companies that have been included every year since the project’s inception. Four family businesses -- Wegmans Food Markets, Marriott International, W.L. Gore & Associates and Nordstrom -- were among the dozen companies that achieved that coveted status.

“The big thing is in a family business is that family members connect as family,” observes family business researcher and consultant Dennis Jaffe. “They’re personal with each other, and they would feel embarrassed to not extend that to people who are working for them.”

In many family companies, workers encourage their children and grandchildren to apply for jobs. For many multigenerational family businesses, having multigenerational employee families is an extreme point of pride.

For employees at Wegmans, according to the Fortune report, “it’s the ‘small things that make a difference,’ like free cakes on birthdays and hot chocolate in the winter for anyone who works outside.”

Fortune cited Gore for promoting from within (nearly half its hires in the past year were made internally) and Marriott for its many long-tenured employees (almost 13,000 have been with the company for more than 20 years).

Nordstrom employees told Fortune they feel “empowered” and “trusted and respected.”

Family-owned Sheetz Inc., which appeared on the Fortune list for the third time, pledges to continue its “best of” performance.

“Sheetz is committed to investing in its people, rewarding employees and attracting the best talent for the job, whether it's in the distribution centers, kitchens, corporate office or one of our store locations,” president/CEO Joe Sheetz says in a statement. “We strive to create a great working environment where our employees feel valued and have all the resources they need. We do this by providing all of our employees with the opportunity to grow; instilling a culture of respect; and ensuring that all employees understand the importance of their job and the role they play in the larger company.” 

“Respect for employees characterizes long-term family businesses,” Jaffe says. “The more family members that are involved, the more the values of the family are extended to the business.”

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