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MARCH 24, 2000


Your Offices Speak Volumes About Your Company's Culture

Excerpt from Care to Compete?

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A walk through Rosenbluth International's corporate headquarters in Philadelphia is probably a pretty good introduction to the culture of our travel services company, so we'll take you on a "virtual" tour. As you enter the door to the main lobby, you might be swept away by our culture -- literally. As you walk through them, the front doors create a wind tunnel. What's cultural about that? When we bought the building, it had double doors. We removed the inner set to make it feel more like a home than a business. And it does feel more like a home -- just a very windy one.

The other visible signs of our culture are more pleasant. Our cafeteria, with its juke box and big, comfy booths, is a gathering spot. We don't want people to grab their lunches and work in their offices; we want to make it easy for them to visit. Creativity flourishes in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. We make it a point to entertain our clients there, as opposed to stuffy restaurants. We want them to be surrounded by our associates, and for our associates to have the opportunity to meet them. We don't believe in executive dining rooms.

Our Learning and Development area has a learning library, interesting murals, and pillars painted like giant Crayolas. The artwork was all created by children. Then there's The Gathering, our corporate library. It has overstuffed couches, a casual southwestern style, and is filled with people Net surfing, debating, or reading newspapers in a number of languages, feet up.

We also have an open-meeting policy: Every meeting is open to every associate in the company, with few exceptions. Meetings are only closed if the confidence of an associate or a client is at stake. All other meetings are listed on a bulletin board, and associates from all areas are encouraged to attend. If we limit our ideas to our typical work groups, we miss out on fresh approaches. We don't want people wondering about what's going on behind closed doors. We want them to participate.

Our culture blends warmth and friendliness with a hard-driving competitive edge, and our surroundings reflect that dichotomy. Our Network Operations Center (NOC) showcases our global network on a videowall, where a team of experts track the latest developments in news, weather, and the activity of our clients. It's the "nerve center" of our operations. Daily, hundreds of thousands of calls are electronically directed through the NOC.

The dress code is casual. People need to be comfortable when they're creating. When our company was honored for its humanitarian efforts in 1997 by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, we invited all attending the event to wear "whatever makes you happy." It was quite a departure from the traditional black-tie attire at past conferences.

The visible signs of culture say a lot about a company. It's a good idea to examine them regularly to make sure that they say what you want them to say. Sometimes it's best to get someone outside your company to tell you what their impressions are. And sometimes a look from inside the organization is enough -- if it's an honest look.

In 1988, our corporate headquarters was a two-story building in Philadelphia, which housed an operations center, a reservations facility, and all of our support departments. Somewhere along the line, we came up with what seemed like a brilliant idea: We'd move all of our top officers to an executive headquarters at the top of a new skyscraper a few blocks away, so they could work more closely together, strategize, and create the future.

It was one of our worst ideas, and we knew it almost as soon as we moved there. We became isolated from our associates, and it hurt productivity because we and our associates at what became the "Ops Center" were beating a path back and forth every day between the two buildings.

Then the rumors started to fly. Because we had clients in our offices for meetings, we would bring in lunch almost daily. So it seemed that anytime an associate from our Ops Center came to visit, a catered lunch was being served. The word around the company that everyone working at our executive headquarters got free, elaborate lunches every day.

When we heard things like that, we began to see how ridiculous the idea was, though our intentions had been good. As soon as our lease was up, we high-tailed it to a new location where we could all be together, and it has made all the difference.

Take a walk through your headquarters, and ask yourself honestly what it tells you about your company, your associates, your executives, and your clients. Then ask your front-line people what they think. Ask clients. You'll probably hear some surprising answers.


Hal F. Rosenbluth is CEO of Rosenbluth International, a global travel services company based in Philadelphia. He joined the company in 1974, becoming the fourth generation to lead the family business, taking it from a $20 million to a $4.3 billion business.

Diane McFerrin Peters was the top communication officer for Rosenbluth International before she retied in 1994. She currently consults for the company on special projects.

Excerpted from Care to Compete? by Hal F. Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters Copyright 1998 by Hal F. Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters Published by Perseus Books Excerpted and reprinted with permission from Perseus Books, Cambridge, Mass.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without prior written permission of the publisher.

Available at online and regular bookstores or from the publisher at www.perseusbooks.com. (This book was originally published in hardcover with the title Good Company: Caring as Fiercely as you Compete.)




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