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Wisconsin Companies Ranked Top in Nation in IT

Telecommunications. Retailing. Freight. Insurance. Motorcycles? Computerworld has just released their top 100 “Best Places to Work in IT in 2003,” and five Wisconsin companies have placed in the top 50, with a second place ranking for Harley-Davidson Inc. of Milwaukee.

This year’s list, with Hershey Foods in the top spot, focused heavily on employees’ perspectives of working conditions and employment benefits. According to Ellen Fanning, Special Projects Editor at Computerworld , “The key factors we look at are average salary and bonus increases, percentage of IT staff promoted, IT staff turnover rates, training and career development.” In terms of a common feature that unites the top companies, Fanning reports, “The ability of the IT management team to communicate openly and honestly with its staff appears to be a key ingredient.”

Harley-Davidson Inc.’s scorecard on the survey reveals a phenomenally high training budget of $6000 per IT employee, which certainly helped the company attain the number two spot. Fanning states that, “Over the years, this study has shown that access to training and work with cutting-edge technology are important factors for IT workers.” Harley-Davidson shows a solid commitment to training employees and keeping up with technological trends. The company has also made a significant investment in innovation, including e-commerce, to maintain their competitive edge.

Four of the five Wisconsin companies in the top 50 participate in the UW-Madison Consortium for Global Electronic Commerce. According to Raj Veeramani, Director, “These companies and our other members share e-business best practices and lessons learned and gain knowledge to overcome challenges they face in achieving e-business success.” Veeramani feels that these companies share a focus on utilizing technology in order to enhance customer relationships.

American Family Mutual Insurance Company, headquartered in Madison, placed 23 on the list. Byrne Chapman, Vice President of IS, attributes their success to the fact that, “American Family is committed to leveraging technology to improve the business.” According to Chapman, “Several years ago we committed to using the principles of cultural cybernetics as our organizational methodology. This methodology focuses on the concept of an IS Division performing as a business-within-a-business.” This corporate structure is enhanced by a company culture that emphasizes communication, training, and employee recognition. The company’s high ranking reflects the success of its strategy. “We’re also very proud of our movement from last year’s ranking,” Chapman says, “Jumping 63 spots was exciting.”
Frank Giannantonio is the Senior VP and CIO at Land’s End, headquartered in Dodgeville, and he attributes the company’s many achievements to a motto that originated with its founder: “Take care of the customer, take care of the employee, and everything else will take care of itself.” Land’s End placed 34 on Computerworld ’s list, and runs a centralized IT network with hundreds of servers and thousands of PCs to support its multi-national operation. Giannantonio feels that their set-up is unique in terms of its focus on the employee. “Our success is driven by our people,” he says. “We have a formalized IT resource plan that helps to determine training, we’re very strong in recognition, and we celebrate our successes.” One of the company’s biggest successes is its innovative website that has pioneered the customization of clothing for online shoppers. Giannantonio attributes the success of the IT division as a sign of a strong company culture. “Our employee turnover rate is very low, because our work-life balance is important, and we’re very sensitive to that,” he says.

More than 75% of the employees at Telephone and Data Systems Inc (TDS) work in IT. Number 40 on the list, the company is headquartered in Middleton, and serves more than five million customers in 35 states. TDS has been building clientele and utilizing innovative technology since its inception in 1969. It has continuously improved its penetration of the cellular phone market, and now handles five million cellular customers. The company also scored high on the survey because of its diversity in employment; nearly one-third of the IT employees at TDS are women.

Schneider National Inc., located in Green Bay, trailed just behind TDS in 41 st place. Schneider employs an even higher percentage of women in IT, around 34%, and nearly 10% of its IT staff are minorities. Schneider offers truckload and intermodal services, and currently operates 14,000 trucks and 40,000 trailers. The nearly 70-year-old company prioritizes employee training, and funds and encourages a variety of educational resources to foster workforce development.

Tom Still, President of the Wisconsin Technology Council, thinks that Computerworld ’s rankings show two things. “First, that technology is important, even in companies that you might not think of as tech companies. Technology is really a part of making Wisconsin’s core industries successful.”

The second trend that Still notes among Wisconsin’s 10% of the top 50 is that, “All of these are homegrown corporations that saw their beginnings right here in Wisconsin.” All of the Wisconsin companies recognized in Computerworld ’s survey have been named in other corporate “Best” lists, but their recognition as “Best Places to Work in IT” signifies the importance of a strong technological commitment to the overall success of modern businesses. The complete Computerworld article and company scorecards are available at
Caryn Murphy is a freelance writer based in Madison, Wisconsin and can be reached at

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