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Wegmans among top three great places to work in U.S. Wegmans has made the list for 10 years

The Rochester-based Wegmans grocery chain that opened its first local store three decades ago has continued to expand and hold on to a top spot on Fortune magazine's national ranking of great places to work.

For a decade, Wegmans, now with some 34,000 employees at 71 stores in five states, has made the list, which is based mostly on the opinions of randomly chosen workers. Wegmans finished third on the list released Monday, behind Internet-search engine Google and Genentech biotechnology research firm, first and second, respectively.

As the news spread Monday afternoon at the Depew Wegmans, staff explained how the supermarket makes them feel like family. Manager Lindsay Brooks told this story: Wegmans sent a prime rib dinner for 20 and Christmas presents to the family of an employee who had been caring for an ailing husband in the hospital.

That kind of camaraderie has contributed to people meeting their future spouses at Wegmans and recommending the store as a good place to work.

"I don't think we were surprised," said Brooks of the ranking. "I love coming to work every day. It's fun."

Other firms on the list with a local presence include Starbucks, at 16th place; Edward Jones investment firm, 29th; the Nixon Peabody law firm, 49th; Paychex payroll service, 70th; the KPMG accounting firm, 97th; and A.G. Edwards investments, 99th.

Competition has grown in the past decade since Fortune began collaborating with a California consulting firm and publishing the list 10 years ago. According to a press release, the ranking is based on a 57-question survey of more than 105,000 employees from 446 firms.

Two-thirds of a company's score is based on that survey, which is sent to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees. It asks about things such as attitudes toward management and job satisfaction. The remaining third of the score comes from an evaluation of company responses to questions about the corporate culture, pay, benefits, people-management philosophy and diversity programs.

The process has forced Wegmans to do a lot of self-examination, said company spokeswoman Ann McCarthy, who talked with co-workers at the Depew store Monday afternoon. Working to make the rankings and keep staff happy does pay off, she said. The stores have a lower-than-normal turnover rate and workers know how to treat shoppers well.

"When your employee is happy and they feel like they're taken care of, they're going to take care of the customers," said Lynne Moore, a human resources manager.

Wegmans' place has changed since the company debuted at number 16 in 1998. In 2002, it fell to 68. In 2005 and 2006 it was first and second, respectively.

Therese Chapman, who places commercial bakery orders, paused from her work putting bread on the shelves to take in the news. The top rating made sense to her. She had a long list of family members who had sought out work at Wegmans during her 23 years at the store. Her son and his wife met on the job. Her father was an employee. So was her sister. One of her two brothers, also Wegmans employees, met his wife at work.

Even if she doesn't include her own relations, the store does have a family feel. When Chapman was hobbling with a twisted foot, McCarthy made her stop and have tea. Moore then insisted that she go to the doctor for another check up. And, during the busy holiday season, office staff pitched in to make gravy and stock the bread shelves.

"Everybody works together," Chapman said. "They all come in to give us a hand because it is so busy."

Mark Lunz, who worked from a wheelchair at an employee-designed cash register with a low counter, said he felt lucky to have his job. The other employer he interviewed with didn't have such a tailor-made set up. "I don't know of any other store that does that," he said.

The law firm that handles Wegmans' account from the fifth floor of a Main Street office building in downtown Buffalo also made the Fortune list. On Monday afternoon the reception desk at Nixon Peabody, which has 1,500 employees in 14 offices nationwide, was decorated with balloons in celebration.

"We want people to want to work here," said Susan Roney, managing partner.

While thinking through her own 16 years at the firm, she said she was grateful for the many weeks off she was twice granted to go to Colombia to adopt her two daughters. "People jumped in to manage and cover things and to keep the ball rolling," she said of the help she got from her co-workers when she was away.

The company encourages its workers to have balanced lives, she said, because it's good for business.

"We believe that employees that are satisfied ultimately render professional service," she said. "Our clients reap the benefits."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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