CDW among best to work for yet again

January 12, 2004


In today's cost-cutting environment, can CEOs care about their people? Talk to John Edwardson, chairman and chief executive of Vernon Hills-based CDW. His people are his competitive advantage.

In the issue on newsstands today, Fortune magazine ranks CDW No. 11 on its list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, the only Illinois company on the list, and the sixth straight year CDW made the list.

"Happy co-workers make happy customers," Edwardson said in an interview. "It may sound old-fashioned, but we take it seriously."

You might credit the tech recovery for CDW's sales increases. Sure, the economic rebound and equipment purchases by small businesses fuel sales, which are up 23 percent over year-earlier levels in November (the last month of reported data). But give Art Friedson, vice president of co-worker services at CDW, praise.

"We've had a philosophy since our founding that 'co-workers come first,'" Friedson said.

CDW's 3,700 employees, 3,000 of them in Illinois, receive some great perks, including day care, fitness centers, bagels and Krispy Kreme donuts, "even trips to Dairy Queen during the summer," says Friedson.

"We do all kinds of things, but it's the work that has to be important," adds Friedson. "If you care about your customer, it doesn't become boring."

CDW co-workers obviously care. That's why the company delivers 97 percent of orders (on in-stock merchandise to credit-worthy customers) the very next day. Performance bonuses for nearly 75 percent of the work force and universal stock options are powerful motivational tools.

The real difference at CDW is a management that believes in its people. While other companies are going offshore to reduce costs and gain an edge, Edwardson is betting squarely on his employees.

"Outsourcing and CDW are incompatible terms," says Edwardson. "The reason we do well is we attract and train people. We've chosen not to use outsourcing. We'll probably hire 600 to 700 people this year."

He means here, not in Bangalore, India.

Heels or toes?

Congress reconvenes this month. Let's hope the Illinois congressional delegation watched some of Sylvester Stallone's "Rocky" movies while they were on recess. This group needs the eye of the tiger and the competitive spirit. You have to wonder, is our state on its toes or its heels when it comes to gathering in the coin?

Last session saw passage of the $3.7 billion federal 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act.

Credit Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), whose west suburban district includes Argonne National Lab, with helping sponsor the legislation and getting it passed by a 405-19 margin in the House.

Biggert chairs the energy subcommittee of the House Science Committee. In plain English, that means she's a powerhouse when it comes to research and development funding.

How much will arrive in Illinois? "We don't have specifics," she says. "Argonne will be home to the Center for Nanoscale Materials research center. That's $100 million."

While Biggert sounds confident and delivers on her end, the jury's out as to whether Illinois will really capitalize on the nanotech opportunity. It'll take bipartisan collaboration and real finesse to maximize our returns.

While the nanotech legislation passed, President Bush still must put money in his budget, and Congress must pass appropriations, Biggert explains.

"When the president presents his fiscal 2005 budget, we want to make sure that $809.5 million is designated for Illinois. The exact level of funding is still up to Congress," she says.

John Maxson of the Illinois Coalition, which supports science investments in our state, adds, "Illinois Democrat Sen. Richard Durbin and Reps. Ray LaHood, a Republican, and Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat, members of their respective appropriations committees, will be key to funding."

"From 2001 to 2003 we received $80 million for new nanotech research from the National Science Foundation," Biggert said. "That makes us No. 4 behind California, New York and Massachusetts. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Northwestern University rank fourth and fifth respectively in securing nanotech research funding [behind MIT, Cornell and Penn State]."

Good job, Judy. My question for our political leaders: Isn't it time for Illinois to be No. 1? I'll rent them the "Rocky" movies if they haven't seen them.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech-writer and consultant, and senior vice-president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners