Harrison, N.Y. staff participating in 401(k) Day

Best places to work: TRANSAMERICA RETIREMENT SOLUTIONS

Harrison, N.Y. | 1,812 employees | 2nd among organizations with over 1,000 employees | Two-time winner

It has been a big year for Transamerica Retirement Solutions, with the merger of three divisions of the parent corporation Transamerica and two sales forces. While that could have rattled many big firms, executives and staff alike enjoyed the challenge.

“It came together really, really well,” said Peter Kunkel, president and CEO of Transamerica Retirement Solutions, a Best Places to Work in Money Management winner last year under the Diversified name. “We brought disparate organizations together and we made a lot of changes. From my perspective it is all about open communication. It's all about the team.”

Mr. Kunkel also credits a mission statement that continues to guide everyone. “We spent a lot of time in 2013 really talking about why we do what we do. You get people thinking more about that. You need to put that question out there.”

To help employees understand why and how the merger would unfold, a communications campaign included a series of town hall meetings for staff in seven locations. “It got lots of positive feedback,” said Alice Hocking, chief operating officer of Transamerica Retirement Solutions. “We make sure that we keep the connection, and that each location hears the same message.”

The unchanged level of enthusiasm for working at Transamerica comes from a longstanding sense of community, and from employees seeing their work as more than just jobs.

“We're very clear that our mission extends simply beyond selling retirement plans,” said Stig Nybo, president of pension sales and distribution for Transamerica Retirement Solutions. “People have a need and desire to know that what they're doing has a bigger meaning sometime. Our people recognize that we're not focused on us, were focused on the bigger "us.' That's something we've really tapped into over the last couple years.”

In addition to generous benefits like cash balance and defined contribution plans, Transamerica employees like the flat organizational structure that emphasizes autonomy and respect for everyone's contributions. “Free thinking is encouraged,” one employee said in the employee survey for Pensions & Investments' Best Places to Work in Money Management.

“The management team is exceptional. They are very positive and enriching,” said another.

Overwhelming support from co-workers for one sales consultant as his family struggled to recover from Hurricane Sandy moved him to thank his Transamerica “family” in writing. “It is a company of people helping other people with a real sense of community. It is what I admire most about my co-workers,” he told them in an e-mail.

“They want this to be a great place to work,” said an employee surveyed. Instilling that “is not rocket science at all,” said Barbara Whitebook, vice president of human resources for institutional markets. ”We just simply make an effort to figure out what's really meaningful to people.”

Ms. Whitebook's staff looks at the demographics to decide what policies to keep or change to help people balance work and family. For parents of high school students, there is a college coach to help navigate the application process, and a popular scholarship program that recognizes some 20 students each year with a big fuss and $1,000 to $5,000. On Veterans Day, employees who served in the armed forces get the spotlight.

The “jeans for charity” program lets employees pay $3 to come to work in jeans, with the money going to one of the company's non-profit clients. “You can see how it resonates with clients,” Ms. Hocking said.

Employees also like the emphasis on giving back to the greater community. Everyone gets 12 hours of paid leave each year for volunteer pursuits and staff at all Transamerica locations participate in a Habitat for Humanity build day in May.

In September, a 401(k) Day at all locations helped to create a sense of unity among the newly merged staff in a friendly foot race that emphasized physical and fiscal health.

“I love the fact that (employees) are constantly asking for more training,” said Kent Callahan, president and CEO of employer solutions and pensions. “They're all passionate about what they do.”

With retirement an intangible product to sell, “at the end of the day it's all about the experience, and 100% of the experience ties back to our people. They realize we want to be sure they enjoy where they work. That means a lot of little things that add up,” Mr. Callahan said.