Employees Talk - Crain's Chicago Best Place to Work


Crain's Chicago Business revealed their annual Best Places to Work list for 2013 and, for the second year in a row, the NetApp Chicago office was ranked in the top 5. Employees are the heart of NetApp’s culture; they drive competitive advantage for NetApp and success for our customers and partners. NetApp 360 spoke with employees from the Chicago office to understand what makes it one of the best places to work in Chicago.


Congratulations on being one of Chicago's best places to work! What does this mean to you?

Scott Neumer, Sr. Manager Systems Engineering: NetApp Chicago has been a great place to work since I started in 2001. I am incredibly proud to do my part through the years and help to build and maintain that culture locally.  NetApp is a great collaborative culture where EVERYONE is always there to help each other out cross functionally. Without a doubt it is a high performance culture built on winning, hard work and collaboration.

David McCarthy, Enterprise Account Manager: It means everything.  NetApp’s culture is one of the core reasons that we are having such great business success in the Chicago region. Making this list is a true honor.

Robert Leahy, Professional Services Area Manager: I take pride in working for a company that has high integrity, strives for innovation and empowers its employees to be successful.

Mike Riley, Director of Strategy & Technology, Americas Sales: I think it’s fair to say there’s a personal sense of pride. I can look back over the past 14 years and say, “Heh! I helped build that.”  I stress the word “helped” because it was a huge team effort. Let’s face it, work isn’t always easy, but at the end of the day what we have 100% control over is our attitude---we make it a good one. That positive attitude comes through every day and people can feel it when they are here.


Three of you have been with NetApp for more than half of its history as a company. What is it about NetApp that has inspired you to stay at the company for 12+ years?

SN: When I joined NetApp, it was the smallest company I had ever worked for and it is currently the largest company I have ever worked for in my career---a unique and interesting statement when you think about it! I have had several roles and regardless of the role itself, the culture here has always enabled me to make a big impact not only in the Chicago region, but on the entire company as well. 

RL: NetApp has a continuing commitment to invest in their employees through leadership, recognition, training and development. Most importantly, there is a strong emphasis on employee collaboration. This type of work environment and commitment to employees has kept me at NetApp.


MR: Three things: respect, risk and candor. First, we respect people at all levels of the company. We don’t use org charts as some sort of weighting system for new ideas. I was at this company one month when I had an idea on how to improve a training course. The next thing I knew, I was talking with our director of education and on a plane out to Sunnyvale to give my input in-person and to help out as an instructor. This type of attitude is still alive and well today. Second, we reward risk – even if you fail.  We want people to innovate and pursue ideas. Finally, candor – from a practical standpoint, it streamlines operations by making it easier to make a decision and move forward. Now, that’s a great environment to work in.


How important of a role does culture play in NetApp Chicago's ability to succeed with customers and partners?

SN: Culture is nice as a talking point or bullet on a slide, but when it is a living and breathing thing that affects not just our employees, but their families, our partners and customers, it is truly powerful. When we at NetApp are passionate and excited about coming to work every day, we find customers and partners want to be part of this culture too. Our culture makes us a great company to work with, which is apparent in the tremendous business success the Chicago region has experienced.

DM: From NetApp’s Chicago leadership team to our front line employees and partners, we have a very focused view on our customer’s success.  This focus is top of mind with all involved and it really resonates with our customer base.  Often times, our customers will claim that doing business with NetApp is “different” in a very positive way.

RL: NetApp Chicago's success with customers and partners is directly due to the role of our culture.  Our employees are more willing to go that extra mile and face difficult challenges knowing that the company will support our efforts and that of our teams. 

MR: I think customers and partners pick up on our passion. I was visiting a customer last week and asked a basic question: “What could we be doing better for you?”  He said, “I will tell you why I continue to buy from you…” and he went on to talk how we worked with him; how we had his back. This comment was 100% due to the people at NetApp Chicago and their attitude. Culture matters.


Fundraising for various charities seems to be a passion for the Chicago office. Do you have a favorite memory from a recent fundraising event you'd like to share?

SN: I have been very actively involved in both St Baldrick’s and Toys for Tots. On a personal note, it has been wonderful having my 12-year-old son, Ethan, join me the past 3 years for the St. Baldrick’s fundraising and head-shaving event; I’m a very proud parent. I organize the Toys for Tots day for our office and when we started 7 years ago, only a few people were there to help them sort, count, pack and load toys in trucks.  We now have so many volunteers for that event that I have to organize “shifts” to prevent us from having too many people in the warehouse at the same time! Toys for Tots now counts on the NetApp team being there on their busiest day to help them get toys to children in time for Christmas. It's wonderful to see the team rally together for great causes like these!

DM: We had a large group of NetApp employees and partners go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository over the holiday season.  We filled food orders for local pantries for 3 hours.  There was such a positive vibe among all those present.  We had a GREAT time with it – this highlights NetApp’s “can-do” attitude about helping others.

RL: One of the many charity events that come to mind is St Baldrick's, a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding research to find cures for childhood cancer through its head-shaving events. It warms one's heart when you see a father and son shave their heads to raise money for a cure for childhood cancer. NetApp's ongoing commitment to various charities and our community goes back to the values that we all share not only as a company but as individuals.

MR: I’d take this question in a different direction– what has made the biggest impact on me is our Volunteer Time Off (VTO) program.  Each year NetApp enables full-time employees to take up to five full days off per calendar year (with full pay and benefits) to volunteer in our community, or at a non-profit organization of our choice. It has afforded me the opportunity to help found The Youth Conservation Alliance and each year I have been able to set aside time to work as a fishing guide for a group of kids who might not get the opportunity to get out on the water.  My favorite memory is at a campfire after one of these events – we asked the kids to talk about their favorite part of the day. After a little silence one boy spoke up. He talked about how he didn’t get to see his father all that much because he was always working, and he was thankful for the time he got to spend with his dad. Another boy spoke up and said the same thing…and another… and another. Then the dads talked – they could barely get their words out.  I’ll never forget that night. I’ve been blessed with my career at NetApp and I think it’s great I get this opportunity to give something back.


What's one unique thing about NetApp Chicago that you want people to know?

SN: When I started at NetApp Chicago, we were a single district; after the tremendous growth we have seen, it is now the hub for the region. NetApp Chicago is all about one team, whether it is around a group-training event for our partners and customers, a friendly softball game, or a holiday party.

DM: There is a strong sense of community and sharing within the Chicago team. This truly separates NetApp from any other company culture that I have been a part of.

RL: Whether a new or existing employee, everyone works as one team.  We promote teamwork but also recognize individual contributions, which makes us a strong team. NetApp Chicago provides an environment that enables employees to strive and achieve success for themselves, our company, our customers and partners. 

MR: We’ve talked a lot about culture, attitude and passion. That might come off as a bit “squishy”. Let me be clear so we’re not conflicted here: a product of our culture is winning. NetApp Chicago has a fierce team of competitors. We have a track record of success and our culture has helped us achieve it.