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25 top-paying companies

8:34 PM
25 top-paying companies

1. Baker Donelson
Average total pay: $319,779
For: Shareholder*
Best companies rank: 77

This Memphis-based law firm is making quite a debut this year as a Best Company to Work For: It's already leaped to the top of our highest-paid list.

The firm's 279 "shareholder" attorneys -- equivalent to partners elsewhere -- earn salaries averaging more than $300,000 a year, and that's before a nearly 20 grand bonus.

But it's not just the legal eagles who are well-compensated. Legal secretaries average a little under $50,000 a year, $1,400 higher than local market average, according to Baker Donelson; paralegals earn $2,600 more than the average of $56,760. And all staffers on board at least a year are eligible for a bonus of 2% of salary.

The firm also likes to bring staff together. Day begins with The Daily Docket, a 10- to 15-minute huddle of lawyers and staff in 10-person teams to update everyone on what's going on. There are three ground rules: 1) Start on time. 2) Finish on time. 3) Don't try to solve problems.


Average total pay: $249,607
For: Senior Account Executive*
Best companies rank: 43's focus on cloud computing -- its software helps companies manage sales and customer relationships online -- has helped it keep revenue growth sky-high. Sales, which have been increasing about 20% a year, topped $1 billion last year.

That leads to lofty pay for employees as well. The San Francisco-based company sets pay levels above market, and every employee is bonus-eligible under a "mahalo plan" (mahalo is Hawaiian for thank you). The more you make, the higher the bonus target: For senior managers, it's 15% of pay, for directors it's 20%.

"We have to save the customer from Microsoft, Oracle and SAP," rails CEO Marc Benioff in his 2009 book, "Behind the Cloud." To keep employees motivated for the crusade, the Salesforce gives stock options and restricted stock awards to a wide range of staff, and regularly enhances perks. One recent addition: $5,000 for adoption aid.

3. Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe

Average total pay: $245,206
For: Associate*
Best companies rank: 95

The recession hit this corporate law firm hard: For the first time in its 147-year history, Orrick had to resort to layoffs last year. The firm ended up cutting 130 attorneys and 235 staffers (though all got severance and outplacement help). And Orrick's overall Best Companies rank slipped to 95, down from 87 last year.

But its status among the top-paying Best Companies stayed firmly at third place again this year. And no wonder: Non-partner lawyers average a hefty $201,000 annually, plus a $44,000 bonus.

The firm even rewards attorneys who don't want to pursue the traditional partner track. This year they are installing a new three-track model that includes long-term opportunities for lawyers who don't want to become partners at all. For some, flexibility is the best compensation of all.

4. Bingham McCutchen

Average total pay: $233,800

For: Associate*
Best companies rank: 12

Despite the recession, this merger-happy corporate law firm brought Washington, D.C.-based McKee Nelson into its fold last summer, adding 120 lawyers to its U.S. roster.

They join a team of associates that enjoys some of the highest paychecks for law firms on this list. They earn, on average, a base salary of $211,900 plus bonus of $21,900. The perks aren't bad, either: Employees at its Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., offices can lunch at subsidized cafes. Associates can take 14 weeks off at full pay for maternity or paternity leave, and get emergency backup care for their kids or elderly parents.

Like many law firms, Bingham was hit hard by the recession as client work started to dry up. But bankruptcy work increased, so the firm transferred some lawyers to those projects. It wasn't enough: In early 2009, Bingham froze salaries and laid off 16 attorneys and 23 staffers. In an e-mail to employees, the firm's chairman said he "deeply regretted that anyone within our tightly knit community had to lose a job."

5. Devon Energy

Average total pay: $187,819
For: Engineer*
Best companies rank: 20

More than 50,000 people apply for jobs at this Oklahama City-based oil and gas producer every year, attracted by a rich package of pay and benefits that includes one of the strongest retirement plans in American business: Devon funds 401(k) plans with anywhere from 8% to 22% of pay, depending on employee match and how long they've worked there. Performance bonuses average more than 15% of pay.

Another attraction: the company's unrelenting emphasis on doing the right thing, expressed in a mission statement called "The Devon Way." The company promises employees: "We will not have hidden agendas and we will not manipulate people." Says one employee: "I feel it is an honor to work for a company with such a high standard of ethics and values."

6. Alston & Bird

Average total pay: $185,938
For: Associate*
Best companies rank: 30

2009 wasn't Alston & Bird's best year: The Atlanta law firm laid off 14 attorneys and 38 staffers. Associates saw their average annual pay drop by about $17,000.

Still, merit bonuses have increased the past two years: Hourly workers can receive up to 9% of pay, supervisors up to 20%, and senior managers a whopping 35% of pay.

Plus, the 117-year-old firm maintained a family-friendly benefit package that includes 90 days of paid leave for new mothers and adoptive parents, 15 days' paid paternity leave, $7,000 adoption aid and on-site child care.

7. Perkins Coie

Average total pay: $183,376
For: Associate*
Best companies rank: 75

Lawyers at this Seattle-based firm work with big-name clients like Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks.

But as corporate work started to dry up with the worsening recession, the firm made cutbacks to try to avoid layoffs. It froze associate and staffer pay and trimmed partner salaries 10%. In the end, though, it cut 12 attorneys and 26 staff members.

Still, the firm's policy is to pay at market levels in all locations. Full-time employees get 100% coverage for medical and dental insurance premiums. Everyone gets an end-of-year bonus: 5% of pay. Employees who bike to work get a new benefit: $20 a month reimbursement. And animal lovers can get discounted pet insurance.

8. EOG Resources

Average total pay: $171,943
For: Engineer*
Best companies rank: 67

Enron is long gone, but spinoff EOG Resources has become one of the nation's leading independent drillers of oil and gas. And despite lower oil prices, last year the company continued to hire new staffers and promote employees. No one was laid off.

EOG offers a rich pay and benefit package that includes stock options for all employees. And good news for employee stockholders: EOG shares are now trading near $100, more than double their $45 price in March.

It's not just the stock that's healthy these days. The company is promoting wellness: Several locations sponsor health fairs, and at its Houston headquarters, there's a walking club and a Weight Watchers program, where 64 employees lost a combined 754 pounds in less than a year.

9. Arnold & Porter

Average total pay: $171,074
For: Associate*
Best companies rank: 65

Employees looking to escape the typical law-firm pressure cooker might find Arnold & Porter's generous leave policies appealing: Staffers can take up to 18 weeks' paid maternity or adoption leave, and new dads or anyone who needs to take care of a seriously ill family member can take six weeks off with full pay.

Meanwhile, attorneys who just want to take a break for any reason can take an unpaid three-year leave of absence as long as they're in good standing; the Washington, D.C.-based firm will even pay their bar dues while they're away.

Arnold & Porter keeps an eye on industry surveys to make sure attorney salaries compare favorably to rival local firms. After two years on board, employees can enroll in a 401(k) plan; the firm contributes 7.5% of pay. Seniority is rewarded with every five-year anniversary: Employees are recognized at an awards ceremony and get bonuses ranging from $300 to $3,000.

10. Brocade Communications Systems

Average total pay: $170,175
For: Software Engineer*
Best companies rank: 61

Civic-minded employees can pay it forward at this Silicon Valley high-tech outfit: They can take up to five paid days off a year to work at a nonprofit (until last year, the maximum was one day off a year). Those who prefer to donate money can get their charitable contributions matched dollar for dollar up to $20,000.

The company -- it makes devices that connect servers with storage centers --- sets base pay at or above the industry median, and then piles on generous bonuses linked to performance. When they're hired, employees receive restricted stock units. Then they're awarded more units each year -- the better Brocade's doing, the more it gives out. Employees can also buy Brocade stock at a 15% discount.

11. Adobe Systems

Average total pay: $153,345
For: Senior Computer Scientist, Software Development*
Best companies rank: 42

It was a bad-news, good-news kind of year for the company behind such popular software as Flash, Photoshop and Acrobat. On the bad side, Adobe laid off 680 employees toward the end of 2009. On the good, layoff victims got severance "above industry standards," the company said. Also in the bad column: Total compensation for senior computer scientists fell by $12,000 last year. In the good, the average $153,000 a year they earn is still solid. In fact, Adobe slipped just 1 spot on our top-paying list to 11th place, down from 10th last year.

Salespeople at Adobe also can get nice rewards. Such top performers as the field marketing professional, consultant, and sales manager of the year got cash bonuses last year. The bad news? In 2008, winners got a trip to Hawaii.

12. Genentech

Average total pay: $150,000
For: Clinical Specialist*
Best companies rank: 19

This biotech firm pays well in general: Clinical specialists -- who are part of the company's sales force -- average 6-figure salaries. But a special bonus they received last year helped push Genentech onto our list of top-paying Best Companies.

A little background: In March, Swiss pharma giant Roche agreed to buy Genentech for $46.8 billion. To keep talent from fleeing, Roche gave every Genentech employee a retention bonus in lieu of the stock options they would have received otherwise: 11,000 employees split $182 million. A second round of retention bonuses will be paid this March.

Genentech, which ranked no. 1 on our 2006 Best Companies list, also took steps to make sure its special culture would be preserved: Roche agreed to continue such benefits as 100% 401(k) match up to 5% of pay, unlimited sick days, on-site child care, and six-week paid sabbaticals every six years.

13. Boston Consulting Group

Average total pay: $139,921
For: Consultant*
Best companies rank: 8

Strategy consultant to Fortune 500 companies starts new consultants at six-figure pay, and it gets better the longer they stay. Because of a lock-step advancement system, recruits can anticipate their total pay to increase tenfold over 10 years -- they may well be earning a million-dollars-plus annually a decade after they join.

BCG also pays attention to diversity: 34% of consultants are women and 26% are minorities. It created a career database and launched a global newsletter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees. BCG scored a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index.

14. Cisco

Average total pay: $135,877
For: Software Engineer IV*
Best companies rank: 16

Cisco replaced General Motors on the Dow Jones Industrial Average last year. But its spot on Silicon Valley job seekers' wish lists was already sealed: The company employs just 37,000 in the U.S.; in 2009 it attracted more than 250,000 applicants.

The maker of switches and routers that connect computers to the Internet sets pay above the market average. It gives stock grants to 40% of its workforce. And despite the tough economy, last year Cisco bumped up its dollar-for-dollar 401(k) match to 4.5% of pay, up from 4%.

But Cisco wasn't immune from tough times. The company announced layoffs of between 1,500 and 2,000 employees in 2009. It also offered an early retirement to employees 55 or older that included up to 12 months' severance, a lump sum equivalent to 24 months of medical coverage, a one-time 401(k) match equal to two years of a company match, and six months of outplacement services.

15. NetApp

Average total pay: $132,396
For: Member Technical Staff, Software 4*
Best companies rank: 7

Last February, as its customers started to cancel or delay orders, this data storage firm laid off 500 employees -- more than 6.4% of its workforce. NetApp gave laid-off staffers up to 12 weeks' severance, and since they were 9 months into the firm's fiscal year, pro-rated bonus checks.

Going the extra mile for employees seems to be part of NetApp's DNA. Consider: In 2009, many of the stock options employees held (all receive them) were "under water" -- worthless because shares were trading for less than the options' strike price. NetApp wanted to let staffers swap these options for restricted stock units, which retain some value even when the stock price falls. To do so requires shareholder approval, though, and as the annual shareholder meeting loomed, they were short of the needed votes.

So the director of investor relations made non-stop phone calls, imploring shareholders to endorse the swap. Some five million "yes" votes came in during the last 24 hours.

16. Colgate-Palmolive

Average total pay: $132,000
For: Manager*
Best companies rank: 100

Employees at this consumer products company, the world's leading seller of toothpaste, have a lot to smile about. On top of regular pay, which is benchmarked to match competitors' in New York, they get up to 2.5% of pay in preferred stock each year. Colgate also offers an array of bonus plans.

Staffers also enjoy rich benefits, including 14 paid holidays, tuition reimbursement up to $10,000 a year, and discounted interest rates on mortgages. Employees can contribute up to 15% of their pay to a 401(k), and also participate in a Personal Retirement Account which Colgate funds from 2.5% to 11.25% of pay, depending on length of service. No wonder 30% of employees have been at the company more than 15 years.

17. Chesapeake Energy

Average total pay: $126,854
For: Toolpusher*
Best companies rank: 34

Chesapeake, one of the nation's leading natural gas producers, has the most generous 401(k) plan of any Best Company. It matches employee contributions, dollar for dollar, up to 15% of pay. Unfortunately, the match is in Chesapeake stock, which has been hammered by falling natural gas prices. Shares, which were over $65 in 2008, trade in the mid-$20s today.

Luckily, the firm's young staff -- nearly half are under 35 -- should have plenty of time to make up for any declines in their accounts before they retire. And in the meantime, they earn relatively high wages for the industry: Average salary across the company is $69,218, and everyone gets a holiday bonus of $500 to $1,000.


Average total pay: $124,496
For: Information Systems Engineer, Lead*
Best companies rank: 69

Most top workplaces offer bonus programs, stock ownership plans and other such perks. Not MITRE. That's because it's a non-profit thinktank chartered by the federal government.

Nevertheless, MITRE's base salaries are higher than the pay levels at research and engineering companies where many of its employees might otherwise work. Researchers and engineers can earn well into the six figures, and hourly administrators make close to $60,000 a year.

Retirement benefits also are generous: MITRE's savings and retirement programs are geared to give employees 80% to 100% of their final pay.

Beyond that, there is the psychic reward that comes from working on projects of national importance, such as the scanning systems placed in airports by the Department of Homeland Security. As one professional said, "I can 'do the right thing' without worrying about the company's profit."

19. Scripps Health

Average total pay: $123,278
For: Manager-Director*
Best companies rank: 40

A legacy of Ellen Browning Scripps (of the Scripps newspaper family), Scripps Health is king of health care in San Diego County: It has a national reputation for top-notch patient care at its five main hospitals.

People clamor to work here (over 113,000 job applicants in the past year) because of its stellar pay-and-benefit package. On average, manager-directors earn well over six figures. But even RNs earn six-figure paychecks, averaging $113,000 a year including bonus. Nurse turnover is 9.5% vs. the 11.4% rate for all of southern California, according to Scripps.

Payroll grew by 15% last year. And once employees are hired, they tend to stay: More than 1,300 members of its 11,000-plus staff celebrated a 5-, 10-, 15- or 20-year anniversary with the company last year, and another 200 celebrated 25, 30, 35 or 40 years of service.

20. DPR Construction

Average total pay: $122,600
For: Superintendents*
Best companies rank: 57

This Bay Area-based general contractor really likes to toast special occasions like new projects, company awards, anniversaries (the firm marks its 20th birthday this year) -- it has wine bars installed in all of its 17 offices.

Employees of the firm, which builds facilities for companies such as Google, Qualcomm and Herman Miller, are in a celebratory mood, despite the lousy construction market. "In these economic times, they pay some employee salaries even though there is no project for them," says one. "This is unheard of in the construction industry." On a scale of 1 to 10, the toughest rating any employee gave DPR in a recent staff survey was 9.5.

Another reason for staffers to cheer: On top of the firm's solid pay and benefits package, nearly a third receive so-called "phantom stock." Last year, as 2003 shares vested, 362 employees were paid out $3.4 million, or about $9,400 each.

21. Goldman Sachs Group

Average total pay: $122,000
For: Other Exempt (Analysts, Program Analysts, Associates and Professional Non-Exempt)*
Best companies rank: 24

Wall Street's meltdown is so 2008. Goldman - which reorganized as a bank holding company, received billions in government help, and repaid some $10 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program debt with interest this past spring -- generated billions in profits in 2009. In the first 9 months of that year alone, Goldman set aside $16.2 billion for compensation, enough to pay employees nearly $500,000 apiece.

Although the firm said that its total compensation was lower than in 2007, a political uproar is already in full swing. To calm public anger, Goldman may pay more of its bonuses in stock, or ask employees to donate a percent of their earnings to charity. And the 30 top honchos at Goldman have agreed that instead of the usual cash payment, they'll take their bonuses in the form of stock they can't sell for five years.

No matter how it turns out, all employees will surely do well. The lowest-paid employees get at least $6,000 pumped into their 401(k) accounts. Goldman's stock grant plan was expanded to include more employees. Cash bonuses for much of senior management beyond the top 30 were expected to be in line with the 2008 payout, when Goldman awarded bonuses of more than $1 million to 953 employees and bonuses of more than $5 million to 78 executives.

22. Winchester Hospital

Average total pay: $120,953
For: Nurse Manager*
Best companies rank: 99

It's about more than the paycheck at Winchester, a nearly century-old community hospital that serves the northwest suburbs of Boston. To get hired, job applicants not only must pass muster with prospective co-workers who interview them, they must agree to the hospital's so-called PROMISE standards, which promote such beyond-the-numbers values as respect, empathy, a positive attitude and initiative in improving the environment, safety and quality.

That said, the money's good too. On average, nurse managers earn an average base salary of $112,645, supplemented by an $8,308 bonus. That may be one reason why, unlike many hospitals that are struggling with nursing shortages, Winchester has a low nurse vacancy rate (1.7%). And to keep nurses loyal, the hospital has a policy against offering new hires more dough than an employee with comparable experience. No wonder nearly 28% have been on staff more than 10 years.

23. Microsoft

Average total pay: $120,657
For: Engineering - Software Development Engineer in Test*
Best companies rank: 51

It's no surprise to find the world's largest software company on this list. Microsoft has minted many millionaires -- and a handful of billionaires -- since its founding in 1975. Stock options, the main source of this wealth, were phased out in 2003. But not to worry: 95% of employees now get restricted stock, which they can sell after a vesting period.

Being based in Redmond, far from the Silicon Valley all-work-all-the-time environment, is another perk. The landscaped headquarters features branches of popular local restaurants such as Spitfire, Chandy's Natural Café, Ivar's Seafood and Flying Pie Pizzeria. On the west campus, employees can burn those calories off at sports fields and other recreational space.

Employees say they work hard, but they also have personal lives. One employee with small kids said he appreciates his flexible work schedule at Microsoft: "It allows me to balance life challenges and the unexpected."

24. Intel

Average total pay: $118,295
For: Component Design Engineer*
Best companies rank: 98

With "Intel inside" computers everywhere, the chip-maker is able to reward everyone from engineers to administrative staffers well. Company policy is to pay "above market" when it's performing as well as competitors (now), and "well above market" when it's beating them. Bonus time comes not once, but twice a year.

Most employees get some type of stock when they're hired -- either restricted shares alone, or for senior managers, stock options too. The company contributes to employees' retirement via a profit-sharing plan; employees can pay into a 401(k) as well.

Even better, opportunities to move up abound. Intel spends more than $300 million a year on employee development. Staffers typically get new gigs every 18 to 24 months. Going back to school? Intel will cover up to $50,000 in costs, or more, depending on the program. Not a bad way to get an MBA.

25. Robert W. Baird & Co.

Average total pay: $117,650
For: Financial Analyst*
Best companies rank: 11

Milwaukee-based investment advisor navigated through the financial crisis without having to resort to layoffs. In fact, it increased its staff 10% since 2007.

Aside from total compensation averaging six figures for salaried employees, Baird offers:

  • 37.5 hour work week for hourly employees.
  • Bonuses and profit-sharing for all employees.
  • An opportunity to buy stock in this privately held firm. Nearly half of employees have done so.
  • Free investment planning for all employees.
  • Bonuses that range from $1,000 to $10,000 for referring a new employee.

    "Baird cares about their associates very much," says one employee. "This place is like a second family."

  • Source:

    By Milton Moskowitz

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