See's: Where the candy is homemade

Interviewee: Greg Gibbons, MIS director Company: See's Candies Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Main locations: South San Francisco, Calif., with about half of the IT department in Los Angeles; company has 216 retail stores, mainly on the West CoastNumber of IT employees: 17Number of employees (end users): "About 6,000 employees, but a lot of those are in manufacturing and the shops. We support about 280 PC users and 300 terminal users."

Tenure: "I created the IT department here in 1994. Before that, I was with another Berkshire Hathaway company that provided IT to See's, so I've been involved with the company since 1985."

What kind of pressure does Valentine's Day put on IT in a candy company? "That's our biggest single revenue day of the year. In our retail shops, it's standing room only on [Feb.] 13 and 14, and there's also a peak lasting a few days for mail order and Web orders. So systems availability and user support are huge for us. We have a huge, mature mail-order system that handles peak volume, and we took care of Web site scalability before Christmas, which is a longer sustained peak."

IT initiatives: "We're evaluating a point-of-sale [POS] system. Right now, we're using electronic cash registers. About 30 percent of what we sell is hand-packed in the stores, and that doesn't lend itself to bar-coding, so a POS system is not a simple slam dunk for us. It will probably have to involve some kind of scale that prints out a bar-coded label [based on weight].

"We'll also do some Web enhancements and some customer relationship management stuff that we'll build ourselves. We just went live with a Web application that lets online customers build their own box of candy. And we're moving over to client/server and rewriting our legacy applications as we go along."

It sounds like you have a lot of homegrown systems for such a small IT staff. "Our history has been to focus on homegrown applications, but now we're making a transition to a best-of-breed approach. We'll continue to build the things that differentiate us from our competition, like the Web site and order entry. But we recently brought in a packaged radio frequency-based warehouse management system."

Upcoming training: "ColdFusion, HTML, JavaScript and an object technology we use called Omnidex from [Dynamic Information Systems Corp.]."

Workday: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., "but we're flexible."

An eight-and-a-half-hour day? Really? "We do a fair amount of after-hours support and some weekend maintenance, database management and new systems rollouts. But things don't go bump in the night that often."

Dress code: "Casual on Fridays and business dress the rest of the time. We're heading toward business casual."

Kind of offices: "IT is located over the manufacturing area, so it smells good all the time. They make peanut brittle right under where we work."

Perks: Annual bonus program, company picnic in July, IT holiday party in December. "We're always going out for lunch together. . . . See's is very family-oriented, so I can always make it to my kids' events. It's also a charitable company."

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO, Charles Huggins? "Well, he swings by here fairly often to say hi to the staff, and he and I meet fairly regularly to set priorities. He's very hands-on and has a keen awareness of how we use IT to differentiate ourselves. But he doesn't have e-mail."

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