Six months after arriving at Credit Acceptance Corp. as a contract tech support analyst, Chris Thomas hired on as a full-time employee. He hasn't looked back.
"I started at the very bottom," says the 31-year-old, who joined the auto financing company from the automotive industry itself, where, he says, "building mini empires" was the norm in IT.
"Everyone had their own territory and fought tooth and nail to get ahead," he recalls. What Thomas wanted was a friendlier, more collaborative working environment, and he found it at Computerworld's No. 1 midsize place to work in IT.
That was four years, several pay increases and at least three promotions ago. Today, Thomas has a supervisory role managing a help desk team of two. He also has recruited friends and colleagues to the company -- so many that "it has pretty much become an extended family," he says.
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Credit Acceptance's 100-person IT department has a budget of $26.2 million and supports some 1,300 colleagues throughout the company, most of whom work in the five-story headquarters facility in Southfield, Mich. Competitive starting salaries, a quarterly profit-sharing plan, generously subsidized healthcare benefits, college tuition reimbursement, flexible working hours and 19 days of paid time off after a year of service are table stakes for IT staffers, as is unlimited training.
Yet ask IT employees what they like about Credit Acceptance, and virtually all of them first and foremost mention the culture, which Credit Acceptance sums up with the acronym PRIDE, for positive, respectful, insightful, direct and earnest.
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Take Shweta Raizada, for example. She had at least a half-dozen job offers after earning a graduate degree in statistics from the University of Michigan, but she says Credit Acceptance stood out from the get-go.
"When I came here to interview, they had a great positive vibe going, and that's important to me because you spend one-third of your life at work," says the 26-year-old business intelligence analyst, who joined the company two years ago.
These days, Raizada says the continual opportunities to broaden her skills and experience are just as important as that positive vibe. She has been able to work on a wide variety of projects, most notably the design and implementation of a massive phone system. That was "as challenging as it was good for me career-wise, because after that, I was recognized and promoted," she says.
"If you're ambitious and ready to get challenged, this place will give you the opportunity," Raizada adds.
Investing in people and technology
IT staffers get whatever training and education they want or need in order to take on, and succeed in, new challenges, says Karl Wyatt, 31, a network supervisor who joined Credit Acceptance as a network admin and was promoted to his current role a year ago.
Wyatt has earned a Cisco certification and has taken technical and leadership training courses, all paid for in full by the company, which ranked No. 9 in terms of employee retention on Computerworld's 2015 list of the 100 Best Places to Work in IT.
"What most drew me in is that the company invests in its people, as opposed to just investing in technology," Wyatt says. "The technology at this company is great, but it's only as great as the people who support it."
Wyatt says he also has access to a variety of online subscription-based resources and training materials. "It's one of the things that differentiates it from other places I've worked," he says. "Elsewhere, they invested in technology but not the people, because they seemed afraid the people would leave."
CIO John Soave describes IT staffers as having "an insatiable appetite" for learning -- especially for learning about the business so they can better support it. Leaders from various business units present at the IT group's monthly town hall meetings to explain their processes. Soave also has asked the corporate training office to develop videos about how various departments operate. Under a recently implemented job-shadowing program, any IT staffer can request a shadow session with any employee in the company.
"If any employee identifies training that he or she wants to do, we support that. And we don't have any [dollar] limit on a per-employee basis," Soave says. Credit Acceptance also just increased its college tuition reimbursement benefit from $3,000 to $5,250 annually.
Ali Dabaja, 34, who manages finance and HR systems, estimates that he takes a training course every other month.
"On my team, we are constantly looking for ways to broaden our knowledge," Dabaja says, adding that he also values the importance the company places on giving IT staffers exposure to new technologies.
"If there is a new database or application out there, we try to get our hands on it and incorporate it into our business to make things easier for customers," he says.
Soave uses the word egalitarian to describe the company's culture. He says a visitor looking at adjacent offices would have a tough time telling which one was the CEO's office and which one was a lower-ranking manager's office.
"We're not flashy. We're about working hard and being fair and succeeding," Soave says.
Of compensation and coffee creamers
Still, employees have many opportunities to distinguish themselves -- and earn more money -- through their work performance.
Each year, every employee receives a merit bonus, ranging from 7.5% to 15% of base pay, based on his or her performance rating, Soave says. This amount is in addition to annual salary increases, which also are based on merit and can range up to 15% annually.
In addition to work performance, all salary and bonus reviews incorporate the company's PRIDE values. "We recognize not only what team members accomplish, but also how they accomplish it," Soave says. These values go a long way toward creating the collaborative work atmosphere in which employees thrive, he adds.
Matt Beatty, a 36-year-old senior BI analyst, joined the company in January 2011, and his compensation has more than doubled since then, he says.
"I'm given very little time to worry that I'm being underpaid," Beatty jokes. Yet his most valued benefit at the moment, he says, is the company's generous healthcare package. Credit Acceptance subsidizes 81% of employees' costs for healthcare.
"We have an excellent healthcare plan, and my wife and I just found out it covers adoption, which is something we've been talking about," he says. "It just happened to be on the list [of benefits] when we renewed our insurance at the beginning of this year. People asked for it, and they [offered] it."
Beatty is currently working on a project to roll out a new CRM tool for the sales organization. He was selected for the role because he had previous practical experience with sales reporting -- before joining Credit Acceptance he managed a restaurant. He also has a master's degree in public policy.
"My expertise in sales reporting, and my familiarity with sales processes, was unique in IT," he says. But the CRM project has been very broadening, he adds, because it has been quite technical. "I'm doing something I've never done before," Beatty says. "There's always an opportunity to challenge yourself so you don't get tired of what you're doing."
All told, Soave attributes the company's success to its "listening culture." Employees are polled quarterly about their concerns. "My job," he says, "is to scour those results and take action." One recent top concern: the need for more flavored coffee creamers.
"I consider that a win-win when one of the top items on your employee survey is adding vanilla creamer," Soave says with a laugh. "That's a pretty easy thing to act on."