What It's Like to Work at Winnebago

BOSTON (06/05/2000) - Interviewee: Joel Albertson, senior computer analyst, technology support staffCompany: Winnebago Industries Inc., a motor home manufacturerMain location: Forest City, Iowa; population 4,500Number of information technology employees: 35Number of employees (end users): 3,200 in Forest City plus 300 at three manufacturing plants across the stateTenure: Fifteen years. "There aren't really any other IT shops in town."

How difficult is IT recruiting? "The locale is a problem. We recruit from cities like Minneapolis and Chicago. You have to like rural life. There are people who want to live in a smaller community, and this one has a lot to offer - fishing, hunting, camping, biking, hiking."

Cost of living: "A typical four-bedroom home is about $80,000 to $90,000."

Critical IT initiatives: The majority of the IT staff (about 20 people) are programmers maintaining and improving a mainframe-based, homegrown manufacturing system for motor home production. The remainder of the staff is in operations and PC technical support, supporting 800 PC users ranging from robotics and computer-aided design and manufacturing users to field sales reps.

What's your role? "I wear many hats - tech support, network administration, Web site"Dress code: Business casual, with casual FridaysWorkday: "Oh boy. We are a 24/6 shop, and we have three shifts in IT. The only day we're not staffed is Sunday. My office is mainly on from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., but we usually stay longer because of demand for user support or project deadlines."

Do you need a security badge or card to get into the building or office? "We have three car gates into the complex with security when you drive in and one security dog. We have a tremendous amount of inventory here - both finished products and components - so we have to make sure things don't leave without authority."

IT facility: "Back in the early '70s, Winnebago had 12 security dogs, and this is where they were housed. It was expanded and remodeled for IT, but it's still referred to as the doghouse. And we can bark up a storm."

What do you see in people's workspaces? "A lot of golf balls and miniature putting greens; miniature motor homes are pretty popular - you can find all sorts of them on eBay. But we have policies about eBay usage; we observe what people are doing on the Net."

IT Training: "I always attend the big trade shows and all the Microsoft seminars."

Employee reviews: Annually

Internal career paths: "There are more people wanting to move from other business areas into IT than the other way around. Once people are in IT here, they want to stay in IT."

Must people carry beepers? Cell phones? Yes. "In operations and tech support, we're basically on call all the time."

Number of IT employees who telecommute: NoneOn-site day care? NoDid you ever imagine that the phrase The Winnie would be part of the vernacular among 18- to 24-year-olds? "We did the MTV Road Rules thing to get the name recognition - to get the persona out there that motor homes are cool for all ages. And it's worked well."

Perks: "We have an employee fleet of Winnebagos, and in the summer you can put your name in for drawings to use a motor home on the weekends." Employees can buy motor homes at cost.

The company also reimburses 75 percent of tuition costs, and a computer purchase program allows employees to make interest-free payments on home PCs through paycheck deductions.

IT activities: An annual camp-out for IT staff and families on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin in June, golf tournaments and weekend bike tripsWould employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO, Bruce Hertzke? "Oh, sure. I don't think he'd reply for a while, but we'd feel comfortable sending him one."

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