It's easy to forget, but 25 years ago the Discover card was introduced by Sears, Roebuck and Co. during the 1986 Super Bowl.
The commercial included a rising sun and a message: "Few things cost you nothing to get and pay you back every day. But now the Discover card does."
Making the debut even sweeter, Sears' hometown Chicago Bears won that championship game, routing the New England Patriots 46-10.
So when it came time earlier this year for Discover Financial Services to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Riverwoods-based credit card company brought in four Bears players from the Super Bowl XX team, including Dan Hampton and Gary Fencik, to celebrate with employees.
Hampton's "head was the size of my body," Discover President Roger Hochschild recalled recently. But the 13-year Discover veteran was also struck by his guests' intangible qualities.
"You could see they still got along as a team," he said of the former Bears.
When it comes to collaboration, Discover isn't too shabby either. It ranks No. 6 among large companies on the Chicago Tribune's annual Top Workplaces survey, conducted by Exton, Pa.-based consultancy WorkplaceDynamics.
Discover has about 2,700 workers on its 80-acre campus, which includes a 1.8-mile running trail, a fitness center that offers chair massages, and outdoor sand volleyball and basketball courts. After cutting about 500 jobs in 2009, Discover has been back in hiring mode. It's looking to fill more than 200 jobs locally, ranging from associate positions to senior management posts in such areas as analytics, information technology and consumer banking.
Many workers who are happy at Discover say their employer enables them to have a life outside work, noting the company's flexible scheduling options.
Job-sharing, for example, will enable two executives to each work three days a week, overlapping Wednesday. Where appropriate, Discover will also allow employees to work part time.
"One of our most successful executives … worked a couple of years part time, came back full time and is now on the management committee," Hochschild said of Julie Loeger, now senior vice president of brand management.
As soon as workers are hired, they receive 25 days of paid vacation and sick time. That's in addition to the usual paid holidays.
The dress code is business casual, and workers can wear jeans on Fridays. The campus also includes dry-cleaning services and a sick bay with a full-time physician's assistant.
Several employees said they felt empowered to make decisions, their opinions were respected and they were recognized for good work.
Hochschild said Discover, which was spun off from Morgan Stanley as an independent company in 2007, tries to fill at least two-thirds of its open positions from within.
"It's important to provide opportunities for our own employees," he said.
Discover's market share rose for the third-straight year in 2010, to 7.05 percent, according to the Nilson Report, which tracks the credit card and payment industries. Its 10-year high, though, was 8.22 percent of outstanding credit card balances in 2000.
Kim Holmes, a Discover technology director, appreciates the benefits.
"I love the fitness center," added Holmes, who lost 15 pounds recently.
She also characterizes Discover's culture as open. Her previous employer had a hierarchical structure, with top managers often retreating to the executive dining room for lunch. But top Discover executives, including Hochschild, regularly eat with employees in the cafeteria.
Hochschild is a particular fan of the Indian food, made by Manpasand restaurant in Arlington Heights and brought into the 800-seat dining hall Wednesdays and Fridays.
As if to vouch for the camaraderie, Holmes noted: "Roger drinks white milk."
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