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TOP PLACES TO WORK

Twice at the top for Bright Horizons

Loyalty runs deep at this child care company

Chayla Smith, a preschool teacher, gets kids ready for nap time at Bright Horizons in Watertown. Chayla Smith, a preschool teacher, gets kids ready for nap time at Bright Horizons in Watertown. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)
By Katie Johnston
Globe Staff / November 6, 2011

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After Bright Horizons Family Solutions placed first among large employers in the Globe’s Top Places to Work survey last year, chief executive Dave Lissy gave a speech at the reception honoring the best workplaces in the state.

“The only difficulty about becoming number one is staying there,’’ he told the crowd. “If we’re not number one again, we’ll have to talk about why.’’

Lucky for Lissy, he doesn’t have much explaining to do. His 25-year-old Watertown company, which operates 800 child care centers around the world, was the number one large employer again this year. In our survey, Bright Horizons employees cited an engaging environment that promotes individuality and flexibility, which has created a deep loyalty among the company’s 19,000 workers.

Marilyn Crone got a taste of how far Bright Horizons was willing to go to keep an employee happy a few years ago, when she mentioned to her supervisor that she was feeling restless. Crone, who oversaw eight Boston area child care centers for Bright Horizons, liked her job but was ready for a change. The next week, Crone’s supervisor told there was a similar position - regional manager - open in London.

Crone, who is in her early 60s and has worked for the company for 12 years, was elated: “I said ‘Holy cow, yes.’ ’’

When Crone’s first grandchildren were born two years later, Bright Horizons found a position that allowed her to return to her home office in Newton Highlands.

“I literally get teary because of the extraordinary experience that I have been able to have,’’ she said.

Treating people well has paid off in loyalty for Bright Horizons. Nationally, the annual turnover rate in child care facilities is more than 50 percent, Lissy said. At Bright Horizons, it’s less than 20 percent.

Lissy said he can get more out of people when they feel inspired and engaged. “It allows people, when they pull into the parking lot, to not leave behind half of who they are,’’ he said, adding that if employees don’t feel they can be themselves at work, “you as an employer aren’t getting the full contribution of that person.’’

Lissy and chief operating officer, Mary Ann Tocio, visit more than 100 centers each year to meet with employees and address their concerns. Lissy invites all the new center directors to his home four times a year, where he grills swordfish for them, and then hosts a bus tour of facilities in the area. The company offers online classes to help staff members advance, and calls its teachers faculty members.

“The people who choose the profession in our field don’t get the respect they deserve in society all that often,’’ Lissy said, adding that they should. “Children spend more time in our centers than they will in elementary and middle school combined, and we can make a pretty profound impact on getting them future success in school and in life.’’

Mary Bresadola, a 21-year employee from Acton, felt that respect when Bright Horizons managers implemented one of her ideas. Before she started her job as an education and training manager, Bresadola worked in human resources, recruiting center directors. She ran the orientation program for new directors, a task she enjoyed so much that she asked if she could move the program with her to the education department. Bright Horizons managers said yes.

They also said yes when she needed to go on medical leave for a few months, letting her take on a solo project and work as much or as little as she could manage.

“They were there for me,’’ said Bresadola, who is in her 50s, and whose two daughters attended Bright Horizons from the time they were infants through kindergarten.

“Trying to be a great place to work is not a one-year strategy,’’ Lissy said - and winning the Top Places award for two years in a row isn’t enough either. “This is something that we strive to sustain forever.’’

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.