Taking Care of the 'UltiPeeps'

This article accompanies Investing in the Future and The 2017 HR Honor Roll.

Ultimate Software's Vivian Maza takes pride in her role helping the company achieve consistently high rankings in Fortune's Best Places to Work list. 

By Andrew R. McIlvaine

Vivian Maza was on maternity leave when she was informed that her employer, ADP Inc., was shutting down the division she worked for and she would not have a job to return to.

Armed with two months of severance pay, Maza decided to take a bit of a risk for her next job: She joined an unknown start-up company that was operating out of a single cubicle at a law firm that was donating the space, taking a 50-percent pay cut from her previous salary.

That was 27 years ago. Today, Maza is chief people officer at Ultimate Software, the start-up in question, which has grown from a four-person operation (Maza was its fourth hire) to a 3,800-employee global operation, with a state-of-the-art headquarters in Weston, Fla., and a glowing reputation as an employer of choice.

"I tend to look at things as opportunities, not problems, and I was confident that if things didn't work out at Ultimate, I'd find work elsewhere," she says. "But I trusted [Ultimate founder and CEO] Scott Scherr and I felt empowered by him."

During her long career at the helm of Ultimate's HR department, Maza has indeed been empowered by Scherr to launch a head-spinning variety of employee benefits, programs and perks that have helped the company (which makes HCM software) land in the top 25 of Fortune's Best Companies to Work For list in each of the past six years, coming in at No. 7 this year.

"Our philosophy is that employees come first, customers come second and shareholders are third -- in the rest of corporate America it's usually the other way around, but we believe that if we take care of our people, they'll take care of us," says Maza. "And they have."

Ultimate's retention rate is at an enviable 96 percent, and it has a 4.6 stars (out of a possible 5) rating on Glassdoor, with 92 percent of the reviewers agreeing they'd recommend the company to a friend. Maza cites the "People First" culture she's helped to build at Ultimate as a key ingredient of its success, along with its impressive array of employee benefits. These include 100-percent paid healthcare and dental benefits for employees and their dependents; a 40-percent company match for 401(k) plans with no cap on the matching amount; restricted stock units granted to all employees on their first day with the company; tuition reimbursement; and free meals and on-site services such as massages and acupuncture. Its 12-building campus in Weston (which Maza helped design) includes a 650-gallon fish tank, an indoor basketball court (see the above photo), a putting range, on-site gyms and lactation rooms for new moms. 

"We consider ourselves the Google of the East," says Maza.

Given its position in a demanding, work-intensive industry, it makes sense that Ultimate provides this level of support for its employees (or "UltiPeeps," as they're known). The red-carpet treatment begins during the company's onboarding process when new hires receive a themed welcome package sent to their homes and continues with a two-day "Ultimization" event held each month at headquarters, in which they meet with Scherr and other top officials and are taken out for lunch at Capriccio's, a nearby Italian restaurant that's long been a favorite with UltiPeeps.

The goal isn't simply to make new hires feel welcome, says Maza, but to help them feel as if they've found a home away from home.

"We're upfront about it: We want you here from hire to retire," she says.

Perks aside, however, one of the things Maza is most proud of is the company's "communities of interest" for LGBT, veterans, women employees, and one she just recently launched for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers. This last group, launched at the suggestion of a California-based employee, provides support meetings and resource sharing and care packages for UltiPeeps who are affected by cancer. In addition to providing employees with a forum and support, the COIs also give back to the community through fundraisers and volunteer activities.

Maza points to her own experience as one reason she believes COIs are so vital.

"I was a single mom who raised two kids on her own, so I understand what it's like to struggle with balancing work, family and having a career," she says.

Maza also helps lead the company's efforts to foster the next generation of talent through programs such as TechSTARS, an internship program for college students, recent grads and others interested in a tech career. "We hire about 90 percent of our interns, and they start coding from day one," she says. "We tell them it's the worst job to have out of college, because every other job they will have after they've worked at Ultimate will pale in comparison."

Maza's favorite part of her job, she says, is the ability to effect positive change in people's lives. "We've helped people build their lives, build their dream houses, make an impact," she says. "I'm a giver -- my happiness comes from making other people happy."

Scherr has full confidence in his long-serving chief people officer.

"Viv is an advocate for our people, both formally and informally -- she speaks to them and for them," says Scherr. "I couldn't have asked for a better HR leader."

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Vivian Maza

Oct 16, 2017
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