After starting their own company, OurTown Television Productions, right out of college, Steven Rosenbaum and his partner couldn't offer prospective employees the kind of salaries that local stations paid. So OurTown offered something else: jobs custom-tailored to workers' tastes. As a result, staffers made less money, but most of them loved their jobs.
Rosenbaum's accommodating approach is still manifest in almost every one of the 18 positions at his Saratoga Springs, N.Y., company. OurTown's story coordinator, for example, is also the staff welder because he told Rosenbaum he loved welding. "Steve Rosenbaum is interested in making people like working here, even if it means extending their job description," says Steve Mendes, the story coordinator/welder. "Letting me weld makes me a happier person here."
Rosenbaum spends a lot of time finding out what employees love and hate about their jobs and trying to eliminate or reduce the distasteful responsibilities. Usually that means identifying someone else in the company who's interested in the task.
Still, all employees have to do something they're not particularly fond of. And creating a perfectly tailored job for a new hire can sow dissatisfaction among employees. Rosenbaum waived a company policy and allowed a new producer-reporter to do her own voice-over recording on her stories. Before doing so, however, Rosenbaum first discussed the idea with the anchorman, who normally handles such work. The anchor OK'd it -- but then three other reporters wanted to do their own voice-overs, as well. Rosenbaum asked them to come back to him in six months if they still felt strongly about it. "The easy solution would be to make an ironclad rule with no exceptions," he says. "But I look at it as having three people on staff who would like to build their skill level."
Granted, some people can get lost in this kind of environment, but the payoff for the headaches is that Rosenbaum retains many employees who could work elsewhere for better pay. He says productivity is also higher. He estimates OurTown produces TV programs with one-half to two-thirds the staff other production companies require. OurTown's revenues have spurted from $600,000 in 1989 to an estimated $1.1 million for 1991. The best part: his flexibility costs him nothing but his time and interest in keeping employees happy. Can he continue doing that as his company grows? He's working on it. -- Ellyn E. Spragins