And the winners are
By Robert Levering

(FORTUNE Magazine) - [The following article contains the first portion of a table -- For the remainder please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF] You have to be pretty darn strange to make this list. We mean that in a good way, of course. At Whole Foods (No. 15), any employee can look up anyone else's salary. At law firm Arnold & Porter (No. 54), senior partner Jim Sandman invites everyone who has nowhere to go to celebrate Christmas with his family. W.L. Gore (No. 5) eschews official job titles entirely. To winnow down the 466 companies that competed for a spot on our ninth annual list, we primarily relied on employees to tell us who belongs. And believe us, it takes more than a great 401(k) to impress your human capital. Just look at our new No. 1, Genentech. Few companies in our experience celebrate success better, from Friday afternoon "ho-hos" to companywide blowouts (one featured Elton John). Unusual? You bet. But neither Genentech nor any of the other companies on this list are striving to be ordinary.

>>> For Companies #11-100, and their ranking, see INDEX below. N.A. Not available. *Yearly pay rate plus additional cash compensation for the largest classification of salaried and hourly employees.

BEST LARGE COMPANIES 10,000+ U.S. employees

BEST MEDIUM COMPANIES 2,500 to 10,000 U.S. employees

BEST SMALL COMPANIES 1,000 to 2,500 U.S. employees

INDEX COMPANY RANK

Aflac 47

Alcon Laboratories 32

Alston & Bird 19

American Century Investments 22

American Express 37

American Fidelity Assurance 35

Amgen 39

Arnold & Porter 54

Autodesk 81

Baird (Robert W.) 31

Baptist Health Care 18

Baptist Health South Florida 59

Bingham McCutchen 82

Booz Allen Hamilton 72

Boston Consulting Group 11

Bright Horizons 94

Bronson Healthcare Group 68

CarMax 93

CDW 34

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta 76

CH2M Hill 80

Cisco Systems 25

Container Store 6

East Penn Manufacturing 79

Edwards (A.G.) 70

Ernst & Young 67

FedEx 64

First Horizon National 85

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts 28

Genentech 1

General Mills 98

Genzyme 51

Goldman Sachs 26

Gore (W.L.) & Associates 5

Granite Construction 91

Griffin Hospital 4

HomeBanc Mortgage 14

Hot Topic 53

IKEA (U.S.) 96

Intel 97

Intuit 43

JM Family Enterprises 40

Johnson (S.C.) 10

Jones (Edward) 16

Kimley-Horn & Associates 20

Leonard's (Stew) 58

Lilly (Eli) 52

Marriott International 99

Mayo Clinic 89

Memorial Health 62

Men's Wearhouse 92

Methodist Hospital System 78

Microsoft 42

Milliken 38

MITRE 66

Morrison & Foerster 88

National Instruments 77

Network Appliance 27

Nike 100

Nixon Peabody 49

Nordstrom 46

Northwest Community Hospital 50

Nugget Markets 33

PCL Construction 65

Pella 44

Perkins Coie 48

Plante & Moran 12

PricewaterhouseCoopers 71

Principal Financial Group 86

Publix Super Markets 56

Quad/Graphics 75

Qualcomm 23

Quicken Loans 13

QuikTrip 21

Recreational Equipment (REI) 9

Republic Bancorp 17

Russell Investment Group 63

SAS Institute 30

Sherwin-Williams 61

Smucker (J.M.) 8

SRA International 45

Standard Pacific 74

Starbucks 29

Station Casinos 55

Synovus 57

TDIndustries 36

Texas Instruments 83

Timberland 41

Valassis 69

Valero Energy 3

Vanguard Group 60

Vision Service Plan 7

Washington Mutual 87

Weekley (David) Homes 24

Wegmans Food Markets 2

Whole Foods Market 15

Wiley (John) & Sons 90

Worthington Industries 84

Wrigley (Wm.) Jr. 95

Yahoo 73

HOW WE PICK THE 100 BEST

To choose the 100 Best Companies to Work for, we rely on two things: our evaluation of the policies and culture of each company and the opinions of the company's own employees. We give the latter more weight: Two-thirds of the total score comes from employee responses to a 57-question survey created by the Great Place to Work Institute in San Francisco. The survey goes to a minimum of 400 randomly selected employees from each company and asks about things such as attitudes toward management, job satisfaction, and camaraderie. The remaining third of the score comes from our evaluation of each company's demographic makeup, pay and benefits programs, and the like. We score companies in four areas: credibility (communication to employees), respect (opportunities and benefits), fairness (compensation, diversity), and pride/camaraderie (philanthropy, celebrations). After evaluations are completed, if news about a company comes to light that may significantly damage employees' faith in management, we may exclude that company from the list.

About 1,500 companies contacted us or were recruited to participate; of them, 466 finished the exhaustive survey process. (Any company that is at least seven years old with more than 1,000 U.S. employees is eligible.) The deadline for applying for next year's list is March 31, 2006; for an online nomination form, go to www.greatplacetowork.com. -- R.L. and M.M.

NOTES N.A. Not available. U.S. employees includes part-timers as of time of survey. Job growth, new jobs, and voluntary turnover are full-time only. Average annual pay: yearly pay rate plus additional cash compensation for the largest classification of salaried and hourly employees. Revenues are for 2004 or latest fiscal year. All data based on U.S. employees. Top of page

YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS