Excellence-Nassuah - Not Just Business Performance

Excellence-Nassuah is one of the largest investment houses in Israel. The flourishing of the capital market in recent years and the Becher Reform have contributed to the rapid growth of the company, which currently numbers 450 employees.
Excellence-Nassuah has ten departments, each of which is registered as a separate business entity for regulatory reasons. The companies/departments are involved in all fields related to the capital market, including pension funds, customer portfolio management, trust fund management, brokerage, underwriting, index certificates, etc. Despite the compartmentalization, the company operates as a single unit for its workers and operates as a single operative entity.
We spoke with Moshe Barmak, the company's vice president of operations and human resources, about Excellent-Nassuah's operations and approach to employee management.

You're in charge of functions at the central headquarter office, which provides services to the company's various departments.
Yes, I'm responsible for three areas: information systems, administration and logistics and human resources. About 30 employees work in these areas. At company headquarters there are also marketing, finance and legal departments.

What's the company's growth rate?
Very fast. When I joined the company at the beginning of 2004 there were 100 employees. At the beginning of 2007 there were 30 employees. Today the company has 450 employees and we're anticipating a growth rate of another 100 workers next year.

What's the profile of company workers and what are they involved in?
A substantial number of employees are graduates of economics or finance programs, or are still studying these subjects. The average age of employees is relatively low, 32, and the gender distribution is almost equal. Employees are involved in a range of relevant tasks; many are stock market traders, investment managers, analysts, customer portfolio managers and sales and marketing people. There are dozens of employees working at each of these tasks. There are also back-office workers, who comprise about a third of the company's employees.

Is there an organized training program for new employees before they begin to carry out their job?
There's no preparation course per se. People start working and learn on the job or they arrive with professional experience.
In order to work in certain jobs, such as marketers, customer portfolio managers or pension advisors, candidates must pass exams and receive a license from the state. If formal training is necessary, people arrange it through external courses. On the other hand, we fund the preparation for the exams and the fee.

Last year our customer service center developed considerably. It's a phone center manned primarily by students. Today there are 50 service representatives working there. At the service center they make appointments with customers or provide callers with initial technical information. The company makes efforts to maintain high service standards and to achieve this has invested in a new communications system and provides workers guidance and training during the course of their work to foster quality service. 
Working at the service center is a very easy way to enter the company. An employee comes as a student and later he can advance within the service center or in the company's professional departments. We see the center as an incubator leading to other positions at the company. This way we create an advancement horizon for employees.

What's the turnover rate at the company?
Last year by the end of October 225 employees had joined the company and 84 had left.
Reasons for leaving include situations in which the employee enters a field for the first time and feels the profession isn't right for him, for instance he doesn't like sitting in front of a computer screen all day or he feels he isn't "connecting" to the job. There are also employees who move to other companies, just as there are employees who leave other companies to come to us.

Why do people switch from one company to another?
Sometimes they're offered higher pay. In other cases they're offered a promotion or a more distinguished job title, even if the task they perform is really no different from their previous task. For instance someone will be given the title of team leader even though not a single employee is subordinate to them.

Your massive growth must mean you have to expand your managerial ranks significantly.
That's right. We're currently starting a second training course for middle managers. This is a job that didn't exist at the company previously. In the past department managers held high-ranking managerial positions and they ran the team leaders. Today the middle managers are coming in. For now they're subordinate to the department managers.
Twelve people took the course the first time it was offered and now another 18 people are taking it.

Middle managers are not always in charge of team leaders; it depends on the size of the department.
Definitely. The portfolio management department has three middle managers; each one is responsible for a number of customer portfolio managers, which is a professional position, but not a managerial post. On the other hand the pension fund department has over 130 employees with four middle managers overseeing ten team leaders.

Give us an example of how people are selected for managerial posts at the company.
To find a director of the trust funds department we opened an internal and external job tender.
Six employees from within the company applied. Four of them, who met the criteria we set, reached the final stage. With the other two we held a joint conversation with the CEO of the group present and explained to them that at this stage they're still too young and lack experience. They were very understanding.
The external candidates were handled by an outside screening institute that presented us with possible candidates. Of this group we selected, together with the institute's staff, three more final candidates.
This group of seven final candidates, both internal and external, was evaluated at an assessment center.

Since this is a high-ranking post that must have required proven abilities and experience, there must have been external candidates from employees at other investment companies.
There was one person who fit that description, so he was unwilling to go to the assessment center to avoid revealing his candidacy. Had he not been chosen for the job it would have been very unpleasant for him. We understood his request and he was assessed on an individual basis.
Two made it to the final round: that external candidate and a candidate from the company. The choice wasn't easy. We struggled over the decision at length, eventually choosing the internal candidate.

What weight was given to the fact he came from within the company?
Substantially weight. Of course first of all he had to be right for the job, but we also wanted to send a message to company employees that it's possible to advance to higher ranking positions. It was a significant message that pointed to a change in the company's attitude toward human resources. Two years ago it would never had occurred to anyone to operate this way. Back then it was clear that such a high-ranking post would go to an experienced candidate from outside the organization.

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What's your salary policy? How do you determine the pay rate of a new employee who arrives at the company?
Every job has a salary range accepted in the market. There's no written pay policy. It's based on "oral law." Recently we also started participating in salary surveys.
The salary for a new employee is set within the [standard] range and the level reflects his individual traits, such as experience. The department manager can decide on the employee's salary level as long as it remains within the range for the job.

Investment houses are perceived as companies focused on economic goals. What weight is given to soft areas like staff integration, organizational identity and the working environment?
The primary aim is definitely to make money and bring economic results, but investments are also made in what you call "soft areas." The company has an employee welfare committee made up of representatives from various departments at the company. The committee took part in determining the benefits all employees receive. For instance, we had a pointed discussion that went on for months over whether the standard vacation is enough or whether the employees should be sent for a vacation abroad. The executive management had to be persuaded that it was truly needed. Eventually they agreed and it was met with a very positive response. All of the employees went to Turkey at the company's expense.

It proved to be worthwhile. It created high morale among the employees, who appreciated the investment in them. It's important for workers to feel unit pride. It's not just about business performance.
All year round the employee is active in his business unit and these types of events create organizational identity. They create a feeling that the worker is part of Excellence and not just a part of the business units he works in. Such events also allow him to take a break from the daily grind and enjoy himself, to have a good time.

You don't think the employees would prefer a salary bonus instead?
There may be some people who would prefer a bonus, but that does not promote the company's desire to create an atmosphere of cooperation and organizational identity. This has added value that's not gauged just in terms of money. Still, the employee welfare committee, which is composed of employees, is in charge of deciding which activities are held.

Are you active in community affairs?
Certainly. We donate money to several organizations and get workers personally involved in the community. Also, one of the human resources coordinators is designated Head of Community Relations. Two years ago we wanted to do something beyond monetary contributions to organizations. We looked for a project that the employees could take part in, too.

Why was that important to you?
For the same reasons we arrange company activities. It's something that goes beyond just going to work and getting paid. It's not mandatory. Only employees who want to participate in community activities. In the past these were one-time activities, such as distributing food to the needy before Passover or adopting a group from Etgarim [a non-profit organization that arranges outdoor activities for disabled children] by having our employees accompany a group of handicapped children on a trip.
We looked for an ongoing activity that demanded more of a commitment and that we could be identified with, rather than a one-time affair.
We scheduled a meeting to discuss the matter and announced any interested employee could attend. We wanted to decide together at the meeting which activity we would join. About 30 people came. We decided to get involved in providing assistance to children.
We chose this area for several reasons: one, because of the proximity in age since most of our employees are young, and two, because most of the employees are young, educated people they have the ability to convey knowledge and teach. Eventually we settled on a tutoring program.

How did you do this in practice?
We chose a joint project run by the City of Givatayim and the Koach Latet organization, which wanted to set up a community education center for special segments of the population.

Why Givatayim?
This was also a matter of extensive discussion. We wanted it to be close to work [Excellence-Nassuah is located at Migdal Aviv in Ramat Gan] so that employees getting off of work wouldn't have to run around, but rather the program would take place at a location that would be easily accessible.
Givatayim has needy people, too. As it turns out Givatayim has one of Israel's largest populations of single-parent mothers. It was also important to us to have a unique project that would be identified with us and of course involve children. This project had all of the characteristics we were looking for.
Later it turned out the project was too much for the municipality to handle. Eventually the bureaucracy stopped it and we were forced to look for another project. The money we wanted to donate to the center we donated toward other ends, such as hospitals that operated during the war in the North and forest rehabilitation through the Jewish National Fund.

What alternative project did you find?
We found a charming place called Elazraki in Netanya. It houses in dormitory conditions 180 children whose parents cannot raise them. Recently, after months of contacts, we started working with them. Company employees do one-on-one mentoring. Twenty-two employees and 13 middle managers have taken part – 13 women and 9 men.

They drive out to Netanya?
The children come here with an adult escort once every second or third week and spend two or three hours here. Each child meets with his mentor at the office at the coffee shop downstairs or anywhere else. During Hanukah the employees drove there to take part in the children's Hanukah party.
It's just the start of our contact with them. At a later stage the child may be invited to the employee's home for a Friday night meal. We don't know how it will develop.
These activities have created a very positive resonance at the company and we already have a waiting list of employees who want to join the project.


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