She begins with an employee from platinum-card member services who helped a stranded customer find a hotel room — despite the fact that the customer had left home without his card. “Sam spent an hour and a half on the phone until he found a hotel that would let this card member check in without his card,” she explains. “That’s living our Blue Box value of customer commitment. Sam has made a real difference in that customer’s life.” The large crowd heartily applauds the fellow’s accountability as Camaraza presents him with an award from RewardBlue — American Express’ recognition system where any employee can recognize any other employee in forty-five countries.
After welcoming another eight people to the spotlight in the Oprah chairs, and getting misty-eyed on a few occasions as she describes someone’s dedication, Camaraza steps aside and on cue a randomly selected employee from each of the facility’s large business units runs out. The blaring music returns and the five play a game of Minute to Win It, blowing up balloons and then using the captured air to try to push fifteen cups off their respective tables. The crowd begins howling in encouragement for their floors’ representatives and laughing hysterically at some of the attempts. When a slight, spunky woman from the credit group wins, employees from the fourth floor go bananas in celebration.
“Loosening up like this was especially important when we were going through the financial crisis,” Camaraza says. “Our people were working so hard. Every call that came in seemed to be challenging: Someone had lost their job and wasn’t making their payments. We had to help folks relieve the stress of a very tough environment.”
But surely some people don’t approve of such shenanigans. True, though such cranky attitudes don’t last long in Fort Lauderdale. “I don’t want to surround myself with people who are dragging themselves to work. We don’t need any grumpy poo-poo heads,” Camaraza said. “That’s a technical term,” she added with a chuckle, and we couldn’t help but laugh with her.
All this cheerfulness and productivity in today’s financial services industry is rare and is derived in part from leadership’s unique efforts to affect employees physical and emotional well-being — something that has paid off for them handsomely. For instance, Camaraza walked us through their brand-new Healthy Living Center, a workout facility with fitness classes and weights. Trainers are on staff, as is a nurse. And then she gave us a tour of the Kids Zone, a backup child-care facility. As we entered, “Who Let the Dogs Out?” was blaring from a television as a dozen excited eight-year-olds bounced in front of a video dance game as part of an exercise break.
CEO Ken Chenault and executive vice president of world service Jim Bush gave Camaraza the go-ahead to pilot the facility in Fort Lauderdale. “We have about ninety births here every year and eleven hundred dependent children under the age of twelve,” Camaraza explained. “It was a significant multimillion-dollar investment that paid back in about fifteen months. It’s a huge driver in reducing absenteeism, and we can look at the attrition of people who are registered for child care and the rest of the employee population and there is no comparison.”
Employees are eligible for up to twenty days of backup child care in the facility and three weeks of summer camp for their kids. And employees’ newborns can spend up to eight weeks in the Kids Zone. “A woman who has no children said to me today that it makes [her] really proud to work for this company. We get a ripple effect that is really powerful,” Camaraza said.