O.C. Tanner celebrates 85 years of helping companies appreciate people who do great work

At 85, founder’s values keep O.C. Tanner focused on appreciating others’ success

Now in its 85th year and nearly two decades on since the passing of its iconic founder, Salt Lake City’s venerable O.C. Tanner Company remains the global leader of the employee recognition industry that it helped create.

While known to most in Utah and the Mountain West for “America’s most-beautiful jewelry store,” O.C. Tanner is also an “appreciation” powerhouse serving 8,000 clients in 129 countries, including a third of the world’s 100 largest corporations. Not bad for a company started by a young man handcrafting emblems and pins from the basement of his mother’s Salt Lake City home.

It’s the down-to-earth values, persistence and love of beauty espoused by Obert C. Tanner, the man, that have continued to guide the 1,497 employees of O.C. Tanner, the company, says Dave Petersen, CEO and President. “Over the last 85 years, the O.C. Tanner Company wasn’t only formed, an industry was born. Our founder envisioned the recognition industry, and our company continues to shape it, and none of it would be possible without our people.”

O.C Tanner’s customers have grown over the years to include over a third of the companies on the Fortune 100 list. And, while O.C. Tanner’s historic mainstay business is producing and shipping millions of meaningful custom and name brand awards, consulting with clients on developing new ways to appreciate their employees is a fast-growing part of the business.

Many of these ideas the company has tested with its own employees, including the Appreciateology program, which encourages employees to give and receive appreciation for great work through a platform that mirrors what O.C. Tanner offers to its own clients. In addition to a long list of other benefits, O.C. Tanner treats each employee to a crisp $100 bill on his or her birthday, hosts semiannual picnics on its beautifully landscaped campus, provides extensive wellness activities and facilities, and for this year’s anniversary will host its 1,200 Salt Lake Citybased employees with a day at the Natural History Museum of Utah to celebrate.

Decades of innovation

Here are a few more of the innovations that the O.C. Tanner Co. has pioneered, often in close collaboration with key clients:

  • First to market with online employee-recognition programs.
  • First to market with on-boarding recognition strategies. (On-boarding refers to the process of hiring, training and engaging a new employee.)
  • Developed the industry’s largest, most technologically advanced global client relations team and the industry’s first international support team available around the clock.
  • Published The Carrot Principle, one of the most-widely read series of recognition books in the world, with more than one million copies sold in 20 languages.
  • Conducted one of the largest employee recognition/engagement studies ever attempted, in partnership with research firm Towers Watson. The study gathered data about differences and similarities in recognition strategies from organizations worldwide.
  • Developed the industry’s first leadership-recognition training team to help company leaders excel at incentivizing their staff.
  • Founded the annual Executive Recognition Summit, attended by senior Human Resources executives from around the world, to share industry best practices and recognition breakthroughs.

In addition, the company continues to fund the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, an annual lecture series at Oxford, Cambridge, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford and Yale universities and the universities of Utah, California and Michigan. The series was established by Obert C. Tanner who, in addition to building his company, found time to earn four college degrees, receive numerous honorary degrees, teach philosophy and religious studies at Stanford and the University of Utah, and author or co-author 10 books.

“With clients all over the world and ever-growing annual sales, the O.C. Tanner Company has been tremendously successful,” said Charlotte Miller, O.C. Tanner’s SVP of People & Great Work. “We’ve clearly come a long way in 85 years. But, when it comes down the core of who we are and what we do, we’re right where we started. We’re a family of professionals that works together to help companies recognize people who do great work. That was Obert’s dream, vision and philosophy, and we’re proud to strive to achieve it each and every day.”

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