The information technology training company Happy Computers is no stranger to winning awards. In the decade or so since it was established by Henry Stewart, it has collected a cabinet full of trophies. So it should be no surprise that the company, a finalist in the 1999 Service Excellence Awards, has this year won the Business-to-Business category.
It saw off especially stiff competition from the corporate clothing supplier Simon Jersey, last year's Learning Organisation winner, on the strength of its genuine all-round commitment to its customers, its employees and the community in which it operates. One of the judges remarked that Happy is 'a rare example' of a company that is built on a solid foundation of clear values and mutual trust and lives and breathes those values throughout the organisation.
The most obvious thing about Happy is that it lives up to its name. Visitors to its headquarters in the City of London find a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. A notable feature of every day is the serving of free ice creams for all staff and clients at 4pm.
As the company explains, it believes that learning should be fun. It was established to combine technical expertise and excellent training skills with an enjoyable learning environment. To this end, all the training is based around the age-old principle of 'Tell me and I will forget; Show me and I will remember; Involve me and I will understand'.
Though some might feel this is too soft an approach, it has clearly struck a chord. From its begin- nings in 1991 with just Stewart doing the training, it has grown to a staff of about 40. It has more than 4,000 clients and trains more than 15,000 people a year at clients ranging from Christian Aid to Prudential Investments.
Crucially, more than 90% of organisations return to book again. Since the Happy feedback file is filled with generous comments, the staff's enthusiasm obviously infects the clients.
Such devotion is the result of total dedication to assessing clients' needs and ensuring the company has the products and approaches to meet them. Happy makes much of the fact that it does not have a sales team, but everybody is effectively responsible for selling the company. Similarly, any feedback that is less than totally complimentary is analysed to see how the course concerned can be improved. Moreover, anybody who is dissatisfied is given the opportunity to go through the process again, while a helpdesk is available free of charge for delegates to ask questions relating to the course they attended.
Stewart firmly believes that Happy Computers can succeed only if its employees are happy. As a result, there are generous benefits and all kinds of working arrangements designed to suit the mainly female workforce. In addition, there is a commitment to charities, through donations of time and money, on the grounds that an important factor in employees' satisfaction is working for a company of which they can be proud. Staff are also highly involved in the management of the company.
Happy retains a small, family feel, with staff turnover low and internal promotion common. But it is not afraid of thinking big. Two years ago, the company launched an online training arm under the name LearnFish, which has quickly established itself and is in line for a major contract with the National Health Service.
And Stewart says he has ideas for 'a wide range of Happy companies' that can aim to improve service in different sectors. But it looks as if there is plenty going on at Happy Computers to keep him busy there for a while.