Animators' Fun-filled Corporate Culture is the Key to Their Clients' Success
December 29, 2000
by Matthew King
The employees of Animators at Law attended the company's best holiday party ever earlier this month, and to hear Tannaz Hanachi, Animators' new CFO tell it, it might just have been the greatest holiday party in recorded history. "It was the best holiday party they'd ever been to," said Hanachi, who planned the festivities.
The fete that outdid all others included a limo ride to a three-hour meal at a Moroccan restaurant followed by a night of clubbing, and was no surprising feat for a company that prides itself on fun.
For Hanachi isn't a 23-year old financial wunderkind. She's Animators' Chief Fun Officer, a woman with a B.A. in psychology and responsible for ensuring that her colleagues, mostly lawyers and technology whizzes, don't spend a single unhappy minute at the office.
For after a long day of designing "ultra persuasive" trial exhibits for big tobacco and pharmaceutical companies facing class action litigation, who wouldn't want to forget his troubles in culturally institutionalized frivolity?
"We project a very professional image to our clients," said Animators' founder and CEO Kenneth J. Lopez, "but on the inside it's very dorm like." Which may explain why the position that Lopez refers to as potentially the company's most important went to a woman only a few months removed from college.
"We were looking for someone who could get in touch with the different personalities here," Lopez said. "We've noticed the danger of the same person always coordinating the fun. The fun can be biased. If your passion in life is happy hour, you're always going to go to happy hour. The ability to read people and show a lot of empathy and caring were the traits we were looking for."
The company also needed someone who could handle a switchboard. Hanachi doubles as the receptionist, or in Animators' carnival world, the CFI, or Chief of First Impressions.
"She is the ultimate gatekeeper of our culture," Lopez said. Hanachi stands sentry in the company's headquarters in Alexandria, Va., putting smiles on the faces of the two dozen or so employees who provide high-priced, hi-tech legal consulting services. Lopez, who had long enjoyed computer animation, founded the company after earning his J.D. in 1995.
"I was a computer geek and I realized I could be one of 12,000 new lawyers working for a firm or I could do something else. I had a friend working for an animation company and convinced them to do the work for me." At first, the CFO work was handled part-time, but earlier this year, there was a realization that the job was important enough, and the company big enough, to warrant a focused leader.
"We made the conscious decision that if what we're doing is always going to be fun, we needed someone to look at it and work on it," Lopez said. That someone turned out to be Hanachi, who was undecided on a life path before spotting the job ad on Monster.com.
"It seemed perfect for my personality," Hanachi said. "It's the kind of job where you wake up in the morning and don't dread going to work." And how could you? Dread does not breathe well with toys ranging from Nerf balls to video game consoles scattered about the office, and internal meetings where all are forced to wear zany hats or speak in an odd tone of voice.
Forced is the operative word. Animators hires no one who is not willing to be wacky on a daily basis, and attendance at company outings, most recently dim sum followed by an IMAX movie about the Galapagos Islands, is mandatory. "Half of our hiring process is devoted to culture," Lopez said. "We spend a long time hiring a person.”
"In five years, Lopez said, not a single employee has quit, though a few have been asked to leave, essentially because they didn't fit in. The key to a successful career at Animators, it seems, is to never tire of the people you work with. Working there is like a marriage with 25 spouses. Hanachi appears well-placed for positive results.
"I just love hanging out with friends," she said, "even if I'm at a place I wouldn't choose to go myself. I'm very easy to please. It's really all about the company. I'm not only a go-getter or a drinker, I'm a little bit of everything."