34. Keen

Footwear and bag manufacturer

LOCATION: Portland, OR
BEST PERKS: Alternative work environment, Flex time, Swag
HIRING? YES! keenfootwear.com

Keen, the manufacturer of original hybrid footwear, bags, and socks, was founded in 2003. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Keen offers innovative hybrid products enabling outdoor enthusiasts to live an active lifestyle. Keen’s products are sold in specialty footwear, travel, and outdoor retailers, premium-sporting-goods retailers, and major outdoor specialty-retail chains worldwide. Keen creates solutions to creative questions such as “Can a sandal protect your toes?” Yes. “Can a bag manage your life better through improved organization?” Yes again. “Is it possible to rethink a sock?” You guessed it. Keen products allow you to go anywhere and do anything—whether you’re trekking the wilds of the world, exploring a cool city, heading to work or even heading to the playground down the street.

Keen takes a vested interest in its employees on both a personal and professional level. We understand the need for employees to feel valued, rewarded for their efforts, and acknowledged for their contributions. Keen finds unique and meaningful ways to do all of those things. We strive to maintain a small-company feel as we get bigger—to know one another by face and by name, and to engage with one another not just as co-workers but as people. We also have a lot of fun. It’s a true hybrid culture—we never take ourselves too seriously, but we take what we do very seriously. The hub of the office is its physical center, which is Keen’s great room or “living room.” All employees gather there to share a meal, play a game, meet, or simply relax. This town-square concept has created an environment in which employees genuinely take the time to get to know one another, discuss what’s going on in the company, and build rapport with senior leadership.


Keen offers an annual profit-sharing program to reward employees for the company’s success. The profit sharing is discretionary but is typically the equivalent of 3 percent of the employee’s salary. There has not been a year yet that Keen has not paid the profit share. Merit increases are used to reward employees on an annual basis for performance. Merit increases are an increase to an employee’s base salary based on outcomes of their performance review and the company’s performance. We use “Random Acts of KEENness” to show appreciation to our employees. We believe that “the element of surprise” is sometimes the best form of appreciation—a thank-you when you least expect it but when you most need it! This may be closing the office early on a particularly sunny day in rainy Portland, “disc golfing for dollars” in the great room for employees to earn money for a charity of their choice, or the CEO and the Keen jam band serenading someone on a special occasion. The ultimate Random Act of KEENness in the past year was when Keen gave the opportunity for all employees to attend the 2010 Winter Olympics in Whistler, Canada! Keen rented an “off the grid” (solar-powered) home near Whistler for our employees. We also rented multiple ten-passenger vans to transport employees from Portland to Whistler (seven hours). Upon arrival, every employee had a ticket to at least one Olympic event and fully paid housing and food. The only thing we asked of them was to perform their own Random Acts of KEENness when they were there by giving Keen wool socks to Keen fans or people who seemed like they could use a little “warming up.” In addition, no fewer than twice per year, we provide our employees with free products to help them recreate in the outdoors, including shoes, bags and socks. In 2010, through our partnership with Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, we were able to provide employees with free ski passes or lift tickets. We also provide free cycling apparel to employees who participate in the “KEENners Cycling Club.” Employees may also use their Keen free-shoe option to obtain a pair of Keen cycling shoes.

Keen provides locker-room and shower facilities to promote employees commuting to work as well as fitness during the workday. We provide bikes to employees to ride during the lunch hour, after hours, or to daytime appointments. Bike racks are also available in multiple locations at the office. Most employees have the option to “flex” their work schedules to accommodate exercise during the day or before or after work. Furthermore, our great room, the hub of our office, has room for employees to play sports like disc golf and table tennis. There are two full gyms within one block from of our offices, and Keen “buys down” the cost of membership or pays initiation fees at these clubs. Keen sponsors a Bike Club for all levels of riders and types of riding. We buy cycling apparel for employees, have bike-repair workshops, and pay for entries in organized bike rides, many of which are fundraisers for nonprofits in our community.

Every summer, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Keen officially closes the office at 3:00 for “Hybrid Fridays.” Employees are encouraged to use the time to Create, Play, or Care! To this end, we provide things like bikes and maps in the office so people can go directly from work on an outdoor adventure. We are also situated within a half-mile of a 16-mile running and cycling path and one mile from the country’s largest urban park (Forest Park). Because of this, employees may organize jogging, hiking, or biking groups to get outside and play in the good weather. Most jobs at Keen also provide the opportunity for employees to work flexible hours within a given day. At managers’ discretion and based on business needs, employees have the ability to choose their start or end times to accommodate personal needs or hobbies. Outside of our PTO program, Keen also provides 32 hours per year of “service leave” to employees. During this time they may volunteer for a nonprofit or community organization of their choice, such as at a child’s school or a park cleanup.

We’re working with the Outdoor Industry and grassroots organizations to expand access to and appreciation for the outdoors, which has resulted in the protection of millions of acres of wild places and thousands of miles of rivers throughout North America. We’re turning our passion for the outdoors into action in our own communities (Portland and other cities in which we have retail partners). Staff members plant trees and do restoration and maintenance of parks and trails. We connect with schools by donating school supplies and product, as well as providing business education to at-risk youth. We open our doors to nonprofits to provide free or low-cost space in which they can have meetings or hold events, which allows them to devote their precious financial resources to their cause. We’re partnering with Kiva.org to provide microloans to create opportunity and, as the name suggests, hope in impoverished communities across around the world.

When Keen moved its headquarters to Portland, Oregon, in 2006, it chose a once-abandoned warehouse as its new home. Keen has committed itself to transforming the workspace by using sustainable elements and practices based on the fundamental principles of “repurpose for a purpose” and creating an inspiring and responsible work environment. This includes bookshelves made from school lockers and tables made from car hoods. We have successfully designed and furnished all areas of the building with repurposed and non-virgin materials—old barns, chairs made from garden hoses, workstations made from refurbished cubicle walls, couches made from old car seats, tables made from stop signs, and many more items like this. We have also implemented a Green-Blue-Brown-Black recycling system throughout the office to work to achieve as close to a “zero waste” goal as possible. We also provide bicycles for employees to use for errands or meetings, provide free annual public transportation passes to employees ($900 value), use car sharing (Zip Car) for local and business travel when possible, and house business guests within walking distance or streetcar distance from the office so they do not have to take cabs or rent cars. We also have an on-site shower for employees who may want to commute by bike to work. Keen is creating meaningful results in the way we conduct our business around three key areas: Community, Environment, and Growth. We strike a balance between what’s good for the company and what’s good for our planet and communities. For example, Keen produces some products in North America. Another example: In 2010 Keen needed to acquire more space, and we identified an old warehouse within walking distance of the main office. Instead of refurbishing the building, we repurposed a retired 5,000-square-foot trade-show booth by dropping it into the space for an office. It allowed us to avoid renovations and to find a new use for something that had otherwise become obsolete. It now provides workstations, meeting spaces, a kitchen, bathrooms, and a common area. Like the main office, it is furnished with furniture made from sustainable or reclaimed materials. It is recognized as being a fun and creative space for the team that works in it.

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