Best CEOs stay on top of best ways to reach the top
There’s a common philosophy among Canada’s Most Admired CEOs: They see the ‘ how’ as the most important thing to drive the ‘what.’
Marty Parker, CEO of Waterstone Human Capital, says successful CEOs and their organizations define their corporate culture, stay on top of it and articulate it.
“And they use the articulation of that to link their systems, whether it’s compensation, recognition, training, development, recruitment, retaining people; they’re all are linked to the ‘ how,’” he says.
“It’s not easy to do, because while you’re doing all these things you still need to make sure you’re performing. But these organizations understand that it’s the ‘ how’ that drives culture and culture drives performance.”
Tone at the top is critically important, he adds. “Positive or negative stuff does roll downhill.”
Leaders must represent the behaviour that is being articulated. “If it’s really part of you as the leader, then it’s going to be really easy to implement.”
In 2015, Waterstone added a CEO category to its annual selection of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures. This year’s selections: David( Patch) Patchell-Evans, president/ CEO, Goodlife Fitness Centres Inc.
Fitness clubs come and go, but Goodlife, it seems, is always there — almost everywhere.
Patchell- Evans bought his first gym in 1979, a tiny, 2,000-square-foot space. Now he owns almost 400 clubs, with 50 opening this year alone. He employs 15,000 staff, serving almost 1.3 million members.
A member of the national rowing team who got the fitness bug while rehabilitating from a serious motorcycle accident, Patchell-Evans had no idea when he set out where he was headed, but he knew his corporate culture.
“That was the same right from the start,” he says, noting he came to appreciate the “enormous power” in health after losing his capabilities in the accident and then regaining them, at the age of 19.
“It made me want to help other people the same way.”
Already financing his education with a snowplough operation, he switched his major to kinesiology from business at Western University, bought the club he attended and pondered how it could be better run.
Other clubs charged dues but “didn’t actually get into people’s heads as to why they should work out, what was going to motivate them, what’s the long-term benefit of this exercise stuff.”
“When you decide between that other piece of chocolate cake or that beer, or not, you have to have the ‘why’ inside of you. That’s what I thought I could add to the equation, what I could do differently. So the culture right then was caring for people.
How I expressed my caring was through fitness but my core business was caring. I knew that’s what I wanted to do — make a difference in people’s lives.”
Goodlife has a l arge “people department,” where interviewers ask prospective employees questions aimed at finding out if they care and what motivates them.
“You can teach everything else but there’s got to be some reason, something in your background that says ‘I want to make a difference in the world.’ What we try to do is hire people who want to help people have a better life.” Chuck Jeannes president/ CEO, Goldcorp
When Chuck Jeannes arrived, the gold mining company was an “assimilation of assets” assembled through mergers and acquisitions: systems, processes, organizations and people with no defined corporate culture. Jeannes changed that, nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit developing a companywide culture of collaboration and communication.
In his eight years, Goldcorp has gone from mining 2.2 million ounces of gold yearly to about 3.5 million forecast this year. Revenue and cash flow rose through 2012, despite a major drop in gold prices.
Employment has grown from 8,000 to 19,000. It’s added Argentina and the Dominican Republic to its countries of operation, and it opened new mines in Canada and Mexico.
The company’s vision is “together, creating sustainable value” and, in a world of diminishing resources and rising concern for the environment, Goldcorp has established itself as a leader in collaboration. It’s particularly important with stakeholders such as indigenous peoples, local communities, environmental groups and governments, for whom a project must also create value.
“That is absolutely central to everything we do because we know that we won’t be successful as a business if these broader range of stakeholders don’t see benefits,” says Jeannes. “In mining, we start off as a negative every time because we go and dig a hole in the ground, and people don’t like that.
“So we have to show the community and the country and all of the civil society stakeholders that we’re going to operate that mine in a way that provides net benefits.”
Those benefits derive from payroll, community development activities, environmental responsibility and safety. That focus on what Jeannes calls “holistic value creation” is key to Goldcorp’s overarching success. “If you do all those things, then you’re going to earn that licence to do it again. And that’s what we need to do in mining.” Wehuns Tan managing director/CEO, Flipp Corp.
If you were in business and someone said you could do something you do all the time for a tenth of the price, and save trees in the process, wouldn’t you do it?
That was the idea behind Toronto- based Flipp Corp., which is replacing the paper flyer and coupons shoppers use for discounts with an app.
It’s efficient. There is no wastage or environmental impact. Everyone wins.
Retail is a $ 2.7- trillion- ayear industry in North America, and retailers spend about $18 billion annually on paper flyers. Wehuns Tan and three fellow engineering graduates of Waterloo University said there has to be a better way.
Now, 90 per cent of Canadian retailers have signed on with Flipp and more than 10 million shoppers have downloaded its app. It employs 500 people worldwide.
A former Microsoft engineer, Tan left the software giant in 2008 and teamed with his fellow Waterloo alumni a year later to form what was then known as Wishabi Corp.
“There were a lot of challenges just making sure we had the thing that consumers wanted,” says Tan. “We failed a bunch of times, but the thing that really made it come together was our team.”
They followed the principle of homothumadon — a Greek word meaning “being of one mind.”
“That’s the thing that unifies us — being of one mind,” he says. “No matter what the challenges and the tribulations are, we’ve got to just stay focused on the vision ahead.
“And the vision is not just about money for us. It’s about how do we shape the fabric of society. This is probably one of the most important things we will do to help the middle class succeed — and the middle class needs a lot of help.”
The company is growing at 400 per cent annually, the kind of growth that demands attention to hiring to maintain its team- first corporate culture. “So we only hire by culture,” says Tan, 35. “And even if the person is competent but they don’t have a cultural fit, we won’t hire them.”
New hires have to be hungry and highly intelligent, but they have to be humble. “Humility, combined with hunger and high intelligence, gives us our competitive edge.” Marc and Craig Kielburger co- founders/co- CEOs, Free the Children
In activist terms, Craig Kielburger was a child prodigy, moving his Grade 7 classmates to action after reading about the murder of a 12-yearold child-slavery opponent in Pakistan.
A group petition was instrumental in the release of imprisoned child labour activist Kailash Satyarthi, who went on to win the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
Their impact grew. Free the Children is now in 12 countries. About half its work is in the developing world, primarily promoting education and health through its Adopt a Village program; the rest is in developed countries, promoting leadership, change and good works.
Its annual We Day event brings together tens of thousands of youth in an inspirational event that features notable speakers and performers. From humble roots in Toronto in 2007, it is now in 13 other cities, including London, Chicago and Seattle.
Craig Kielburger says he and brother Marc started as young, naïve and idealistic, but with the help of a few mentors, they came into their own — people like Oprah Winfrey, who, when Craig was 15, pledged to build 100 schools and made the CEO of her company, Harpo Productions, available to the pair as a teacher and guide, helping them bring a business structure to running a charity.
Jeffrey Skoll, the Montrealborn former president of eBay, helped them launch Me To We, a for-profit social enterprise that provides socially responsible products and services, with half its net profits going to Free the Children.
With renown came others, including business leaders looking for legacy projects that, in the Kielburgers’ case, included advice and direction as well as money.
Now, 91 per cent of funds raised go to projects, with just nine per cent spent on administration. Its unique form of social entrepreneurship aims to collaborate with corporate partners on projects, minimizing costs and compounding impact.
“We always maintain a focus on the end result and core values,” says Craig. “And, for us, the end result is the number of lives impacted.”
They didn’t think much about core values until the organization started to grow so big that they couldn’t personally review every hire. They realized individuals needed core values as a framework in decision-making — and in an organization the size of Free the Children, thousands of decisions are made daily.
One of the core values is gratitude. The average donation is $8, and if a child raises $ 8 for Free the Children, they’re treated with the same gratitude as a corporation that raises much more.
“A lot of what we’re trying to do has never been done before,” says Craig. “At home in Canada, we are trying to make sure that we put service in every single Canadian school.”
THERE WERE A LOT OF CHALLENGES JUST MAKING SURE WE HAD THE THING THAT CONSUMERS WANTED. WE FAILED A BUNCH OF TIMES, BUT THE THING THAT REALLY MADE IT COME TOGETHER WAS OUR TEAM ... THAT’S THE THING THAT UNIFIES US — BEING OF ONE MIND. NO MATTER WHAT THE CHALLENGES AND THE TRIBULATIONS ARE, WE’VE GOT TO JUST STAY FOCUSED ON THE VISION AHEAD — WEHUNS TAN, FLIPP CORPORATION CEO
Waterstone’s Top CEOs (clockwise, from top left): David Patchell-Evans, Chuck Jeannes, Wehuns Tan, Craig and Marc Kielburger.