Col­lab­o­ra­tive cul­ture drives per­for­mance

National Post (Latest Edition) - - MOST ADMIRED CORPORATE CULTURES - Kathryn Booth by

Acom­bi­na­tion of hard work, col­lab­o­ra­tion, en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and esprit de corps is the per­fect recipe for suc­cess at Grey­stone Man­aged In­vest­ments Inc., the Regin­abased in­vest­ment firm.

Grey­stone has come a long way from its hum­ble be­gin­nings with eight peo­ple man­ag­ing $ 3 bil­lion in as­sets in 1988. To­day, the com­pany boasts 160 em­ploy­ees, more than $ 31 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment, and more than 150 clients across the coun­try — 20 of whom are the cus­tomers they started with al­most 30 years ago. Its im­pres­sive record has earned it the des­ig­na­tion as one of Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures ( Growth and Small Cap cat­e­gory) for 2015 in the an­nual com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal. It is the se­cond time it has achieved the des­ig­na­tion.

“We re­al­ized early that to grow, we must main­tain a cul­ture that fo­cuses on clients, em­ploy­ees and the com­mu­nity as a whole,” says Rob Van­der­hooft, chief ex­ec­u­tive and chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer. “It’s about driv­ing in­no­va­tion, build­ing part­ner­ships and cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one can achieve their goals — in ca­reer, life and longterm in­vest­ment ob­jec­tives.”

For in­vest­ment firms of any size, putting client in­ter­ests at the top of the value chain is only pru­dent. What sets Grey­stone apart is its fo­cus on team­work, ac­count­abil­ity and a com­mit­ment to rein­vest in lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“Our clients are the foun­da­tion of our busi­ness. It’s why cus­tomer ser­vice is a strong value that has en­dured here. The chal­lenge is to con­tinue to de­liver on that prom­ise in a busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly com­plex and tar­geted,” says Frank Hart, pres­i­dent, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and chief risk of­fi­cer.

The cor­po­rate cul­ture at Grey­stone pro­motes an en­vi­ron­ment where em­ploy­ees at all lev­els con­trib­ute to the de­bate. “That may some­times mean mak­ing a 180- de­gree shift away from the ‘ client is al­ways right’ men­tal­ity to reach a bet­ter so­lu­tion,” notes Hart. “We have to bring our best ca­pa­bil­i­ties to clients ev­ery day; ca­pa­bil­i­ties that will help clients ad­dress their chal­lenges. In ad­di­tion, we have to en­sure that our thought lead­er­ship is de­liv­er­ing in­no­va­tive and ef­fec­tive so­lu­tions for se­cur­ing their fi­nan­cial fu­ture.”

At the heart of Grey­stone’s cul­ture is a unique own­er­ship struc­ture. The com­pany es­chews the typ­i­cal part­ner­ship share­holder model of many pro­fes­sional ser­vices firms. In­stead, it is far more com­pre­hen­sive, en­com­pass­ing all em­ploy­ees who have been with the or­ga­ni­za­tion in ex­cess of one year, re­gard­less of their po­si­tion. To­day, more than 90 per cent of el­i­gi­ble em­ploy­ees are share­hold­ers.

“A stake i n own­er­ship makes a dif­fer­ence, whether it’s held by the re­cep­tion­ist, port­fo­lio man­ager or in the board­room. It man­i­fests it­self through­out the or­ga­ni­za­tion f r om how the tele­phone is an­swered and so­lu­tions gen­er­ated to in­no­va­tion and de­ci­sion­mak­ing,” says Van­der­hooft. “Clients value it, too. There is more affin­ity to hire a firm where the en­tire team has a strong stake in busi­ness suc­cess, and where that suc­cess is sus­tained by do­ing great things for clients.”

Part of en­sur­ing val­ues, cul­ture and busi­ness goals are met means hir­ing the right peo­ple. “It is far eas­ier to man­age an or­ga­ni­za­tion when val­ues are shared. That’s why we take a proac­tive ap­proach when hir­ing new tal­ent by look­ing be­yond tech­ni­cal skills and des­ig­na­tions to be­havioural traits,” says Dianne Con­lon, vice- pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources.

The hir­ing process is not a one-way process, how­ever. Not only do those al­ready work­ing at the or­ga­ni­za­tion need to have a con­nec­tion with po­ten­tial new hires, the can­di­date must also be com­fort­able with the team and the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s a two- way con­ver­sa­tion that en­sures both par­ties have found the right fit, she adds. “De­spite our rapid growth, the rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process we em­ploy has helped keep turnover rates ex­tremely low. That means con­ti­nu­ity for our clients be­cause re­la­tion­ships do not con­stantly have to be re- built, and a solid rep­u­ta­tion that al­lows us to at­tract top tal­ent from across the coun­try.”

Main­tain­ing the win­ning cul­ture at Grey­stone is not sim­ply a mat­ter of cod­i­fy­ing val­ues and em­pow­er­ing em­ploy­ees, it’s a con­stantly mov­ing tar­get. “Gen­er­a­tion- al changes are hap­pen­ing in the busi­ness as new hires come on board who have dif­fer­ing val­ues and pri­or­i­ties than Baby Boomers,” says Hart. “Those dif­fer­ences are driv­ing the need for more ca­reer plan­ning, pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment, vis­i­bil­ity and chal­leng­ing work op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

That’s where a com­pre­hen­sive on­board­ing pro­gram comes into play. “It’s about em­pha­siz­ing the rules of en­gage­ment and how we work to­gether — in­cludi ng re­spect­ful chal­lenge up, down and across the or­ga­ni­za­tion with­out the bound­aries typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with ten­ure or rank,” says Con­lon. “And it’s about en­sur­ing that our val­ues are un­der­stood and acted upon quickly. In a large or­ga­ni­za­tion with a work­force that spans Canada, and now Hong Kong, sus­tain­ing a con­sis­tent cor­po­rate cul­ture can be dif­fi­cult with­out con­stant at­ten­tion. That is why we con­tin­u­ally im­ple­ment pro­grams that al­low new ar­rivals to get up to speed faster and work more ef­fec­tively while stay­ing true to those val­ues.”

If own­er­ship is the heart of Grey­stone, com­mu­nity in­volve­ment is the foun­da­tion. “With suc­cess comes an obli­ga­tion to give back to the com­mu­ni­ties from which we have gen­er­ated our good for­tune. Em­ploy­ees are ex­pected to be ac­tive in the com­mu­nity, and Grey­stone is com­mit­ted to sup­port­ing that in­volve­ment,” says Van­der­hooft. “When em­ploy­ees work to­ward a com­mon goal it pro­motes com­mu­ni­ca­tion and builds re­la­tion­ships that help in their ev­ery­day busi­ness roles.”

At the cor­po­rate level, Grey­stone is par­tic­u­larly proud of its work with the United Way, Chris Knox Foun­da­tion and the Grey­stone Be­reave­ment Cen­tre.

The com­pany boasts a 100 per cent par­tic­i­pa­tion rate and an 18- year con­tri­bu­tion his­tory with the United Way, with close to $ 250,000 raised dur­ing the 2015 cam­paign alone.

The Chris Knox Foun­da­tion hon­ours the legacy of a young ter­mi­nal can­cer pa­tient who wanted to at­tend the Grey Cup but didn’t have the means un­til the com­mu­nity ral­lied around and made the trip pos­si­ble. Grey­stone has made a multi-year com­mit­ment to the foun­da­tion that helps chil­dren and young adults ( up to age 30) and their fam­i­lies at­tend sport­ing, fine arts and cul­tural events dur­ing treat­ment. That com­mit­ment has helped make more than 800 dreams come true.

The Grey­stone Be­reave­ment Cen­tre at Regina Pal­lia­tive Care of­fers spe­cial­ized grief and be­reave­ment coun­selling and sup­port to groups and in­di­vid­u­als in a safe and com­fort­ing en­vi­ron­ment to help peo­ple cope with and over­come the trauma of the death of a loved one. Grey­stone be­came nam­ing spon­sor and on­go­ing sup­porter in 2008.

A strong com­mit­ment to com­mu­nity has not only made a dif­fer­ence for those who ben­e­fit di­rectly, it has had a pos­i­tive im­pact on re­cruit­ing and hir­ing at Grey­stone. “The younger gen­er­a­tion are look­ing for com­pa­nies that share their val­ues,” notes Hart. “When asked dur­ing the in­ter­view process why they want to work at our com­pany, many say it’s be­cause of our so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. I re­spect and take pride in that.”

Ul­ti­mately it’s about re­sults, with­out which the busi­ness would not sur­vive in what is a highly chal­leng­ing and com­pet­i­tive sec­tor. Grey­stone’s holis­tic ap­proach to cor­po­rate cul­ture brought favourable re­wards for its clients in 2015. Dur­ing a tough time for bal­anced funds Grey­stone’s of­fer­ing strongly out­per­formed on ex­pec­ta­tions and ranked well among its peers. The Grey­stone Global Equity Pooled Fund ranked No. 1 in Canada, hav­ing the best fouryear av­er­age an­nual re­turn for the pe­riod end­ing Dec. 31, 2015 among funds in­cluded in the Mercer LLC Pooled Fund Sur­vey for Cana­dian In­sti­tu­tional In­vestors.

“You can ei­ther shrink or grow, there i s no i nbe­tween,” says Van­der­hooft. “But while be­ing rel­e­vant to clients and meet­ing their needs is eas­ier to achieve in a grow­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion, it’s also im­por­tant dur­ing growth to re­main rel­e­vant to em­ploy­ees.”

“When t he c ul­ture is open, and where dis­cus­sion pre­vails, a great deal can be achieved,” he says. “To be rec­og­nized by Water­stone a se­cond time is a tes­ta­ment to our em­ploy­ees who strive to main­tain an en­vi­ron­ment that con­sis­tently ben­e­fits our clients, our staff and our com­mu­ni­ties.”




Grey­stone ex­ec­u­tives: Rob Van­der­hooft, left, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer and chief in­vest­ment of­fi­cer, Dianne Con­lon, vice-pres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources, and Frank Hart, pres­i­dent, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and chief risk of­fi­cer.

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