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Building the Best

Building the Best

Lessons From Inside Canadas Best Managed Companies
also available: Paperback
tagged : management
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When we set out to create a book based on the Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies program, we were embracing an exceptional opportunity to provide management lessons from a remarkably diverse group of Canadian corporate success stories. In telling the stories of individual companies (and their top executives), we wanted to illustrate with each chapter, in an engaging case-study style, one of the ten criteria for management excellence found within the program's assessments of strategy, capability, and commitment, and to invite commentary from professionals at Deloitte and Queen's School of Business, partners in the Best Managed program. Management theory, after all, is only theory until you see it in actual practice.

The goal was not to provide a shopping list of companies in any given program year, or to prioritize companies that had appeared the greatest number of times. We were striving for diversity in industries (new economy and old, manufacturing and service), regions (from coast to coast), stages of development (a few years old to many decades), ownership (partially public and private, employee-owned, family-controlled), and annual revenues (in the companies we chose, from the tens of millions to the billions).

The awards program, which has been recognizing exceptional Canadian companies since 1993, provided a rich base of enterprises from which to choose, so much so that the challenge proved to lie in deciding which company best exemplified which criterion. Successful companies need to do many things well, not just any one thing. It's impossible for a company to successfully meet challenges associated with growth, for example, if it cannot also manage its finances or service its customers. Companies that make the Best Managed rankings must measure up to a broad range of diagnostics, and it's almost impossible for one to slip through that has significant flaws in some aspect of its performance.

Which all goes to say that there is not a company profiled in a particular chapter that could not have been the focus of one of the other chapters. National Leasing of Winnipeg was a natural choice for Chapter 10 (attracting and retaining talent to build an exceptional culture), but it could as easily have served in Chapter 9 (creating the right leadership and communicating the vision). Conversely, our subject for Chapter 9, Cirque du Soleil, would also have served capably in Chapter 10. Armour Transportation Systems, a good fit for Chapter 6 (developing and leveraging core competencies) could also ably have appeared in Chapter 2 (pursuing and managing alliances, acquisitions, and other strategic relationships) or Chapter 5 (building and sustaining a customer-focused approach to sales and marketing). The possible switches and substitutions are endless.

Nevertheless, we are confident that the company chosen for each chapter best illustrates the principle being explored, without meaning to imply that it excels at a principle above and beyond any other profiled company, or that a particular principle is necessarily its greatest (or only) strength. And as the reader explores the various chapters, certain common themes and shared experiences indeed will emerge. These go beyond small coincidences-such as the fact that it takes about the same number of people (around sixty) to staff a Boston Pizza restaurant as it does to perform a Cirque du Soleil show.

These successful companies, regardless of which chapter they have been chosen to anchor, place a high priority on understanding their customer base and servicing it to the utmost. They also are agile, flexible, able to change directions and strategies in a way that remains true to their core competencies. They understand who they are and what they do, but they are not rigid or blind to change and opportunity.

Successful companies understand their product, which might be a surprising statement, as it implies that many companies do not. But it is true that many, many businesses do not have a solid, strategic definition of the business they are in, of exactly what it is they are producing or providing. The reader will hear in these chapters executives emphasize the precise nature of their business in ways that their own industries might not recognize. Sometimes these definitions of “what we do” have been in the blood of the enterprise since the beginning. But often, they have emerged in response to internal or external challenges. Ownership and management had to step back, assess their own operations, the preconceived notions of their corporate culture, and the needs of the marketplace, and come up with a fresh understanding of their purpose and goals so that they could move forward profitably and with a better understanding of where opportunities lie and how the customer could be best satisfied.

Geoff Smith of EllisDon speaks to the “huge cultural change” his general contracting business was being put through at the time it was developing the software tool that is at the heart of the Chapter 4 case study. “We were changing EllisDon from viewing itself as a construction company to being a service company,” Smith explains. “People got into the business because they like to build. But we're not builders. We're in a service industry that builds. We don't actually build a lot ourselves-the subcontractors do.”

Over at Harry Rosen, Chapter 5, Larry Rosen explains how his upmarket men's clothing chain is “in the business of assisting men in developing a confident personal image, in all aspects of their life, any time, place, or occasion.… We don't perceive ourselves as being in the clothing business. We don't just sell suits and sport jackets. It's a relationship-based business.”

And at Armour Transportation Systems, Chapter 6, Wesley Armour recalls his reaction to the jarring impact of deregulation on his trucking company: “When business became cutthroat, I said to my managers, 'What is our future here?' I decided that we had to be more than a trucker. We had to be a total supplier of transportation.” His company stopped thinking of itself in terms of vehicles and drivers but, instead, in terms of what the customer needed and how Armour had to change and grow in order to provide it better than any competitor.

These individual chapters also tell stories: engaging ones, in which company founders and senior executives address frankly the challenges they have faced. One cannot listen to Rossana Di Zio Magnotta tell the story in Chapter 1 of the traumatic beginnings of the winery she founded with her husband, Gabe, and not appreciate viscerally the hurdles entrepreneurs who risk all on a dream often encounter. And because most of the profiled companies are held privately, the views afforded of their operations in this book are often an unprecedented glimpse of business practices and experiences that never appear in the media. For most business managers, the peek this book provides inside the workings of a private company-including the accounts of a company's travails long before it went public-provide a perspective on business practices rarely attainable otherwise, and which also closely align with their own circumstances.

As it will become clear to the reader, the individual industries in which these companies operate provide their own fascinating insights. Boston Pizza takes you into the restaurant franchise game, Spin Master into the world of Air Hogs and Shrinky Dinks. And Cirque du Soleil makes every senior manager want to run away to join the circus. But the larger lessons always come through. Chapter 8, exploring the PCL Construction Group of Companies, is not required reading solely for business people hoping to build airports and major museums. The company delivers a textbook study of how companies of any type and size need to design the right organizations and processes to support growth. And Chapter 7, on Mediagrif Interactive Technologies, is not of sole interest to e-commerce aficionados. Its achievements in attracting capital and managing finances speak directly to all entrepreneurs, regardless of their particular industry, who aspire to turn a vision into a business that can steer safely through the universal challenges of a start-up.

The lessons imparted in these chapters would not have been possible without the cooperation of the many owners and executives interviewed exclusively for this book. They were generous with their observations and experiences (and sometimes with their private financial data), knowing that their lessons would benefit others. They responded with unvarnished frankness to questions posed about setbacks or challenges. Their achievements give them considerable reason to be proud, but what is consistently impressive is a lack of boastfulness. This is in large part because senior executives well understand that the Best Managed program does not celebrate executives alone, that it is not some personal award of merit. The program recognizes everyone in a company. CEOs in turn recognize that their company's success is predicated on the innovation, commitment, and capabilities of their employees and management teams.

These are also people still fully engaged in meeting the challenges of business. They are not resting on laurels, and they are well aware that adversity is always lying in wait. Many speak to the difficulties of the last recession in the early 1990s, and everyone understands that the economic cycle is not yet dead. There will be rough spots in the road ahead for everyone. But what these companies have demonstrated consistently is an ability to roll with the punches, to turn seeming setbacks into opportunities. It's our hope that readers will be able to draw from these chapters lessons that make their own enterprises more competitive, more adaptable, more agile. And-as seems to be the case in so many of them-a more fun place to work and prosper.

The Deloitte perspective

For each chapter, the authors provide a concluding overview of its theme from the Deloitte perspective. The lessons provided by the particular company profile are presented in a concise format with actionable observations of benefit to enterprises large and small in all businesses and stages of growth. Deloitte professionals provide subject-specific guidance to expand on the chapter content with personal observations while applying company-specific insights to challenges faced by businesses in general.

Growth Insights, a global website operated by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, offers a diverse selection of materials related to the ten chapter themes gathered under the imperatives of strategy, capability, and commitment. It provides a comprehensive, research-backed view of the challenges facing today's growth companies. Growth Insights identifies the business issues that matter most to growth organizations, and showcases practical perspectives from both company executives and Deloitte practitioners on how to address these business issues. Visit the website at

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Winning with the Employee from Hell

Winning with the Employee from Hell

A Guide to Performance and Motivation
also available: eBook
tagged : management
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Employees from Hell, for the most part, aren—t just crazy people that you had the misfortune to hire at a weak moment. Nor are most of them just naturally disgruntled people. History has repeatedly shown that, as an environment changes, so do the people in it. Put a typically good person in a bad environment, and that person's behavior will begin to deteriorate. Put a typically bad person in a good environment, and that person's behavior will begin to improve. My experience has been that most people in this world are pretty decent. Sure, some are a little louder, some are a little more aggressive, and some are a little stranger, but most people seem to make an effort to get along. We just have to make sure that we have the right conditions to facilitate playing nicely together.


So, before we begin to examine the employees, let's take a look at what's going on around them that could be contributing to their unProductive or counterProductive behavior. It's an important exercise. We want to make sure that we—ll be solving a problem instead of just masking symptoms. Like a doctor doing a diagnosis of a patient with a sore throat, you first want to find out what's causing the problem. A throat lozenge may ease the pain temporarily, but, if the root of the problem is something more serious, antibiotics or some other form of treatment may be required. As in medicine, in a business environment, failure to address the direct cause can have serious and unpleasant repercussions.

To determine if an employee's negative behavior stems from his own personal quirks, or is a symptom of something more systemic, you have to examine a few things. You have to look at the environment. You have to look at yourself as a manager. You have to look at his expectations of you and the company, how reasonable those expectations are, and the degree to which they are being met. Why did the employee choose to work for your company in the first place” What roles does he expect you and your company to play in the employee—employer contract” You may have some pretty clear expectations of what you want from him, but what does he expect from you?

Let's begin by examining why your employees chose to work for your company in the first place. People choose a place of work for many different reasons: salary and benefits, proximity to home, the types of Products and services the company is involved in, the employee's area of expertise, and the working environment, to name just a few. In many cases, your company became the company of choice simply because you were the first to hire them.

These criteria play a large role in employee expectations. An employee who gets a sizable raise still may not be happy if her job isn—t challenging or within her area of expertise. A change in location can be a hardship for someone used to walking to work. An additional week's vacation instead of a raise may mean nothing to the employee facing tuition for a child's university education. A shift to lower—profile projects can be perceived as thwarting an employee's opportunities for advancement.

The president of an automotive aftermarket company once told me of the time he tried to lighten the load of an overworked vice—president by transferring some of the VP—S responsibilities to another department. As it turned out, his attempt to do something positive for a valued employee backfired. The VP became distraught, thinking that the move was a reflection of the president's confidence in him, and almost quit the company.

The expectations that employees have of your company will vary based on the nature of their work and their positions within the company. A senior executive, for example, likely expects an office with a window, a nice desk, a comfortable chair, guest chairs, a coffee table, etc. A miner working a mile below the surface, on the other hand, has quite different expectations. He might expect ready availability of emergency oxygen, up—to—date equipment, and cold water. The senior manager expects from her boss latitude to make decisions and take action. The miner expects clear direction and a fair workload.


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Building the New Managerialist State

Building the New Managerialist State

Consultants and the Politics of Public Sector Reform in Comparative Perspective
also available: Hardcover
tagged : management
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