When it came to explaining the successful growth of the 2013 Private Business Growth Award winner, the introduction to its competition submission spoke for itself: “From a standing start 25 years ago, GreenField Specialty Alcohols has grown through strategic initiative, innovation, expansion, market domination, product development and good luck to become the leader in all of its business lines.”
The Ontario company went on to produce 1.7 million litres of alcohol each day for about 10,000 customers in more than 50 countries, with annual revenues in excess of $700-million in 2013.
GreenField products are key ingredients in a long list of items that consumers rely on every day, including toothpaste, shampoo, medicines and dishwasher detergent, as well as many popular alcoholic beverages. Blended into gasoline at almost all gas stations across North America, its ethanol helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The foundation of the company’s success is an entrepreneurial zeal combined with a team approach in which differences are valued, says Malcolm West, vice-president of corporate finance and chief financial officer. “Our culture is built around the idea of promoting good ideas wherever they come from,” he explains.
The result is an organization of 400 engaged and motivated employees, with a 100 per cent retention rate among highly ranked employees and a 99 per cent retention rate overall.
An open-source approach ensures that employees at every level are empowered to perform at their highest possible level. For example, there are no plant supervisors – instead, employees rotate in and out of “team captain” roles. Employees also take part in committees that make recommendations to senior management, such as investigating and recommending appropriate pay scales.
Creating a rewarding environment also means ensuring that employees have the opportunity to see the impact of their personal contributions. In a “lunch-and-learn” series, executives share big-picture company and industry information with plant-level staff, and they use the opportunity to hear from employees about plant-floor challenges and suggested improvements, he says. “It provides good context into how their job, their plant, fits into the overall health and growth of the company.”
“If everything had gone swimmingly from the beginning, we probably wouldn’t have had the core competencies to do what we’re able to do now.”
Ken Field is chairman and founder ofGreenField Specialty Alcohols
Employee-led innovations are encouraged through programs such as “Performa,” a plant-led initiative in which employees develop projects outside their areas of responsibility, but related to their roles. They recruit colleagues to assist with the development of their projects and then present the results at an annual celebration dinner, which includes the company president.
Building strength by meeting challenges and turning “adversity into prosperity” is also part of the company’s DNA, says Ken Field, GreenField’s chairman and founder. “The Chatham plant, for example, was a $150-million project at a time we were still a small company. In the end it all worked, but there were massive problems along the way.”
A critical grain-drying system failed about a week after the plant opened, and there were problems with the fermentation process, he explains.
“As we hit these challenges, finding the right people to come and sort out the problems was probably our biggest blessing, because it put the knowledge base in place to build from,” Mr. Field recalls. “Today, one of our greatest strengths is in-depth knowledge of processes such as fermentation and distillation.”
That talent base is the heart of much of GreenField’s recent growth and the foundation of all of the exciting projects now underway, adds Mr. Field. “If everything had gone swimmingly from the beginning, we probably wouldn’t have had the core competencies to do what we’re able to do now.”
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