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Immigrant talent adds to brewer's bottom line Add to ...

Adrian Joseph didn't have his certified general accountant designation, but he snagged a key finance job at Steam Whistle Brewing anyway.

The Sri Lanka-born accountant was professionally trained in Europe, and he won a world accountancy prize in Britain. But the lack of a CGA, CMA or CA, standard financial credentials in this country, is enough to cause many Canadian employers to skip right over such a résumé.

Steam Whistle, however, had a different point of view when it was looking to hire a controller eight years ago.

"[Immigrants]have risked everything to build a new life," Steam Whistle co-founder Greg Taylor says. "They take their jobs very seriously and are very passionate, and at the end of the day that helps your bottom line."

Since its inception in 1998, Toronto-based Steam Whistle has made inclusive hiring a priority, says Mr. Taylor. And while the practice is clearly good for the community, and adheres to the company's determination to be good corporate citizens, Mr. Taylor insists it has also aided the business. Today, 18 per cent of the company's 115 employees - and half of its management team - hail from other countries, including Sri Lanka, the Czech Republic, Cuba, Portugal and Russia.

At first, Steam Whistle had no choice but to look outside of Canada to fill certain positions. "We wanted a brew master with a master brewing degree," says Sybil Taylor, Steam Whistle's director of marketing and Mr. Taylor's wife.

"If you're going to [produce]a pilsner that competes internationally, you need to have people capable of bringing that to the table," agrees Mr. Taylor.

But no such postsecondary education programs exist in North America. In the end, they found a brew master who had received a master's degree in the field in the Czech Republic.

The experience was so positive, the Taylors say, that they saw no reason to limit hiring to candidates with only Canadian training and experience.

That's not to say homegrown talent should be overlooked, Mr. Taylor stresses. But to completely dismiss immigrants - because of foreign credentials or the lack of a Canadian equivalent - is simply bad for business.

For one thing, the work ethic of newcomers is second to none. "New Canadians come here for all the right reasons," he says. "And that is to work and to take pride in their work. They're excited about the opportunities and they want to afford to live here. They're not taking anything for granted because of all the risks they've taken just to get here."

For small businesses with limited budgets, hiring immigrants is a way to access top talent at a more reasonable cost. "Brewing is capital-intensive," Ms. Taylor says. "It took us three years before we even broke even and our reality was that we couldn't afford to pay the top Canadian talent."

Mr. Taylor gives the example of a marketing executive who wanted a salary of $200,000. "We talked to another guy who doesn't have the Canadian training and he wants half as much, but he has more experience." This creates an opportunity for small businesses to access talent they could otherwise never afford, he says. "And it's only been created by the ignorance of people who don't value experience from abroad."

Then there's the benefit of global perspectives and specialties.

"Internationally trained workers know different suppliers, they know different techniques to solve problems," Ms. Taylor says. "You're just narrowing your information base by not hiring from a broader pool." In some cases, like with Steam Whistle's brew master, international training provides precisely what the company needs.

That's a point of view with which Toronto-based Ratna Omidvar, president of Maytree, a private foundation dedicated to accelerating the settlement of immigrants and refugees, agrees.

"It's clear that because the world of marketing and technology has changed so much in the last 10 years, the same ideas can't be used to solve new and emerging problems," she says. "And the more variety you have around the table, the more likely you will come to a new and different place for a solution."

She backs up her argument by pointing to U.S. studies that show diversity contributes to the bottom line. Companies that don't embrace diversity are missing out on market share in Canada, she says, as well as markets beyond the borders.

Hiring immigrants can also help a business owner understand potential customers better, Mr. Taylor adds. In the case of Steam Whistle, "we're in downtown Toronto. The diverse culture is incredible here and our culture at Steam Whistle reflects that." Ms. Taylor agrees: "It's reflective of our population here in Canada and so we understand the marketplace."

The benefits go beyond any one company and extend into the greater community. "It's a way to actively support the country's immigration policy," Mr. Taylor says.

The benefits may be many, but there are challenges. A lack of recognition of foreign credentials means that even though a candidate has the skills to do the job, additional training or credentials is still required. For example, Steam Whistle funded Mr. Joseph's CGA after hiring him as controller.

"It's an important credential in this country, and so we wanted him to have it," Mr. Taylor says. It's paid for itself again and again, he adds, and since joining Steam Whistle, Mr. Joseph has been promoted from controller to CFO.

In 2007, Steam Whistle's inclusive hiring was recognized when the company won the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council's Immigrant Success Award for leadership and innovation in recruiting and retaining skilled immigrants.

"We're very proud of that, because it sends a message out that this is doable," Mr. Taylor says. "Here we are, a successful small business, and the reason our product is so great is because of the hard work and skill of the people we've chosen to hire."



 

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