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Frima Studio: The art of employee engagement Add to ...

Over the last decade, Quebec has become a world-recognized centre of excellence in multiplatform entertainment and video-game design. So much so that competent workers in the field are in great demand.

Companies need to compete ingeniously to retain the best. In addition to taking excellent care of his troops, Steve Couture, President of Frima Studio, has set up a program that could turn some of his employees into millionaires.

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Couture has a strategy: give employees one free day a week if they want to work on a personal project, such as developing a game or an animated production.

What is most interesting is that the employees in question can benefit from spinoffs if their project results in a product that has great commercial success.

Frima Studio, located in Quebec City’s Lower Town, has beaten growth records in La Belle Province in the past few years. From 2005 to 2009, its growth was close to 3,000 per cent.

The company, with 260 employees, derives 90 per cent of its revenue from subcontracting for entertainment industry giants: Warner, Disney, Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. Its products designed for the Internet, cell phones or game consoles are known all over the world.

Now, the 35-year-old Couture believes it is time for his company – and Quebec in general – to develop its own games.

In short, the businessman wants more Quebec intellectual property to be created in the video game and entertainment sector. “That’s how wealth is really created in a society,” says Couture, who is also a public speaker specializing in the topic of entrepreneurship.

That is what led to the initiative to give some employees free time. It is a major gamble, Couture admits: some projects may not turn out, but others could result in worldwide commercial successes. “I’d be happy to see some of my employees become millionaires,” he says, dreaming of a “Quebec Harry Potter.”

Grooming the workforce

Alone in its niche in Quebec City, Frima Studio was blissfully happy until other players in the field — including Ubisoft — showed up in 2005.

“They had put up giant banners saying: ‘we’re hiring.’ We couldn’t afford to compete with them, especially in terms of salaries. So we decided to make Frima a great place to work,” Couture says.

A series of initiatives were introduced to make the employees’ lives easier and make their work environment even more pleasant. Baskets of fresh fruit were placed on the four floors the company occupies in the Saint-Roch district, where it generates close to$14 million in revenue. Very flexible schedules are offered to the employees, whose average age is 27.

As well, public transit passes are free and everyone can have access to the Communauto car-sharing service.

Another striking example is a performance points system that allows employees to barter for different services. They can use the points to have someone install winter tires for them or visit the dry cleaner.

Performance points can also be used to have a chef visit their home or enjoy a romantic weekend for two in a four-star resort, among other rewards.

Needless to say, the company does not have to do any public bragging about its employees’ lot: they willingly do it themselves. “Word gets around,” says Couture. But in exchange, the workers have to perform.

New ambitions

Frima Studio wants to continue its growth, but not through more subcontracting.

It recently created and marketed its own games, including Young Thor and Zombie Tycoon for PSP and PS3 consoles.

The Quebec company is no longer settling for creating video games. Last June, it created an Animation and Special Effects Division for movies and television.

Nearly 40 jobs were created as a result of this initiative. Another 100 will follow, Couture says. This new division benefits from government assistance, which covers 50 per cent of the salary for each job created.

With these tools, Couture and his business partners, Philippe Bégin and Christian Daigle, aim at nothing less than “home runs.”

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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