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When the Nanji family started Metro Supply Chain in Montreal in the early 1970s after they were exiled from Uganda, the company grew quickly...

When the Nanji family started Metro Supply Chain in Montreal in the early 1970s after they were exiled from Uganda, the company grew quickly – from a 100,000-square-foot public warehousing business to operating 600,000 square feet of space in Montreal and Toronto by the time its current owner, Chiko Nanji, bought the business in 1988.

Today, Metro Supply Chain provides businesses with end-to-end supply chain solutions, operating 14 million square feet of warehouse space across North America and Europe with a team of more than 6,000 staff.

The company now runs nearly 100 locations across the globe. They’ve achieved this exponential growth by adopting a strong company culture of trust in the leadership of each business unit. Each operation is given a degree of autonomy to deploy individual strategies in order to best engage with their local employees and community.

“We empower the local leadership to run their businesses and to set the tone for the local culture and how things are going to work,” explains chief executive officer Chris Fenton.

By entrusting the local leadership of each business unit to make the best decisions for the people and places they know well, Mr. Fenton says this helps both leadership and management to do their best work.

“We don’t want to dictate, centrally, ‘this is what you must do’. What we do is provide the frameworks and instill the values of how we want the group to work, and then empower the local team to decide how they want to do it,” he says.

One business unit decided to hire culture coordinators to support general managers by hosting events, volunteer activities and other team-building and community activities for staff – a role that doesn’t exist in other business units.

Mr. Fenton says that a localized strategy also creates high employee engagement. In a recent poll, in which more than 71 per cent of employees participated, 70 per cent said they were satisfied with their jobs. “We maintain a high engagement score, and we’re very proud of that,” Mr. Fenton says.

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At Metro Supply Chain, local leadership at each business unit are empowered to make the best decisions for the people and places they know best.SUPPLIED

A common mistake that companies make, according to Mr. Fenton, is encouraging employee feedback with no intent to act upon it.

Metro Supply Chain does the opposite. “We follow up and deliver on the things that have been raised to us.”

For example, after an employee at one business unit requested written notes from a meeting, the company began distributing them, instead of just communicating verbally to those in attendance.

Learning and development programs have also been refreshed and designed to better match the goals of staff, which are gathered through an annual employee opinion survey.

These internal training programs further bolster the engagement levels at Metro Supply Chain. “Our view is that we can teach people to do the things that we need,” Mr. Fenton explains. “We want to enrich the skills that we’ve got within the organization.”

One example of Metro Supply Chain’s internal retraining initiatives looks at automation and robotics, which not only helps employees expand their skill set but also benefits the organization as a whole.

“[Automation] has become significantly more sophisticated and touches many parts of our organization,” says Mr. Fenton. “[Instead of having] a dedicated team that does robotics, we can now deploy these technologies broadly across the organization.”

Alain Audet, senior director of national accounts for CIBC, was impressed by the company’s dedication to its staff, and helped coach them to win a Best Managed Company award for 2023, a prize which recognizes excellence in private Canadian-owned enterprise.

“One key factor was their commitment to empowering their people,” Mr. Audet says. “Strategies can be decided by the employees and funneled all the way to the top. They are solving local problems [through] their people.”

It’s a strategy that Mr. Audet believes can translate into any organization to bolster engagement.

“When you feel that you have the ability to make a difference, when you’re authorized to try something, make decisions, implement them and make mistakes,” says Mr. Audet, “that’s what makes people feel like they’re being supported.”

To take the next step in becoming a Best Managed company with the help of CIBC, click here.

This is one of four profiles from the “In their Orbit” series in partnership with CIBC, where leaders of Canada’s Best Managed Companies share what gives their organizations pull.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with CIBC. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.