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Don Stuart, CFA, president (left) and Rob Mitchell, CFA, MBA, founder, at Dixon Mitchell.Provided

At first glance, it might seem financially imprudent for a small company to fly its entire staff and their spouses to La Jolla, Calif., for two nights, treat them to a big dinner and give them each $700 in spending money, as Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel Inc. did last September. But the boutique wealth management firm believes it’s getting a good return on its investment.

“It cost a lot of money but it’ll pay the firm back many times over in terms of loyalty, ties to the company and people being willing to do a little bit more for the company and for clients,” says president Don Stuart.

And that’s just one of many social events Dixon Mitchell has on its calendar. Every Friday the company orders in a free “family lunch” for all employees in its Vancouver offices. The conversation is not meant to be about work but rather family, the upcoming weekend or people’s personal passions. The same goes for quarterly outings that have taken the form of kayaking, curling, pitch-and-putt and even biathlon.

“We’re a firm that is built on investment performance, client service and business integrity. But all of those things only work if we have a strong culture,” Stuart says. The social events are designed to help staff connect “as people, not just as company employees.”

Instead of just donating to particular charities or counting employees’ volunteer hours, the company will go as a group to prepare and serve a meal together to homeless people at the Union Gospel Mission or raise a team to take part in the Plunge for the Cure cancer fundraiser.

This is a company that likes to keep its workers close. Postpandemic, it instituted a hybrid work guideline whereby most employees are expected to be in the office at least three days a week. But it was willing to make an exception for Ashley Hanson. The investment counsellor moved in 2019 to Powell River, a more affordable coastal community where she had family and her husband had a job opportunity. Today, she mostly attends to clients by video call and visits the office once a month.

“I loved my job. I didn’t want to give it up,” Hanson says. “I feel very grateful that I still get to work with Dixon Mitchell and get to live here and have the lifestyle that I wanted.”

“We try not to take a hard line on most things,” Stuart explains. “We really treat our employees like adults.”

Indeed, more than half the workforce, including support staff, are now company shareholders themselves and benefit from quarterly dividends. In a lot of partnerships, the company equity stays concentrated in a few hands, Stuart says, and young talent can get frustrated. But Dixon Mitchell strives to nurture a constant process of succession and to make employees at all levels feel like they have a stake in the business.

“When you’re talking to a client and you’re part of the firm – versus ‘this is my latest job’ – I think that comes across,” he says. In management terms, the organization is flat. Junior employees can bring their ideas and issues straight to the top.

“Everyone has always been very approachable,” says Hanson, who obtained her chartered financial analyst and certified financial planner accreditations on the company dime while rising from an associate role to investment counsellor over her almost 10 years with the company. “They really go out of their way to treat their employees well.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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