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At Longboard Architectural Products, employees have opportunities to grow their skill set both in office and through employer-paid education.Provided

Longboard Architectural Products was not always a model employer. “It was a horrific grind for years,” admits president Mike Heppell. At one point his accountant begged Heppell to shut down the debt-ridden, money-losing manufacturer he founded in Abbotsford, B.C., in 2005. Longboard simply couldn’t afford the things its employees enjoy today, like the on-site gym and trainer, the wall-to-wall health benefits or the full tuition subsidy for continuing education.

“Profitability is like oxygen. If you don’t have it, you’re really in trouble,” Heppell reflects.

But he stuck with it, and the turnaround, when it came, enabled him to embed his values into the way the company operated. First among those values is that people come first.

“We want everybody to live their best life possible,” Heppell says. That’s why Longboard bankrolls employee education. If people grow their skill set, they add value to the company and increase their own earnings. And if they take those skills to another employer, he adds, “we don’t see it as a cost to our company. When that happens, and they get a better opportunity, we celebrate that.”

Another core value Longboard strives to nurture is open-handed generosity. It matches employees’ donations to charity and allows them to volunteer on the company clock for community initiatives like cleaning up local trails or the Starfish Pack program, which provides knapsacks stuffed with food to the families of needy schoolchildren. By inviting workers to contribute to the community at no risk to their household finances, Longboard aims to instill a “soft entry to generosity,” Heppell says.

Ahmed Sadeqi first heard about Longboard in 2022 after he had applied for a home for his Afghan refugee family through Habitat for Humanity. The company had donated some of its signature woodgrain-patterned aluminum cladding and a team of employees to help build homes at a project in nearby Mission, B.C. Sadeqi’s application for one of the homes for his five-member family was successful. Then he got a job as a forklift operator in Longboard’s warehouse. He ended up starting his job just a week after moving in.

“It’s a miracle that I found the work. I’m really happy,” says a grateful Sadeqi. “The past I had, I don’t want my kids to have that situation. I just always pray that my kids have a bright future.”

“Ahmad’s story was unique. When he applied for the job we didn’t understand the connection. We found out after the fact,” Heppell says. “It was fun to see a tangible connection to a man and his family who needed that kind of support. And it came full circle where he’s a critical part of our team at Longboard.”

The company’s empathetic and supportive nature shines through in its exceptional top-up program for parental and medical leave. This initiative, deeply rooted in compassion, was inspired by the personal challenges faced by two employees. One bravely battled cancer, requiring time off for treatment, while another devotedly cared for a spouse during a health crisis.

For both, living just on Employment Insurance was a big financial blow. So Longboard introduced a program that would top up employees’ income to 85% of what they were making at the company for up to 21 weeks. In its first 18 months, nine employees who became mothers-to-be took advantage.

“We’re super happy to be able to support them that way,” Heppell says.

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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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