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The leaders of this year’s class of share the management lessons that have helped them succeed

Champlain Seafood (Dieppe, N.B.)

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Aly Ambler/The Globe and Mail

1,700 employees (at summer peak) | 8 companies and 17 facilities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Massachusetts

It’s a wry premise Hollywood could use: Corporate finance types from the city buy long-established lobster and crab processing facilities in outports, and they and the locals learn valuable lessons from one another.

Champlain is backed by two Montreal private equity firms, Champlain Financial and Claridge Inc., that are assembling a seafood platform out of familiar brands that have been family-owned and run for generations. Among them are Captain Dan’s, Boston Wholesale Lobsters and Downeast Cape Bald Packers. They sell to wholesalers, and to big restaurant and supermarket chains.

Champlain Seafood is a primary processor of crab and lobster—basically packing it into 30-pound boxes and shipping it out. Although it also earns some revenue from live lobster. Daily processing capacity is impressive: 700,000 pounds of processed lobster and crab, and up to 2.2 million pounds of live lobster. Some facilities operate year-round, but business is concentrated in the summer, from April to September.

In the middle is David Saucy, Champlain Seafood’s chief financial and operating officer, who joined in 2021. He’s a CPA and MBA with decades of experience. “It got to the point where they needed a little more horsepower,” he says. The Montreal firms had been buying processors since 2015. The idea, Saucy says, is to maintain each business’s entrepeneurial spirit by standardizing “things that don’t impact the operations and the customers, but make it more efficient”—functions like HR, IT and arranging insurance.

As in the movies, there have been rough spots. “Private equity comes in and says, ‘We’re buying your company.’ You probably don’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling about that,” says Saucy. But last year he sent video crews out to every facility to interview groups of employees. Out of it came the company’s new slogan: Stronger Together. Or, as one employee puts it, “Everybody depends on everybody.” John Daly

Anchor your business in social purpose

ABC Recycling (Burnaby, B.C.)

220 employees | 10 locations

Western Canada’s largest scrap metal recycling firm has a well-defined mission statement when it comes to social impact: “We exist to preserve the world’s resources, building thriving communities by accelerating metal recycling.” That, along with its focus on Tzedakah—the Jewish value of charity—is the 111-year-old company’s North Star. Besides diverting up to 20,000 tonnes of scrap waste from landfills every month, ABC has a laundry list of charitable and environmental endeavours: It’s a long-time supporter of United Way (having donated more than $400,000 in the past decade); it volunteers time and equipment to support cleanup efforts in forests and waterways; it donates scrap cars for local firefighters to practise auto extrication procedures; and it has entrenched partnerships with Indigenous communities in its regions of operation. In challenging times, like 2015′s recycling industry downturn, the fourth-generation business leaned on goodwill built over decades of fortifying community relationships. Poised to triple its size by 2030, ABC’s strategy seems to be working.

Establish a formal succession plan

Beaudoin Canada (Gatineau, Que.)

66 employees | 90% revenue growth from 2020–23

Louis-Joseph Beaudoin, CEO of the eponymous project management and construction firm, used to think his sons would take over when he eventually hung up his hat. But when it became clear they weren’t interested, he quickly established a formal succession plan. “With around 80 employees directly linked to the company, it’s important for me to make decisions for good continuity,” he says. The problem was that his chosen successors didn’t have the financial capacity to become shareholders, so Beaudoin established a profit-sharing formula that would eventually allow them to do so. Today, the CEO has mostly stepped back from day-to-day operations to allow his three successors to run the show.

Get specific about your shortcomings

Birch Mountain Enterprises (Fort McKay, Alta.)

389 employees | 100% First Nations owned

Founded in 2005, Birch Mountain Enterprises generally showed strong growth. The problem: It wasn’t clear where that growth stemmed from. Between its multifaceted business streams—waste disposal, hydrovac services, remote washroom facilities, fuel hauling and more—no one was keeping track of the profit-and-loss particulars for every division. But a few years ago, BME hired its first dedicated CFO. It was transformational, giving the management team a detailed breakdown of what was generating the most profit—and where they should divest resources. BME ended up winding down its front-load waste management and doubling down on fluid hauling, to name one significant change. As owner and president Chris Wilson puts it, “We went from a vague understanding that we were winning to a detailed understanding of where and why.”

Resilience will get you everywhere

Caravan Group of Cos. (Oakville, Ont.)

500 employees | 80,000 unique delivery locations served

When John Iwaniura and his partners started logistics and warehousing firm Caravan Group 25-plus years ago, everyone said they’d fail both as partners and business owners. “We took that as motivation for our company’s success,” says Iwaniura. “As humble immigrants, I’m proud that my partners and I turned this once far-fetched idea from a ‘Canadian Dream’ into a reality.” For Iwaniura—along with co-founders Bob Workun, now VP of operations, and safety and compliance officer Paul Merena—resilience and tenacity were key takeaways in the early days. These traits not only got the trio past the aforementioned discouraging remarks, but through challenging economic cycles and the typical hurdles of expansion. Caravan’s trucks have collectively travelled one and a half times the distance from Earth to the sun—not bad for a company that was supposedly destined to fail.

Groupe Renaud-Bray (Montreal)

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Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

2,115 employees | 62 Renaud-Bray and Archambault stores

A decade ago, the conventional wisdom in the book trade was that e-books would soon replace physical ones. “But that was never really our vision,” says Blaise Renaud, CEO of North America’s largest French-language bookseller, Groupe Renaud-Bray, and son of the company’s founder, Pierre Renaud. “We didn’t jump the gun on moving too far, too fast to e-books.” That proved to be a smart move: It turned out most of the retailer’s customers still prefer paper, and to this day, e-books constitute a marginal portion of the nearly 60-year-old company’s sales.

The company’s habit of doing things its own way also served it well when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. As part of its existing business model, Renaud-Bray already placed an emphasis on speedy delivery, and maintained its own dedicated warehouse and elevated inventories. “Without that warehouse we set up in 2009,” says Renaud, “I’m not sure we would have been able to ship the same amount of goods to customers. And we were lucky, because we had plenty of inventory on hand and could sell it to customers online.”

Renaud-Bray has, of course, changed its approach over the years. Like other booksellers, it has introduced a wider variety of non-book items into its stores, and the pandemic has changed where some of its customers work and shop. But change also brings opportunity. Now that more people are working remotely outside the major urban centres, there will be more stores where they can buy French-language books: “This year, we opened one store on the south shore of Montreal, and the next one will be on the north shore,” Renaud says. “We need to make sure our stores are where our customers are.” He’s not content to cater only to regulars, however. “We have about 50% market share in Quebec,” he says. That is a lot, but it still leaves 50% to grow.” /Jaime Weinman

Establish a clear vision

Dilawri (Toronto)

3,600 employees | $4 billion+ in revenue

For Kap Dilawri—co-founder of his namesake automotive dealership group—a clear vision at the outset was the scaffolding for every strategic decision he made down the road. That vision was sustainable growth based on two pillars: brand and geographic diversification. Dilawri’s brand partnerships range from Mazda and Honda to Ferrari and Maserati, allowing the company to adapt to market trends. Meanwhile, spreading out limits its exposure to market risk, helping it take advantage of Canada’s varied provincial economies—a low in one province may be offset by a high in another. This core vision gives Dilawri an edge when it comes to acquiring dealerships (he owns 80): The company assesses the business case for each deal based on how it fits into its larger portfolio, not local market conditions. “Our strengths have allowed us to step forward and invest when others have chosen not to,” he says. “This has been a central contributor to our successful growth.”

Treat clients like partners

Energy Transportation Group (LaSalle, Que.)

153 employees | 97% on-time delivery rate

Energy Logistics was a brokerage-only shipping operation when it launched back in 2007. Three years later, the company approached an important potential client that said it would only deal with an asset-based carrier—that is, a company that owns its own equipment and employs its own drivers, as opposed to contracting it out. It was a significant shift for a new firm, but CEO Shawn Girard saw an opportunity to level up, correctly surmising that the client’s suggestion would open important new doors—including eventually adding Fortune 500 companies to its client roster. “We asked that client if they would support us on the trucking side if we purchased the equipment, and they said yes,” he says. “We saw them as partners, and that approach to relationships became a central pillar of our business. We extend the attitude to vendors and suppliers. It’s about making everyone feel valued.”

Lean on company culture

eStruxture Data Centers (Montreal)

135 employees | 130 megawatts of combined power

With more than 1,200 customers and 15 locations in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver—each of which houses computing resources that store and transfer digital information—eStruxture is the single largest Canadian-owned data centre. Given it only launched in 2017 and experienced much of its growth during the pandemic, that’s no small feat. Even as supply chain issues made it difficult to deliver data centre capacity, eStruxture expanded its footprint and brought additional capacity online. Sure, you can put some of that down to technical chops, but founder and CEO Todd Coleman believes the company’s inclusive culture allowed it to rise to the top within five years—54% of its employees are BIPOC. “When I founded eStruxture, I knew that while we were building a tech business, we were ultimately building a people and relationship business,” he says. “And as our company grew, that core has never changed.”

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Gincor Werx (Mattawa, Ont.)

315 employees | 12,000+ commercial vehicles operating in Ontario

When Luc Stang started Gincor Werx in 2002, he knew the business model wasn’t perfect—there were several areas, he says, that lacked the systems and processes that would allow the custom vocational-vehicle manufacturer to run smoothly. “Along with gaps in leadership, these would normally keep others from moving toward growth,” says Stang, “but I had a vision and was able to keep building the business. If I’d waited till everything was perfect, we wouldn’t have achieved 20 times growth in 20 years.” Stang learned it’s far better to course-correct as you go than to let a time-sensitive opportunity slide. Now, Gincor has one of the broadest product suites in the industry and is the country’s No. 1 producer of dump trucks. Undaunted by obstacles—including some internal opposition—Stang applied the same attitude to its overseas expansion. Its products are now used across four continents. The takeaway: Don’t let perfection get in the way of greatness.

Empower your employees

Groupe Morneau (Saint-Arsène, Que.)

1,468 employees | 23 terminals in 3 provinces

Freight transportation and logistics company Groupe Morneau doesn’t refer to its employees as such. Instead, the fourth-generation family-owned company calls them collaborators, and the attitude extends well beyond nomenclature. With a flat organizational structure, employees (or collaborators) are assigned a specific role instead of a list of tasks. The idea is that if everyone knows where the ship is going—and has the autonomy to make their own calls—they’ll carve out the right tasks to match their assigned role. Nixing a bloated middle-management structure also means company leaders are relatively accessible to everyone, which translates to more synergies. “Our corporate culture is based on trust and offering the conditions to empower our employees,” says executive VP and general manager Catherine Morneau. “We must remain agile and attentive to our environment, because the world is changing faster and faster. We have to adapt to remain useful for an evolving society.”

Mevotech (Toronto)

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Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

600+ employees | 15,000+ products

It’s not every day that an American market leader puts a Canadian business at the top of its list. But that’s what happened to Mevotech in January, when the Toronto-based automotive engineering company was named supplier of the year by O’Reilly Auto Parts, a leading automotive retailer in the U.S. “To be recognized as the top vendor really speaks to how innovative and progressive we are,” says Mevotech’s CEO, Ezer Mevorach, who co-founded the company in 1982.

Indeed, Mevotech is known as a leader in design and engineering, and for being first to market with its products. “That really makes us stand out,” says Mevorach. The insistence on being first also led to the profitable decision, years ago, to focus on chassis parts, which management identified as an underserved market before other suppliers did.

Asked about the company’s ability to make these decisions, Mevorach points to an agile team culture. “Where a quick decision is required, our senior team and I will meet, debate and take action without much red tape,” he says. When the COVID-19 pandemic caused a sudden fall in demand, for example, they immediately decided on a plan to keep their supply chain going uninterrupted, which served them well when demand rebounded.

Today, in addition to maintaining that ability to pivot, Mevotech is focused on being a great place to work in an era when office work is changing rapidly: “Employee morale and work-life balance are very important,” says Mevorach, adding, “We have a great culture, a compassionate culture.” /Jaime Weinman

Give in to transformation

ITI (Quebec City)

450 employees | 5 offices in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston

Five years ago, Quebec-based digital services and consulting firm ITI underwent a major shareholder transition—and with it, a rebrand and thorough reassessment of its offerings. The company went from reselling IT equipment to providing strategic consulting services that cover everything on your IT bingo card, including cloud computing and data analytics. The transition led to a 105% increase in revenue (and counting). For a company that heavily promotes digital transformation for its clients, it makes sense that it would embrace change as a norm. But the key, says president Jonathan Legault, is a basic understanding that even a tech company’s stakeholders are people, not machines. “I believe the secret to our success is our ability to listen—to trends, our clients, our partners and our employees,” he says. “Thanks to these insights, transformation is the core of our business.”

Love what you do

Lee Valley Tools (Ottawa)

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alexa mazzarello/The Globe and Mail

1,000 employees | 5,000 different products

To read about how Lee Valley Tools and its second-generation CEO bounced back after the pandemic, read “The sharpest tool in the shed” later in May.

Trust your instincts

Logistec (Montreal)

3,700 employees | Operates in 60 ports and 90 terminals across North America

Soon after CEO Madeleine Paquin took over Logistec from her father, a cousin approached her with a radical idea: expand marine cargo handling services and create a new environmental division focused on decontaminating industrial sites. He needed a $750,000 investment, and the CFO at the time advised Paquin against the deal. She went with her gut and today, 40% of Logistec’s business is in environmental services, from site remediation to soil and materials management. If Paquin hadn’t made that leap, Logistec would have missed out on all 6,500-plus of the projects the company has completed to date. “Put simply, we innovate because the world does not stand still,” she says. “There has never been a greater opportunity for our team to support today’s economic and environmental imperatives.”

Lead by example

Light Speed Logistics (Rocky View County, Alta.)

500+ employees | 1,000+ refrigerated trailers, 330 tractors

Today, food transportation firm Light Speed Logistics (which operates 24-7, 365 days a year) has one of the largest fleets in Western Canada, but it started as a one-truck operation back in 2000. Director of operations Ashish Gill has worn many hats along the way, including dispatcher, HR manager, safety manager and accountant, to name a few. (The only thing he hasn’t done is drive a delivery truck.) Gill’s jack-of-all-trades mentality was initially a practical necessity, but it became a management edge. “I’m engaged with every aspect of the business on a day-to-day basis,” he says. “I have been everywhere my employees are, so I don’t believe in managing through memos. I want to lead by example, and I think our staff sees the value in that.”

Prepare for the unprecedented

Metro Supply Chain (Montreal) 6,000+ employees

14 million square feet in 6 countries | If you get a new wave of pandemic fatigue each time you hear “supply chain issues,” rest assured specialists are working to stay ahead of whatever unprecedented event befalls us next. “Macro events such as digital transformation, climate change and world conflict continue to impact supply chains everywhere, and each of the industries we support carries its own challenges and opportunities,” says Metro Supply Chain CEO Chris Fenton. “It’s our job to anticipate what may affect our customers and their markets so we can provide the strategic support they need to meet their goals.” In 2021, the company invested $100 million to automate several of its fulfillment facilities—which handle more than 20 billion items annually—to bolster its resilience amid future peaks and valleys in consumer demand.

Give back to get back

Roy (Anjou, Que.)

2,800 employees | 3 acquisitions since 2018

Quebec-based janitorial services company Roy regularly participates in its clients’ fundraising events. Its custodial employees clean and perform other support duties while Roy absorbs all the associated labour and supply costs. Besides being a concrete way to support local causes, CEO Julie Roy (part of the third generation to run the company) sees it as an opportunity to network and advertise the quality of her company’s customer service, making it a win-win for Roy and its clients. She also regularly participates in industry panels and juries, volunteers for organizations like United Way, and encourages her management staff to do the same—even if it means volunteering during business hours. It’s a genuine effort to give back to the community, but also no small boon for the business.

Blendtek (Cambridge, Ont.)

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Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

55 employees | Creates ingredients for food, pharmaceuticals, packaging and more

When you see a fast-growing startup that develops plant-based proteins and other innovative ingredients, you might assume dietary zealots launched it. Actually, Blendtek co-founder and VP Rob Bianchin says he came from “a pretty meat-and-potatoes family.” What he and president Steve Zinger started with in 2014 was a distribution centre left orphaned after Zinger’s family sold its salt business, and a focused plan.

Bianchin, 35, graduated from Wilfrid Laurier University with a business degree and spent five years in Silicon Valley before returning home. Blendtek has been built on three pillars: a team of experts help clients develop new foods, beverages or supplements; a selection and distribution arm helps manufacturers procure ingredients; and a custom operation combines inputs for bakeries and other food processors.

To do all that, Blendtek works with large and small suppliers and customers. Big deals in the past year include partnerships with global giant Bunge Ltd. (to distribute its proteins in North America) and Cargill Inc. (to distribute oils, sweeteners, cocoa and more).

“When I came into this industry, I learned there were fads, trends and mainstays,” says Bianchin. With a compound annual growth rate that consistently averages 20%, Blendtek has found its sweet spot. /John Daly

Look beyond the numbers

Rustica Foods (Anjou, Que.)

400 employees | 40 million pizzas made annually

Rustica Foods started as a 600-square-foot family pizzeria in Montreal North. Over time, the brand grew to commercialize its pizzas, keeping quality at the forefront of its operations. But in 2016, when Rustica decided to start offering frozen pies, something got lost on the production line. “We were making pizzas at very high speeds, and our P&Ls looked great, but we noticed—through customer feedback and internal taste tests—that quality was suffering,” says founder and CEO Richard Morgante. Rather than hoping customers would adjust, Morgante ultimately opted to slow down the production process (which includes a kilometre-long production line), sacrificing some speed to stay in line with the brand’s original purpose: to offer artisanal-quality goods on a commercial scale. “You can be blinded by profitability,” he says. “Looking beyond that was a big lesson for me.”

Diversify strategically

Seaboard Transport Group (Dartmouth, N.S.)

1,500+ employees and contractors | 15 terminals across Canada and the U.S.

Seabord Transport started as a petroleum transportation business that delivered to rural service stations on Cape Breton Island. To be precise, it owned exactly one truck and one trailer. Looking to increase its geographic footprint, the company’s leaders knew diversification was next on the docket. Seaboard moved into chemical and other liquid and dry bulk transportation, which fuelled growth across the country and into the U.S. market. Since then, it has further diversified into more sustainable commodities and by providing niche rail-terminal services. “Diversification makes us more resilient and sustainable through improved equipment utility and the creation of more opportunities for our people,” says president and COO Mark Shannon. Part of that strategy is acquisitions-based—Seabord has bought more than 30 companies, including its 2021 purchase of Armour Transportation. The latter made it a leading provider of total logistics services—quite a journey for what was once a two-vehicle operation.

Adapt or get left behind

Sinobec (Saint-Laurent, Que.)

300+ employees | 8 storage/distribution centres globally

The aluminum wholesaling business may not immediately come to mind when you think about innovation, but for Sinobec president John Lee, enthusiastically embracing change is his modus operandi. The company’s roots are in raw ore trading, but since pivoting to aluminum, Lee’s willingness to get a handle on a variety of distinct sectors has been a major boon. Sinobec supplies aluminum solar-panel frames for clean energy providers; high-grade aluminum for the aerospace industry; specialized plates and coils for the truck and oil-tank business; and metals for the IT and electronics world, including to subcontractors for Apple and Foxconn. When the pandemic hit, Lee even branched into personal protective equipment, establishing a full-fledged medical supply operation; the stable revenue stream allowed Sinobec to minimize COVID-19 layoffs. “As company leaders,” he says, “we have to be ready to adapt to market trends.”

Don’t spread out your R&D

StackAdapt (Toronto)

1,000 employees | Operates in 15 countries

The machine learning–based advertising software firm StackAdapt—whose programmatic platform makes 108 billion decisions each second—started expanding south of the border in 2020. Before that, the 175-strong team was concentrated in Toronto. The first step was migrating some sales and marketing employees, after which CEO Ildar Shar had to decide what to do with its core: the engineers who make the product run. He decided to keep StackAdapt’s entire engineering force in Toronto, figuring in-person collaboration was especially important for R&D. Now, the company operates in 15 countries, and all employees work remotely but with unlimited access to co-working space. Turns out Shar’s early call was right on the money—of all its employees, the engineers use the co-working facilities the most, regularly meeting in person to flesh out ideas. And Shar suspects that’s the secret sauce to StackAdapt’s success

Embrace new-school work culture

Synergie Canada Inc. (Boisbriand, Que.)

105 employees | 50,000 annual imports/exports

For many businesses with deep roots, the old ways of doing things can have a stranglehold on corporate culture. Not so with Synergie, a logistics and international transport company that covers 187 countries. Five or so years ago, president Marc-André Guindon and VP Sebastien Suicco decided to see if a new, fun-centered approach could help distinguish the business from its competitors. Besides installing arcade games in the office and instituting a casual-dress policy, they started letting employees self-schedule and reduced the number of days they were expected to work in-office. In the past four years, sales have tripled, the headcount has more than doubled, and the company has fixed a nagging employee retention issue, which in turn increased the average seniority of its staff and improved customer experience. “We learned that creating a fun and enjoyable work environment is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Guindon.

Don’t neglect the human element

Transit (Lévis, Que.)

135 employees | 99.8% order accuracy

It should come as no surprise that an automotive parts manufacturer and distributor like Transit, with $65 million in annual revenue, invests heavily in technology to stay competitive. From automating parts of its shipping process to developing an intuitive online ordering system, Transit owes much of its growth to an enthusiastic embrace of technological innovation. But what distinguishes this company from its competition is an unwavering focus on people. Transit models its office amenities on Silicon Valley, runs a heavily discounted auto repair shop for employees and operates on a flexible-hours policy. Even warehouse employees have flexible schedules—there’s no bell-ringing for breaks. It’s been a boost for culture and employee retention, and clients—mostly auto parts retailers—benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce.

Know the lay of the land

Tulloch Engineering (Huntsville, Ont.)

400 employees | Employees travel 4 million km each year

Tulloch Engineering operates in a roughly 2,000-kilometre stretch between Ottawa and the Manitoba border. According to CEO Mark Tulloch, running a multifaceted engineering business that covers a huge swath of northern Ontario means this isn’t cubicle engineering—Tulloch employees travel long distances between projects and are sometimes the only engineer for a significant distance. “Besides being willing to travel, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades in the north,” says Tulloch. “You can’t be a specialist. People will rely on you to do all sorts of things that might otherwise fall to multiple people.” That’s the reasoning behind one of Tulloch’s core values: giving freedom and responsibility to every team member. Being a generalist, Tulloch knows, means operating with considerable autonomy. This is a company that thoroughly understands its geographic situation and leverages its workforce accordingly.

Let your purpose drive decisions

Universal Group (Langley, B.C.)

2,500 employees | 900+ traffic support vehicles

In 2019, Michael Menzies, CEO of the traffic control company Universal Group, sat down with his leadership team to create a mission statement and list of core values. Universal had grown quickly since its 2016 founding, and its other leaders thought the company’s culture needed stronger scaffolding. Menzies was initially reluctant. “Aside from the challenge of staying awake in these types of sessions, you usually come out with a convoluted mission statement and a five-year plan you never look at again,” he says. But thanks in part to a skilled facilitator, this time was different. The purpose that emerged was to “provide peace of mind to both our clients and team members,” with the core values of being “passionate, authentic and driven.” It sounds simple, but it’s actionable, and that’s the point. Now, no matter the decision or at what level it’s being made, Menzies asks his staff to act according to the company’s purpose. Since 2019, Universal (which has more than $200 million in annual revenue) has completed nine acquisitions; having a common focus has made all the difference to successful integration.

Make friends with criticism

Verve Senior Living (Toronto)

2,450 employees | 32 residences serving 5,000 seniors

When Verve Senior Living (known formally as Diversicare) sets out to build a new residence, it first engages construction and operations managers in a “lessons learned” exercise. Employee and resident feedback from past projects feeds into the new design, too. “We apply a continuous-improvement loop to our designs, resident programs and team-member engagement,” says CEO David Bird. “We recognize that constructive criticism makes us better at what we do.” Said criticism is gathered via regular surveys, implemented wherever possible, and reviewed in follow-up meetings with staff and resident councils. For instance, in an effort to support residents’ health, the company used to offer exclusively healthy meals on certain days—think salmon and sweet potato fries instead of battered fish and chips. But after residents complained about lack of choice, comfort-food classics now appear alongside lighter fare. For Bird, change is about humility and maintaining a growth mindset. When you make peace with the fact that you’ll make mistakes, correcting course comes easier.

Ren’s Pets (Oakville, Ont.)

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Liam Mogan/The Globe and Mail

700 employees | 6 stores opening in 2023

Scott Arsenault has been with Ren’s Pets so long that he still remembers when it was a small business. “I’ve been here since store No. 3,” says the company’s CEO. Today, it’s a chain of 50 shops with a devoted following of fur moms and dads—who can buy everything from puppy strollers, canine cologne and cat trees to rawhide treats, food dishes and calming hemp oil—plus a bevy of awards celebrating its retail prowess.

Much of that success comes from shrewd management, including the company’s decision in 2021 to partner with DoorDash to deliver pet food. “We were the only retailer doing that, so that’s why we won—we could get it to people within hours,” says Arsenault. Another innovation was to invest early in walk-in freezers for perishable food—a huge investment that paid off. “Now, we have them in 90% of our stores, and we are by far the leader in Canada in that frozen category,” he says.

The company (now owned by Quebec’s Legault Group) is anything but icy, however. “We’re becoming more caring and socially responsible, and we’re listening more to our teams,” says Arsenault. Intitiatives include investing more in sustainability and forming a committee called the “Turnover Troop” to help increase employee retention.

Ren’s Pets also just completed its first employee engagement survey, with a completion rate of nearly 65%—high for retail and a very good sign, as far as Arsenault’s concerned. “If you have low engagement, people don’t care about giving feedback,” he says. “This shows they believe we’re going to take the feedback and make the company better.” Jaime Weinman

One additional newcomer to the Best Managed Companies list: Therrien Engineering (Nicolet, Que.)

Canada’s Best Managed Companies Methodology

Established in 1993, Canada’s Best Managed Companies recognizes excellence in private Canadian-owned companies. The Globe and Mail is a media sponsor of the program in partnership with Deloitte.

To be eligible for the Best Managed program, companies must be privately owned, headquartered in Canada and have revenues of $50 million or more. In terms of ownership, a company must be privately owned, including private equity portfolio companies. They can also be Canadian-owned co-operatives or foreign-owned with Canadian-based headquarters; a private company where the management team resides in Canada; or a Canadian-owned closely held public company with fewer than 50% of its shares or units traded.

Each applicant undergoes a multistep evaluation of management abilities and practices across four pillars: strategy; culture and commitment; capabilities and innovation; and governance and financials.

In terms of strategy, Best Managed companies must have a formal methodology for strategy development, ensure the strategy reflects all stakeholders, have the right capabilities and metrics in place to execute, and clearly and consistently communicate the strategy to all levels of the organization.

Best Managed companies must also prove their culture and commitment by building a strong corporate culture and legacy, actively developing their people and leadership team, providing a holistic compensation system, and addressing continuity issues within the company.

To show their capabilities and innovation, Best Managed Companies develop valuable capabilities and resources, are highly execution-oriented, are focused on productivity and innovation, and are thoughtful about hiring the right people to execute their business model and strategy.

For the fourth pillar, Best Managed Companies are expected to install strong governance structures, use KPIs to manage progress, maintain a strong balance sheet, and apply the financial discipline required to drive revenue growth, improve operating margin and increase asset efficiency.

For 2023, there are 30 new Best Managed Companies on the total list of 486. The remaining 456 companies are divided into three groups based on the number of years they have been included in the program. Best Managed winners: two to three years; Gold Standard winners: four to six years; Platinum Club members: seven-plus years.

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