Best Companies 2012: More Than Money

It takes more than a paycheque to foster staff commitment. 

Biweekly paycheque | BCBusiness
A biweekly paycheque just isn’t enough to foster employee loyalty.

It takes more than a paycheque to foster staff commitment. 

If there’s anything these tough economic times have taught us, it’s that compensation isn’t just about earning a decent paycheque anymore. No one knows this better than Debra Hewson, president and CEO of Odlum Brown, a full-service investment firm, and Scott Garrett, general manager of Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House. In fact, despite working in disparate industries, each leader advocates for and employs an approach to compensation that shares a common theme: it’s not just about the money.

At Odlum Brown, a generous profit-sharing scheme offers employees more, literally, than a biweekly paycheque. “We are 100 per cent employee-owned,” explains Hewson, “so when the firm does well, everyone, right down to the messenger, participates in that success.” Profit-sharing is rare at large organizations, but is so deeply entrenched at Odlum Brown (the system has been in place since before Hewson joined over 20 years ago) that an “all-for-one-and-one-for-all” community atmosphere is now deeply ingrained in its corporate culture, attracting and retaining like-minded individuals. “I knew early on in my career that I wanted to work at a smaller firm where everybody knew each other and I would know everyone on the phone that I talked to, personally,” Hewson acknowledges. She believes most of Odlum Brown’s approximately 225 employees share her sentiment: “Our doors are all literally always open,” she adds.

Fostering this type of transparent work environment means that when issues arise surrounding compensation, fair treatment or other common HR concerns, it’s nearly impossible that Hewson doesn’t know about it. “You’re not getting notification of a salary increase from someone you’ve never met,” she says. “If someone is unhappy with his or her level of compensation, I would hear about it directly,” she notes, adding, “but in the last couple of years, that hasn’t really happened. It just doesn’t.”

In a firm where nearly 70 per cent of employees are also shareholders, staff motivation isn’t an issue, but non-discretionary and discretionary bonuses add “another level of participation for those that put in the extra effort,” says Hewson.

Extra effort is a familiar concept in the service industry, and it’s something Scott Garrett at Joe Fortes knows a lot about as general manager of one of the city’s most iconic restaurants. Extra effort in compensation is what sets his seafood restaurant apart, he says. “In the service industry, it boils down to much more than the hourly rate,” explains Garrett. “You need to offer great benefits packages – compensation is about more than just the dollars.”

According to Garrett, who has been with Joe Fortes since 2005 and saw it through its sale in March this year to David Aisenstat of the Keg (Joe Fortes’ founder, Bud Kanke, retired after 40 years in the business, during which he opened 11 restaurants), the staff benefits package is generous and includes long-term disability, medical, dental, and eye care and top-ups to MSP. It’s not common in the restaurant industry, but it makes a lot of sense. “It’s a competitive package that attracts the professionals you want working in a professional restaurant,” reasons Garrett.

Like Hewson, Garrett believes that compensation schemes that extend beyond just employee salaries are closely tied to staff retention. “Most people look at the service industry and think these aren’t real jobs,” he explains, “but there are people working here that support their families.” In other words, “if you’re not taking care of your staff, retention is a problem.” Garrett says that salaries at Joe Fortes are higher than the industry average, and many servers make about $400 a week in gratuities, with the advantage that Joe Fortes doesn’t suffer from seasonal downturn like many other Vancouver restaurants.

When Joe Fortes was sold to Aisenstat, the renowned restaurateur vowed not to overhaul existing systems or make any drastic changes. His goal was to make the change in ownership as seamless as possible – unknown, even – to the restaurant’s loyal customers. In the end, Joe Fortes lost zero staff due to the buyout, and Garrett believes the successful transition was thanks to a winning combination of a positive, trusting corporate culture, good salaries and competitive benefits. Clearly, it’s not only about money. 

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