On Nov. 5 last year, Bond Brand Loyalty threw a party. It was “Bonddependence Day,” a celebration to mark the date in 2015 when the senior executives of Bond completed a management buyout from Maritz Inc.
“It is quite unprecedented for a highly successful, 25-year-old company like ours to become independent, standalone and Canadian-owned,” says president and CEO Bob Macdonald. “We are very proud of that fact.”
Maritz had deep roots in running sales incentive programs, but in recent years the Canadian operations had started to evolve in different directions, says Macdonald. It had already rebranded as Bond in 2014 and had been expanding offerings to be more like a hybrid of an ad agency and a strategic branding or professional services consultancy.
Loyalty was and is still central to the Bond strategic vision (it’s right there in the name), but Macdonald and his senior team were increasingly taking the company into customer experience and live brand events, for example, while Maritz in the U.S. had chosen a more conservative path, staying focused on sales services.
In late January 2015, Bond’s senior leaders started to work on a deal to buy themselves out from Maritz. On Nov. 5, the deal was done.
Early on, Macdonald’s biggest concern was that employees would be nervous about staying with the firm without the security of a much larger holding company behind it.
“It would appear Maritz had deeper pockets and more ability to support them,” says Macdonald. So the leadership team moved quickly to demonstrate that far from playing it safe, the company was willing to move decisively forward.
They almost immediately started investing in new systems—financial, project management, learning—that were intended to help teams get their work done, deliver on client commitments and develop their careers. “These are the types of investments that a company in start-up mode following a management buyout would typically hold off on.”
Two years later, how is Bond doing? “I sleep much better now than I did before,” says Macdonald.
While he and his partners took on a lot of personal risk, they knew the business better than anyone else, so they understood exactly what they were getting into, with a clear vision of how they could do things better than before.
“I found it to be a bigger challenge to deal with the constraints of a holding company than having some risk and knowing we can deliver on it,” he says. “Becoming independent allowed us to adapt quickly to evolve our business and deliver on the changing needs of our clients and the market.”
And when all decision-making is being done in the same office instead of 1,200 km away in St. Louis, there is more clarity around expectations (and accountabilities), as well as better communication regarding values and principles.
“I would say there’s an intense alignment around where we’re going and what we’re seeking to accomplish . . . an energy and a passion for supporting each other,” he says.
As the CEO of an independent company, Macdonald is also comfortable working with a more distant horizon. “I view things beyond a typical annual plan cycle like I did before,” he says. Bond can make short-term trade-offs for long-term payoffs. “It’s not an excuse to be sloppy, and we’re still worried about cash flow more than anything. But we can make investments in different areas. And that’s probably the biggest change in our orientation,” he says.
These days, that means the company can look to grow through acquisition. “We’re trying to scan the marketplace for other organizations we can bring into the Bond family.”