When Saskatchewan’s two major newspapers, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and the Regina Leader-Post, went searching for the province’s best employers, Saskatoon-based chemicals distributor ClearTech passed up the chance to toot its own horn. But then a few employees approached president Randy Bracewell about applying for the award—to let everyone know how much they appreciate working at ClearTech.
Bracewell doesn’t normally go in for awards. “We’re a quiet, boring company,” he says. “We keep our head down.” But when your own team wants to boast, how do you say no?
The 2018 list of Saskatchewan’s 30 Top Employers duly recognized ClearTech, citing, among other factors, the head office’s employee lounge (offering healthy snacks and a foosball table) and a fitness room with showers. It also mentioned the company’s profit-sharing plan, in-house training programs and a busy social committee that organizes barbecues and golf tournaments.
Now that ClearTech has also been recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies, Bracewell can reveal a subtler tip for building great teams. Every 18 months or so, his senior managers from seven cities across Canada meet in person to review the status of their 140 employees. “We have our own system of ranking people,” he says. “Either they’re okay or they need help. If they’re struggling, we take a strong approach to set them straight or exit them from the organization.”
Bracewell says that the job is “never the best day” of the year, “but the organization is better for it,” he says. “We won’t let our good people be stifled by bad people. And we see a real spring in the step of the people who stay.”
That spring pays off. Despite being “quiet and boring,” ClearTech enjoys annual revenue growth close to 10%. And to PIC Investment Group, the Saskatoon firm that owns ClearTech, Bracewell has been delivering an annual return on investment of more than 40%.
Bracewell, 59, is self-taught in business. A high school dropout who earned his Grade 12 at age 30, he reads a lot of business books. (“Right-peopling” your business comes straight out of Jim Collins’s classic, Good to Great.)
Every great leader has a north star, and Bracewell’s top metric is a chart comparing the company’s annual revenue growth with its growth in net income (i.e., after expenses). As long as the gap between the two lines keeps shrinking, he knows he’s on the right track.
According to Bracewell, ClearTech’s profit-sharing plan keeps all employees focused on that net metric. He’s learned that staff work hard to maximize their share of profits by stamping out inefficiencies and finding new ways to work faster. “We keep tightening the screws on everything,” he explains. “You’re never going to go broke paying people a percentage of profit.”