Firma Foreign Exchange: Canada’s Best Managed Companies 2019

Grassroots input makes change more effective

 
Canada’s Best Managed Companies

Dave Dominy knows each employee at Firma Foreign Exchange by name—all 220 of them. After decades working for large companies, including TD, getting to know his staff is something he loves about being CEO of a mid-sized firm. “I’m pretty sure they would all be comfortable sitting down in my office and having a conversation about whatever is on their minds,” Dominy says. “That’s my goal.”

Dominy brought his people-first management to the company when he became CEO in 2014. Firma was founded in 1998 by Edmonton brothers Michael and Clive Oshry to provide small and medium-sized businesses with foreign exchange and payment solutions in a customized way that the big banks couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver. Dominy joined the company’s advisory board in 2010 and became CEO four years later at the coaxing of Michael, now the sole owner of the company. For Dominy, the job presented a tantalizing challenge: Firma had a diverse client base but “needed to transition from those entrepreneurial roots to become a more sophisticated operation.”

He started by asking staff what the company needed. “I physically went to every single office and met with every single person and took notes,” he says. This was no small task, since the formerly Alberta-centric business had operations around the world. (The company now operates seven offices across Canada and three more in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.)

After his international tour, Dominy distilled the conversations into 10 themes and assigned them to 10 people he identified as top leaders in the company for further research. Four months later, these leaders presented and voted for the top three projects. “I was crossing my fingers that they were the ones I wanted to do,” says Dominy. “Thankfully, it turned out there was good alignment with where I thought we should go and where the group went.” The winning priorities were product diversity, adding an online channel and geographic expansion. Dominy made key hires in these areas: a new marketing director, a CFO and a chief information officer.

His goals of professionalizing the company are now coming to fruition. Sales are up 60% since 2013, and the company has doubled its gross margin. Notably, 2018 was a banner year, with the greatest number of customers and the highest volumes ever—$5 billion in foreign exchange and $14 billion in payments. Upgrading the company’s technology has been one of the most challenging aspects, and may be the most important moving forward if the company wants to remain competitive in a world where business increasingly happens online. Firma has updated its entire operating system and will launch a new online platform in April 2019.

The personal interaction that Dominy brought to the company in his first year as CEO hasn’t abated. He visits every office at least once per quarter and employees can ask him anything during quarterly town halls. Firma also holds a global leadership conference every November, where all staff are invited to one city for a three-day conference. “I love to see people succeed,” he says. “That’s what motivates me.”


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