Nightingale: Canada’s Best Managed Companies 2018

Keeping hopes and dreams under family control

 
Canada’s Best Managed Companies
Employees putting up designs on a bulletin board
Employees post designs of ergonomic chairs on the wall in the Nightingale Chairs offices in Mississauga. (Derek Shapton)

Ed Breen wasn’t sure he wanted to join the family business. Nightingale has been a leading office seating manufacturer based in Mississauga, Ont., since 1928, and his family acquired the company in 1991. He was working with a Fortune 100 company in 2002 when he got the call: someone wanted to buy the business, and his dad was tempted, given the absence of a clear succession plan. Would Ed be interested in coming home to Nightingale?

“The sale would have made my father a very wealthy individual,” says Breen. “But he was reluctant [to sell] because we had 128 employees at that time, and he knew a lot of those jobs would be relocated.”

Breen met with Nightingale’s executive team and chatted with many of the company’s workers; over the course of several weeks, he became convinced. “Our average employee has been with the company for 18 years,” says Breen. “I walked around the plant and heard from people who had been working for Nightingale for 20 years, and whose father worked for us for more than 40 years. I got to know the work they did and their dreams for their families. It became impossible to say no.”

For Breen, who was appointed president of Nightingale in January 2017, optimal work culture begins with the hiring process. Instead of simply looking at skills and qualifications, Nightingale has a multi-stage interview process. “We include a discussion of the candidate’s hopes and dreams, as well as a candid look at our strengths and weaknesses and how they can contribute,” says Breen. Potential employees are also asked to come back and meet with as many team members as possible in the hope of ensuring a good institutional fit.

Once they join Nightingale, everyone—from designers and facility managers to purchasing people—is expected to contribute to the ongoing research and development, including the company’s innovation lab, in-house quality testing lab and Nightingale U, a dedicated resource to acquaint sales representatives with core products.

That employee commitment is the cornerstone of Breen’s management. “We really have a bottom-up culture,” he says. “Our employees make a lot of decisions when it comes to our strategic direction. They’re the ones who are talking to our customers, and we have daily and weekly meetings where we share everything pertinent to both customer and our workplace needs.”


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