Before Corey Smith joined Noralta Lodge as its chief operating officer in 2013, he got a unique opportunity to admire the company up close. His former employer, SCM Insurance Services, did some risk management work for Noralta, which offers full-service lodge accommodations and facilities management services to the oil and gas industry throughout northern Alberta.
“I was very impressed with how they changed the reputation of work camps,” says Smith. “The idea conjures up something very industrial and functional, but they created a hospitality product.” Smith assumed the role of Noralta’s president and CEO in 2014.
When it comes to setting strategy, Smith makes use of third-party consultants to conduct lengthy one-on-one interviews with the company’s more than 50 supervisors. The material generated by those interviews is used to create a list of the 10 “biggest cracks” in the business.
“We always say that we can’t leave the room until we can draw a straight line between the strategy and some sort of remedy for each one of those,” says Smith. “And when our managers see the final strategy, they can see their feedback, and it really reinforces their sense of accountability.”
A big part of Smith’s successful management style is to look for opportunities—even during tough times. For years, many oil and gas companies operated their own lodges, using Noralta for overflow during busy periods. But in the downturn of 2015, as the industry looked to cut expenses, Noralta was able to introduce sufficient efficiencies to persuade many of their customers to rely solely on Noralta.
In one example, they convinced Suncor Energy Inc. to divest their own properties and use Noralta as their primary facility; the shift reportedly led to a savings of 17% for Suncor, which has since signed a 10-year exclusive contract.
But even with forward momentum, the lodging business remains seasonal—a challenge when it comes to staffing. Noralta Lodge has around 450 permanent employees and another 250 seasonal workers. In order to minimize the trauma of seasonal employment, Smith has implemented “planned layoffs,” a transparent process regarding the length of employment being offered.
He also elevates seasonal workers into the permanent workforce whenever there’s an opening—which both reduces turnover and ensures that those being hired permanently are already familiar with business.