While it’s common for businesses to pay lip service to having a family-like company culture, Transport Bourassa is one firm that’s able to substantiate that claim. But unlike tech startups, it doesn’t imagine itself to be a hug-it-out, sitcom kind of family. Bourassa is more of a stern, tough-love clan that has high expectations and demands deep loyalty.
It helps, of course, that the transportation and storage service company is, in fact, a family business. Founded by president Jean Bourassa’s father 60 years ago, the company started as a three-man shop in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Today, Bourassa Transport employs 400 staff and operates across Canada and the United States.
One key to the company’s success, says Jean, who began working for Bourassa 37 years ago, is that it has developed an intensely loyal workforce that’s motivated by tangible incentives. Workers in the company’s dock crew, for example, are paid hourly wages for half of the hours they put in, and the rest of their paycheque is directly linked to their productive output. “Since money goes into their pockets when they succeed, it’s easier to convince them to work hard,” says Jean, noting that the system encourages employees to be competitive with themselves and one another.
Indeed, the company understands it can be tricky to develop that workhorse mentality in place of old habits. That’s why, when it comes to staffing, management prefers to recruit folks who have never worked in the industry before. “Very often we hire drivers from school and train them on our own values and way of doing things,” he says. “Their success rate is better when we train them our way.”
That training includes instilling the values of conservation and efficiency—not just with their time but also with resources, like gas and equipment. “They know we are very fussy,” says Jean. “There’s no idling, no speeding, no hard braking. We don’t tolerate waste of anything.”
While Jean’s management style is one you might expect from a strict parent, he’s far from authoritarian. The company’s social committee organizes regular activities to encourage employee bonding and maintain what Jean describes as a friendly work environment. (The family vibe is reflected in perks such as a company-operated daycare one block from its Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu headquarters.) But ultimately, “the best way to have engaged workers is to listen to them,” he says. “If they have an idea or problem, we meet with them and sort it out. None of this works if you don’t show your employees respect.”