Only four CEOs have ever guided two companies to the PROFIT 100 ranking of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. Razor Suleman is one of those executives. His first appearance on the list was as leader of a branded merchandise company he created fresh out of university called Razor's Edge. His second trip to the PROFIT ranking came this past summer as the founding CEO of I Love Rewards, a rewards and recognition solutions company with almost $5.5 million in revenue in 2006. But don't expect this CEO to guide a third company to the list anytime soon. He has big plans for I Love Rewards, including strengthening its presence in the U.S. market, challenging the consumer rewards heavyweights, and he may even consider taking the company public in a few years. We asked Suleman six questions.
• What is the greatest challenge currently facing I Love Rewards and what are you doing about it?
Our greatest challenge is continuing to find great people. Our ability to grow the business is directly related to the talent of the people that we have. We're pretty innovative in our recruiting practices. We treat recruiting, which would usually be an HR function, as a marketing function. Because [marketers] understand the best way to generate qualified leads. In most cases that's just for sales. So marketers write up all the job ads. They decide where to post. They come up with a strategy for generating qualified recruiting leads.
• Who else ? person or company ? do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?
Southwest Airlines is a company we really aspire to be like. To be in an industry like the airline industry ? which probably is the worst business financially to be in ? and create more shareholder value over the last 30 years than any other company on the planet by focusing on its people and culture is remarkable to us. They're in the people-moving business ? whether that's moving you as an employee or moving you in the skies. They're not in the aviation industry. They just think about their business model differently.
• How would you describe your leadership approach/style?
I'm an over-communicator. I'm all about giving our team real-time information and empowering them to make the best decisions for the company. I don't believe in micromanaging. If you have to micromanage someone you have the wrong person. I probably over-share. I have a lot of trust in the people that we have on board. We're very open and transparent. Every employee has the ability to review all of our numbers every single month. And that openness and transparency is something we put out to the world. I met with a prospective client recently who visited the office and they love how we've laid it out. And we're like, come in, see how we operate. We're willing to share with other companies. We do that a lot with our blog.
• What are some of the new, innovative initiatives I Love Rewards is working on?
Typically, I Love Rewards has built enterprise-level rewards programs. What we're now doing is shrink-wrapping all of that knowledge, best practices and building a Web-based application for the small-to-medium-sized market. Working with loyalty/reward companies has usually been exclusive to the Fortune 1000. But we think there's a huge opportunity for small-to-medium-sized businesses to have access to the same great tools. We're developing what we call the I Love Rewards Express Model. And you can get enterprise-level software on a self-serve, 100% success-based model. You pay us only when you've achieved the desired results. That launches to the public on October 1. And once we've had enough traction with that model we're going to make our foray into the consumer world. Right now there are some really strong players in Air Miles and Aeroplan. But if you do some of the math of what you're paying in points for something, you're actually paying six-times the retail price. We're going to develop a Web-based application whereby shopping with the retailers or e-tailers you earn 5% to 10% of your purchases back in points and you can redeem them without fees, without delivery [or] usage charges.
• The loonie recently reached parity with the greenback. What do you believe the implications are and will be for the Canadian economy?
I think when you get that artificial deflation of a currency it allows you to be less efficient. Now, a dollar Canadian is worth the same as a dollar American. The Canadian manufacturer not only needs to compete with an American manufacturer, but the Chinese manufacturer accepting American dollars and now Canadian dollars at par. It forces Canada to focus on things that create more value in an economy. Things like our knowledge-based economy are only going to continue to extend and grow, versus manufacturing [which] might create a little less value in terms of units per output per person.
• Outside of the office you enjoy planning and hosting events. What is the most memorable event you've ever attended and why?
In terms of what I'm most proud of – my mom passed away from ovarian cancer about three years ago. And a few years earlier I was involved in chairing an event for the Princess Margaret Hospital called Playing with Matches. It was Canada's largest singles event – 2,000 people. To this day, the things that I've learned, the connections and relationships that I've made have stayed with me.