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Driven to success Maxim president steers well-balanced workplace

John McFerran

Aside from the distinct location of its head office at Brookside and Inkster boulevards, Maxim Truck & Trailer president Doug Harvey knows his company is positioned exactly where it should be.

“I realized long ago that the world around us changes alarmingly fast, yet everything that we own, that we eat and that we have in our homes still comes on a truck and trailer. That hasn’t changed. They’ll never figure out how to send a load of lumber through the Internet,” Harvey says. “This is a very good industry to be in.”

Harvey started Maxim, Canada’s only full-service truck and trailer dealer, on “April Fool’s Day, 1981. No kidding.” Today, he and his business partner, Cliff Kolson, oversee close to 700 employees in 15 locations from Montreal to Vancouver, plus eight business divisions that serve the end-to-end truck and trailer needs of the transportation industry including Arne’s Welding, manufacturing of trailers for the resource industry, and Summit Trailers in Edmonton and Penticton.

“Because we are a multi-branch, multi-discipline business, we can give our people distinct advantages that a single dealership cannot provide, including many areas in which to advance, whether in a different business unit or in a different branch,” Harvey says. “More importantly, we want them to see Maxim as a place that’s alive with opportunity; a place where they can realize their potential; a place they can have fun while they work and leave fulfilled at the end of the day.”

Q: What is your people philosophy?

A: Those with the best people win. We want people who share the same value system, agree on what the goals are and like working together. We don’t have to love each other, but we all should enjoy each other’s company because we spend more time at work than we do at home. We’re at work or en route 10 hours a day; at home for six hours and asleep for eight. So we have to work together as a team in the best interest of each other, our customers and our suppliers. As a team, we like to win, and by that I mean ensuring that every customer is a satisfied customer. I’m big on relationships and I’ve always said that it should be the hardest thing in the world for a customer to look you in the eye and say, “Sorry, but I’m not buying from you.” If that’s not the hardest thing for them to do, then you haven’t done the best job at building that relationship. People want to feel good about doing business with you; they want to deal in a fun environment where they’re getting value for the money they spend. They also want to know you’ll respect them; that their calls will be returned promptly and that they’ll be greeted warmly when they walk through the door. Personally, I know I prefer doing business with people I enjoy being around.

Q: How do you tie both work and fun into Maxim’s company-wide culture?

A: Our culture is a balance between work, family, community and fun time. I just think that someday, we’ll be dead for a really long time so while we’re here, let’s have some fun. That starts with working together in a respectful, cohesive and caring fashion. I want to surround myself with people who like what we’re doing; who understand the goals and agree with what we’re trying to accomplish in a day, a week or a month. At the same time, our organization is also very focused on the community. We try to do something in every branch that brings together employees, customers and suppliers and their families for the good of the community. Each branch selects the local charities they want to support based on what’s important to their marketplace or a personal connection to a charity. In Winnipeg, we raised $7,500 for the Christmas Cheer Board at our annual pancake breakfast and held a barbecue last summer that benefited CancerCare Manitoba.

Q: Speaking of branches, how do you ensure you get face time with staff in six provinces?

A: I don’t schedule formal visits in advance. If anyone needs me to come out in person, I can be there on short notice, but I don’t visit just for the sake of visiting. I want my guy in Calgary to be the face of Maxim in Calgary. I could undermine that if I’m out there every second week. As I tell our guys, if you don’t see me, things are going fine, but if you think I can bring value to a situation, you can count on me to be there. As for internal communication, we have monthly meetings with the team leaders and I also do a DVD presentation three times a year to get a common message out to everyone. Because we’ve got technicians on the shop floor, shippers and receivers in the warehouse and sales executives on the phone with customers, there’s never a good time to shut down for a town hall meeting. The DVD has been an effective tool because employees can watch it on their own time. We started doing it this way about three years ago when our industry fell into a funk. Originally, the purpose was to be upfront with the facts so that employees could be assured of what we were doing to come out of the downturn OK. These days, I talk mainly about the state of our company, including what we’re working on from lean management to people practices. It also allows me to address questions and feedback I receive through the Ask the President area of our website.

Q: You have a unique, three-question approach to hiring future leaders. Can you explain?

A: When we’re looking to bring someone onto our team, I ask them three questions: 1) Did you grow up on a farm, 2) Do you play competitive sports, and 3) Do you do any volunteering? Here’s why: If you grew up on a farm, chances are, you’ve already got a good work ethic. You don’t understand 8 to 5 because as you see it, you’ve got to work until the job gets done. I like asking about sports, especially team sports, because it shows me you’re used to working with other people to win and you’re used to seeing a score (results) at the end of it. Lastly, I like to find out if people have volunteered because that tells me they’ve got a mind to do things beyond themselves; they’re willing to give back and that shows me character. Put it all together and I would say that I’m looking for future leaders who have drive, a passion to succeed and heart.

Q: What are some of the challenges Maxim is facing?

A: We probably have a couple of areas that I’d like to see improve. For one, we recognize that our turnover rate is too high for new hires in their first six months so we’ve been trying to analyze what’s wrong. Are we hiring the right person for the wrong job or the wrong person for the right job? Secondly, I would say that we need to make more time for training. It’s often difficult to pull someone away from their job to participate, even if the training is designed to make them the best they can be. For example, we have a program called ICEE (Improving the Customer-Employee Experience). Some of our “doer” managers will say they’re just too busy for it; the phone’s constantly ringing and it’s all important business. So, I ask them, if you had a dentist appointment tomorrow morning at 10, would you go? Sure. When you go on vacation, do you leave the building? Of course. Therefore, it really comes down to better time management. We need to prioritize training like we do appointments or vacation and then schedule time accordingly.

Q: What is something you’ve learned during your career that you’d like to pass on to other?

A: When I was fresh out of university, I was a customer accounts rep at Ford Motor Credit. I was making good money and had a company car, but I also hated my job — and the next rung up the ladder looked even worse. When the guy above me got promoted, my manager took me aside and said, “Doug, you’ve been here a year and a half and you’re the next logical choice for the job, but I’m not going to promote you. You shouldn’t keep moving up in the company when you don’t even like working here.” Of course, being a 24-year old big shot, I was outraged and tore a strip off of him. But then I went home, slept on it, and the next day, handed in my resignation. I told my boss he was right — I did hate what I was doing — and I thanked him for doing the favour of being honest with me. I was lucky to have learned an important lesson very early in my career; that you’ve got to have a passion for what you do and a passion to win in order to succeed.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

John McFerran, PhD, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2011 I1