Lesson 6: Hire employees for their values

In the beginning, the Kenroc team was the Sexton family and one employee.

Vic Winik was one of Kenroc’s first employees. Winik kept the vehicles running, took orders, made deliveries and managed the tiny Kenroc yard next to the railway in Regina. Ken Sexton relied on his talent for sales and promotion to get customers.

To grow the company, he needed more people.

Sexton hired Bruce Bryan to be the general manager of his Saskatoon location in 1976.

“Ken was very big on making sure we trained our employees well to make sure they could do the job to the best of their abilities,” said Bryan.

Bryan looked for “someone willing to learn. Someone willing to work hard and somebody who’s going to be respectful to other employees and to customers.”

“Anyone willing to learn can be taught.”

Bryan hired Brian Kusisto, who is today the president of Kenroc and its operating entities, overseeing about 350 people working at the 16 locations across Western Canada.

“Fit is so important. Fit means they respect the same values and they buy into our vision of driving to be the best,” said Kusisto.

That drive to be the best is what is behind a number of employees progressing from entry-level jobs to senior positions.

Bruce Barclay started as a helper on a truck in Winnipeg. In his 32 years with Kenroc, he moved up to being a driver, then worked on the sales desk before becoming an operations manager. He became a general manager in three different locations before being named regional manager responsible for the Manitoba and Saskatchewan branches.

As a regional manager, his eye is on what needs to be done so his branches are even better in a couple of years. That includes having the right equipment, but also the right people and the right training for them. Training can include paying for university and other courses that will benefit the employee and the company as well as internal opportunities for development.

“We train people for growth,” said Barclay, who is based in Winnipeg.

“We look at our warehouse and delivery staff who have expressed an interest in growth and give them an opportunity to work on the sales desk on a Saturday for training, for example.”

Employees who progress help bring less experienced people up to speed.

“You always want to train your replacement,” said Barclay.

An employee who is driven and respectful is reliable. Sexton believes in giving employees freedom and trusting them to do the right thing, an approach today’s leadership continues.

“Employees will appreciate if they are treated with respect and if they have an opportunity to grow in the organization,” said Kusisto.

“We endeavour to recognize them for their performance and we are quite flexible with our employees in terms of providing them opportunities where they need it.”

Amrik Karra is grateful for the opportunity Kenroc gave him in 2010. He was new to Canada and ready to prove himself to an employer who would give him a chance. Starting as a delivery specialist, he worked his way up to being operations manager in Coquitlam. Being given the opportunity to be himself and grow as much as he can is why he sees a future with the company.

“When you see a company has employees who have been here 25 years or longer, then you know it has got to be a good place to work,” said Karra.

Those who become part of the Kenroc team are rewarded for helping the business to grow.

“One of the ways we show our appreciation to employees is through profit sharing,” said Brian McCormick, vice president of Kenroc.

“Every employee of Kenroc, regardless of tenure, participates in corporate profit sharing.”

It is a perk and a recognition for their pursuit to always find ways to improve their performance and the service the company delivers.

“It can be very challenging for employees, because it can always be done better, that is always the ultimate goal,” said McCormick.

“We absolutely need strong performing employees which I’m proud to say we have.”

Continually pursuing growth can become a strain if there isn’t support.

“You can rely on your teammates to pick you up,” said Dave Vitkauskas, who is tasked with starting Kenroc’s newest branch in Victoria as its general manager.

“You appreciate there is a lot of expectation but there is the support that goes along with that expectation.”

Growing the business to what it is today has been a team effort. The individual efforts and contributions of employees across the branches has allowed Kenroc to satisfy customers year in and year out.

“What gives me confidence Kenroc will be around a long time … we’ve certainly weathered through the difficult times. We’ve managed through those,” said Kusisto.

“Our people are committed to working hard in those circumstances and if we consistently have that value in front of us and as long as we do, I think we’ll do fine over the next 50 years.”