Ten times a year, Robert Schad, president of Husky Injection Molding Systems Inc., meets with elected representatives from his 1,100-plus Canadian employees at what is called an Employee Council meeting. This is an opportunity for shared decision-making, for employees to ask questions or complain about anything they want to. The minutes that are distributed company-wide show what is on their minds: doughnuts and french fries and too much landscaping.
These employees work in one of the most progressive work environments in existence today. Husky is fifth in the world in the business of making plastic molding machinery and equipment that stamps out everything from pop and water bottles, videocassette cases and plastic shopping baskets to Ontario's Blue Box for recycling. It manufactures machine components, machine molds and what they call "turn-key" total factory solutions that include factory planning, project management and training.
Four plants are located at the major Husky "campus" in Bolton, Ontario: the Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC), Machine Operations, Molding Operations and Robotics. There are also manufacturing facilities in Germany, Luxembourg and the United States. In 1995, sales reached US$609 million (a 53 per cent increase from 1994). Husky machines are sold all over the world, with significant buyers in Germany, Brazil and Japan.
But the basic statistics about the company tell only part of the story. The rest of the story is about how Husky is completely different from virtually every other manufacturing plant. A notable few of the very best plants do engage in some of the things that Husky does, and they are lauded as shining examples of corporate responsibility. But few, if any, are in Husky's league.
The company's unique features are expressions of the vision of Robert Schad: "To be the company that is most admired in our industry for its standards of excellence, values and profitability. Sheer size or sales volume are not goals but, at best, fringe benefits of a successful pursuit of the company's vision." The core values that drive the vision are "absolute honesty and integrity; making a contribution to society and to our customers, employees and suppliers; setting big goals and striving for breakthrough changes, not just small incremental steps; and pursuing quality in people, products and facilities."
A walk through the Bolton campus is enough to give the idea that you are in a highly unusual company. First, the landscaping is stunning. Eighteen-metre-wide islands with gorgeous displays of perennials and wildflowers, organically grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or nonrenewable sources of fertilizer, flow through the parking lots and along all sides of the buildings. There is also a fourteen-hectare urban reforestation landscape.
Employees have access to a delicious lunch at one of the three cafeterias on the campus, including a full salad bar, choice of five entreés (two fish, two vegetarian and one meat), and five different vegetables including bok choi, polenta and wild rice, finishing with organic coffee or herbal tea. As you leave, you divvy up the remains of your lunch into five separate recycling cans, including one for compost. Last year, Husky diverted 85 per cent of its waste by recycling just about everything.
But the biggest surprise of all is the maintenance department in the Machine Operations plant. The maintenance department is usually the dirtiest, grimiest, greasiest, smelliest part of a factory, manned almost exclusively by the world's most hardened, defensive, proud and recalcitrant skilled tradespeople. The maintenance department at Husky is spotless, and the staff has an air of professionalism.
One of Husky's "guiding principles" is that employee health and safety are of paramount importance. The company's Wellness Center has two naturopaths, a family physician, an ergonomist, a nurse who specializes in preventive medicine and employee assistance programs (psychotherapy and social work-type counselling), a massage therapist and a fitness trainer for the glass-walled, twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week fitness facility. When I visited, Caron Shepley, the trainer, was temporarily absent competing in the British Columbia Ironman triathlon.
Part of the Wellness Center is a soon-to-be-opened daycare facility. This is not some cubbyhole set aside for occasional babysitting. Since Robert Schad doesn't believe in half measures, he has set out to build the best daycare centre in the world. Design and key components for the Bolton Child Development Center were directed by a specialist imported from California who has ensured that everything is environmentally responsible from building materials to cleaning products, and has helped direct the landscaping so that it is at the right height for children.
Husky is a shining example of how a company can be profitable, part of the global economy and a major player in its industrial sector, and yet still be responsive to community needs, socially concerned and environmentally responsible.
Employees may also take advantage of equity in the company through employee share ownership, and there are incentive programs that reward individual and team contributions. Ongoing learning is emphasized, and the company pays the full cost of tuition, registration, course materials and textbooks.
Husky's contribution to the community is well known. The Robert Schad Foundation donates more than $3 million (5 per cent of after-tax profit) to educational, environmental and health charities (three rounds of advertising for a president for the Foundation has still not been successful--finding the "right" person takes time). Also significant is the Schad Environmental Award to the value of US$250,000 that can go to any company in the injection molding industry that demonstrates a major contribution to the environment.
Interestingly, little information is available on how the extras affect the bottom line. The only figure that Schad gives out is that drug costs for Husky were $153.70 per employee compared to $495.02 for other manufacturing firms, and the company has a nearly zero absentee rate. "Robert shies away from [disclosing] dollar figures because he doesn't like to say we spent x-million dollars on this or that, so that employees should be grateful," says Valérie Chort, director of health, safety and environment. "He likes to add value to people's lives. He thinks he gets a return on his investment by having motivated employees who are productive--who are here, at work, and not home sick."
And how about the contradiction of being environmentally concerned while being a manufacturing industry involved in plastics? "Just because you are in manufacturing and using high-tech equipment doesn't mean there is a contradiction per se," says Chort, whose background is in chemical engineering. "This is the business we are in. You live with the reality that people have to work, like to work, and feel fulfilled by work. And then we look at how we can make this business as environmentally and ethically responsible as possible. We try to reduce our environmental footprint."
The one question that I had to ask was: it all looks, sounds and feels so good, is it too good to be true? Can you believe what you see? Chort doesn't flinch from the question. She focuses in on Schad's demand for consistency and uniformity--not only in excellence but also in small details such as the necessity for all office furniture and even every picture frame to be identical in every office, in every plant, around the world. "Robert has a specific way of doing things. Absolutely it can be offensive to people who don't agree. You will have employees who don't like it. It won't please everyone because every employee who works here is an individual. That's fine. Robert recognizes that."
Indeed, Husky is not for everyone. It is not for the creative and innovative thinker who thrives in chaos and disorganization, and it is not for the person who cannot adapt to someone else's vision. Husky is so much a realization of Robert Schad's personality that, out of necessity, there is a culture of conformity. This is a conformity to the highest ideal of excellence, but conformity is not comfortable for everyone.
Husky is a shining example of how one person's vision can fundamentally influence the culture of an international company. It also shows how a company can be profitable, part of the global economy and a major player in its industrial sector, and yet still be responsive to community needs, socially concerned and environmentally responsible.
© 1997 Compass, A Jesuit Journal and Gail van Varseveld