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Employees: Paramount for Any Business

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Photo of Mario Caissie: Kate Braydon/Telegraph-Journal Archive   Published August 12, 2010 in the Telegraph Journal

Dave Veale’s interview with Mario Caissie, VP Operations for Imperial Manufacturing Group as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

We chatted about the importance of leadership, running a family business alongside his father who founded the business in 1979, and his journey to discovering how he could best lead the organization.

Mario Caissie is Vice-President of Operations for Imperial Manufacturing Group (IMG), a manufacturing firm that supplies wholesale and retail markets with HVAC products – Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. It’s customers include Lowe’s, Home Depot, Kent Building Supplies, Home Hardware and Canadian Tire. The company has  600 employees and offices in Halifax, Dieppe, Richibucto, Montreal, Toronto and St. Louis. I spoke with Mario at his Dieppe office. I started our conversation by asking Mario what qualities he thinks are most important in a Vice-President at IMG.

A: Being humble, I don’t take a lot of credit for what my team does. I have a lot of really good people in specific areas and if I try to steal their credit I won’t have a team for very long.  I try to make sure people get the perks of doing a good job and if they need some help I try to focus my attention on coaching and mentoring them.

Q: You’re a successful guy, very well-educated. Does humility come naturally or was it learned?

A: It was learned. After you graduate from university you think you know pretty much everything. I took on a great deal of responsibility right out of school and made a lot of mistakes. I was trying to find myself as a leader in our business and we had a lot of different types of leaders here: the charismatic people, the transactional people (you know, ‘you do well I pay you, you do poorly you’re fired’). I had a hard time finding where I fit in. I asked my father if I could leave the business and do my MBA. I knew I needed to find myself if I wanted to be both a leader and a business person. He said, ‘yeah, I think it’s a great thing.’ During the second year of my MBA there was a professor [who taught] strategic management and helped me to start thinking about the importance of leadership style and my core values.

I also read a book by Ken Blanchard called Lead like Jesus. I read it and I thought, ‘what a great concept.’ I know mixing religion and business is kind of taboo, but you don’t have to be a religious person to get the concept of servant leadership and I thought, ‘what a great way to lead.’ I brought this philosophy in [to the business] and it’s worked great so far.

Q: So the professor and the book really influenced how you wanted to lead?

A: Yes. There was a time when there were more employees than jobs and maybe it was easy [for employers] to not treat people as well as they should. Now, employees are paramount for any business and you have to treat them with respect and listen and support them.

Q: Can you give me an example of how you use this approach when you work with your team?

A: Sure. I try to have regular meetings with all of my staff. Some are in St. Louis or Montreal and I try to get there as much as I can. When I sit down with them it’s not to tell them what we need to do. It’s listening, asking questions and getting an open dialogue with people.

[Tweet “It’s listening, asking questions and getting an open dialogue with people. – Mario Caissie”]

Q: Tell me a little bit about how you encourage people to think creatively.

A: The biggest thing is just asking questions. For example, ‘If you had unlimited resources what would you do?’ It gets people thinking and they usually come up with a solution themselves. So they not only find the solutions, they get the credit and their team gets the credit, not the VP or the people in the Ivory towers.

[Tweet “The biggest thing is just asking questions. – Mario Caissie”]

Q: What did your people think about ‘servant’ leadership when you introduced it?

A: I don’t think one person had heard of it.

Q: Did you feel you were taking a big risk?

A: I don’t think it was a big risk – people wanted change. We were tired of our ways here, tired of the high turnover, tired of the executive style at the time, which was seen as leaders who were untouchable.

I brought the staff into a boardroom in Moncton, and we had a great two-day session. We went through every different style of leadership and had the team identify the strengths and weaknesses of each style. [Then we asked] which one do you folks think works the best? Everybody started laughing…’you already know the answer’.

Q: When you started to shift the style of leadership people were used to were there bumps along the way?

A: Absolutely. Probably the biggest bump was that my style is different from my father’s style.

[Tweet “…my style is different from my father’s style. – Mario Caissie”]

Q: How do you accommodate the two different styles of leadership?

A: For the most part it’s been great. My father is open to change. He knows he can’t run the business like he used to run it 25 years ago. He’s been supportive. We’re completely different but I respect his strengths. I could not have built what he built, that’s a given. His entrepreneurial drive, his energy, his passion for the business and the customers is unmatched by anybody I’ve ever seen in the industry. We complement each other exceptionally well and I think that’s why we’re growing so fast. In terms of me managing both the people and the operations, it’s probably never run so well. In terms of managing sales and growing the business, he’s doing that part of it and it’s been outstanding.

[Tweet “I could not have built what he built, that’s a given. – Mario Caissie”]

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>

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