The Heart of Napoleon
To be clear, I’m not referring to the military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution. Instead, I am writing about a company based in Barrie, Ontario, whose 2,300 employees work to enhance everyday living for people in 69 countries across the globe.
At the end of August, I wrote a piece titled, A Metaphor for Healthy Growth about the power of values, purpose, and mission and how they inform actions and outcomes for individuals and organizations. The story of Pat Hyndman offered a vivid illustration of what that looks like for an individual. So it seemed only fitting to share an example of what a metaphor for healthy growth looks like for a private company.
Many companies state their core values. Some do their best to keep those values front and center and work diligently to live them daily. Rarer still, however, is the company, which in the face of existential challenges, leans into those values to drive decision-making in the face of uncertainty. To understand the power of this approach is to know the heart of Napoleon.
Napoleon, founded by Wolfgang and Ingrid Schroeter, is a family-owned Canadian company that designs and manufactures high-efficiency grills, fireplaces, outdoor living products, and HVAC, with a commitment to providing outdoor lifestyle and home comfort for more than 40 years.
In early 2020, the leadership team heeded early warning signs about COVID-19 from associates leading their operations in China. As it started to spread across the world, they canceled a distributor meeting in Italy set for April as it became one of the hardest hit countries in the early months. Discussions about how COVID could affect the company’s people, and business kept the leadership team in daily communication about the company’s next moves.
Napoleon Chairman Wolfgang Schroeter led a meeting on March 15th, where he issued two mandates to his sons Chris and Stephen (co-CEOs), Ron McArthur (president,) and Michael Tzimas (CFO):
- You have to protect our associates so that none of them gets COVID; and,
- You have to ensure this company survives in the financial way it is today because our 1,600 associates and their families depend on us.
The leadership team describes those mandates as providing all the clarity required to guide future decision-making. When the company shut down operations for two weeks on March 19th, hourly employees were sent home, and the 400 salaried office workers were fully functional from home within two days. During these two weeks, all the company’s facilities worldwide were sanitized and reconfigured as necessary to provide all the essential safeguards to make the workplaces safe and for their associates to feel safe to return to work. After the shutdown was extended another two weeks, they invited associates to return to work in groups of 50 to allow for testing and finetuning of the workspaces and procedures to ensure safety at full capacity. After six weeks, Napoleon was fully operational.
A New Challenge
Although manufacturing was shut down during March and April, the company could still ship products such as fireplaces, HVAC, and gas grills for cooking because they were considered essential services. By June, demand for Napoleon products skyrocketed as consumers working from home and spending more time there started to invest in areas that would enhance their home lifestyle.
When that happened, it created a new challenge. Napoleon needed to hire 300 additional people to meet the increased demand. The difficulty was that in the face of people receiving individual government subsidies, prospective employees were reluctant to accept a position they believed to be temporary if they didn’t have to do so. So Napoleon leaned on its impeccable reputation as a “best place to work” and changed its policy of hiring temporary workers during peak periods to hiring only permanent positions. As a result, Napoleon found 300 new people, including hiring 100 of them during a single-day event they hosted in Barrie. The company has since added 400 more associates to meet high demand.
I enjoyed the good fortune of working with the Napoleon team for a day in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, and it’s been wonderful to watch this fantastic company embrace its purpose, culture, and values as well as it did and continues to do. As for the two mandates, there were no COVID outbreaks at any of Napoleon’s locations, and the company is financially healthier today than it was pre-2020. The only difference is that there are now 2300 associates and their families who depend on Napoleon.
Two other important points: 1) The leadership team is in awe of the associates and how they worked together as a family to help one another handle whatever personal and professional challenges they faced. 2) You may not be surprised to learn that when hourly workers were sent home for the initial two-week shutdown, 50 Napoleon associates volunteered to help a local medical equipment producer boost the production of face shields for medical personnel. They covered four shifts, including overnight shifts, and they did it as a team who, to this day, is extremely proud of how they made a difference. Napoleon, as a company, also leveraged its global supply chain partners to expedite the delivery of urgent and essential medical equipment for local hospitals. This is what leaning into your values looks like.
Values matter, and sticking to them when it counts, matters even more. The heart of Napoleon is fueled by the art of fire and a passion for people.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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