CANADIANBUSINESS.COM – MARCH 9 2017
by Sarah Treleaven
When Jeffrey Smith and a partner bought Winters Instruments in 1987, it was a small manufacturing operation in the east end of Toronto that produced pressure- and temperature-measuring devices for industrial use. Today, the company has 400 employees spread across five factories and nine global offices.
The key turning point came a decade ago, when Smith made significant changes to Winters’ management structure after reading Jim Collins’ bestselling business book Good to Great. Organizations function best when people are empowered rather subjected to classic top-down control, says Smith. He subscribes to Collins’ idea that employees should be supported instead of managed. “We have an open-door policy. When you act as [a] support rather than a manager, you have to make yourself available for anyone on your team who needs you,” says Smith. “Support is helping people make the decision themselves, which creates a better environment to work in. And most people are far more capable and passionate than they think.”
Winters’ global presence allows employees to grow. “We encourage people to shape their own roles and to transfer to other positions—even all over the world, from Shanghai to Calgary or Toronto,” says Smith. “Some people are satisfied to remain in the positions they’re in, and others see that they have lots of opportunities to move up in the organization and the support to do it.”
Another core value at Winters is a commitment to research and product development. The company is gaining particular traction with its StabiliZR movement system, which prevents the pointer of a gauge from vibrating, making it easier to read. “We’re getting a lot of positive feedback,” says Smith. The product, launched in 2014 helped Winters win the business of Apache Corporation, a major U.S.-based oil and gas exploration and production company. “The volume of these [gauges] in the marketplace is huge. They’re used in the millions and millions.”
Smith says his company is constantly trying to add value in everything it does. For example, Winters was the first in the market to develop a free app that helps customers configure products. “We try to be the best at everything, and we hope the marketplace is not price sensitive to us,” says Smith. “That allows us to reinvest that in more and more value.”