Rebuilding on legacy
“I joined the company at the end of 2013. I was the last member of a new executive team hired as part of a management shake-up that began in late 2011. As can often happen with more-established companies, Superior Propane—a company with a proud 60-year history—became complacent with its own success and, in 2010, started to experience significant contraction and customer defections. Something dramatically different needed to happen [for it] to survive and continue to be a meaningful player. Starting with its corporate parent, Superior Plus, a new team was brought in to shake things up. The new CEO, Luc Desjardins, brought in a new president, Greg McCamus, to lead the energy division, of which we are a part. As a new leadership team was onboarded, I was asked to join in December 2013.
Company complacency, customer defection
Management shake-up, new technology
“The mission that I signed up for was more than continuous improvement; it involved remaking an entire—and rather dysfunctional—information technology department. The transformation in IT was founded on three major initiatives: upgrade the talent in IT, and shift from a purely technical role to a business-oriented, consultative role; complete a company-wide ERP replacement with an industry best-in-class system; and relocate our entire data centre to the cloud—a complex and risky proposition in light of a messy and undocumented legacy environment.”
Overcasting doubt on migration
“We had been using a large IT service provider to manage our data centre in Calgary for many years. The data centre hosted five sister companies under the corporate umbrella of Superior Plus, but the facility was forced to close down due to a real-estate change outside our control. Various options were assessed, but given the short notice, we looked at the cloud as a way to speed up the migration and lower our cost, as we would not need to provision our own equipment.
“When I joined, we had six months to move, and they were the most harrowing six months of my career. The stakes were high—small mistakes could cost us hours or days of downtime for business-critical systems—so the pressure on my team and on me personally was intense. Hiring a very seasoned director of infrastructure—whose only mandate in 2014 was to oversee the project—helped me significantly. By the time August came, we were fully transitioned and have been operating out of the cloud ever since.”
Fire fast, hire slow
“One of the advantages of a long career is that you can leverage and reapply all sorts of tools and lessons accumulated along the way. Since I have been in transformational and fixer roles most of my career, I have added to my toolkit many methodologies and approaches that I have adapted and tailored to each new role.
“For example, I learned that the first thing you need to do quickly in your new mandate is to assess your team and be swift about who stays and who needs to go. You need to hire talent to fix things, and it can’t be done by oneself, so my motto has always been ‘Fire fast, hire slow.’”
Allocating human and tech assets
“Last year was a ‘fix it’ year. We reconfigured our IT team, finished our ERP implementation, moved our data centre to the cloud, established IT oversight and governance, and developed a set of key performance indicators to ensure good operational cadence. This year will be when we put our customer experience at the centre of our efforts. In support of that strategy, we will be launching various customer web-portal initiatives that will be a first in our industry in Canada, allowing our customers to interact with Superior Propane entirely on the web.
“Ultimately, I believe that fixing IT comes down to figuring out how to maximize a company’s technology and human assets in the pursuit of its strategic goals and operational excellence.”