Playing It by Ear

Listening closely to customer needs has helped ComplyWorks’ Cal Fairbanks solve problems in compliance management

“Dynamic entrepreneurs [are] more capable of developing and delivering customer-centric solutions simply because they … listen more and respond faster.” —Cal Fairbanks, President & Cofounder
“Dynamic entrepreneurs [are] more capable of developing and delivering customer-centric solutions simply because they … listen more and respond faster.” —Cal Fairbanks, President & Cofounder
The world of contractor and supplier compliance management is fraught with concerns over everything from legal liability to worker safety to insurance regulations, and many would likely find the complexities crippling. However, since Calgary-based ComplyWorks was established in 2004, cofounder and president Cal Fairbanks has guided the firm through the field with consistent and measured growth—far beyond the Canadian border. And, along the way, he has cultivated client loyalty through a unique blend of entrepreneurial thinking and a commitment to the sort of productive affiliations that outsourcing customers expect from their business partners.

As ComplyWorks approaches its 10th anniversary, the firm has matured into a global leader at delivering compliance-management solutions that help customers streamline contractor and supplier management and efficient supply-chain processes. The company now has offices in Toronto, Houston, and Pretoria, South Africa, and though it partners with a variety of businesses, it’s known for its work in the real estate, mining, forestry, telecommunication, construction, and petroleum industries.

Fairbanks is proud that ComplyWorks’ culture fosters innovation by encouraging new ideas. “Any well-thought-out idea is usually a good one,” he says. “And anyone, on any level, can have one, internally or [as] a client. For several years, we’ve had a formula to develop good, embryonic ideas using a defined process: Project Works. Every Monday, our executive committee reviews all ideas in Project Works. Those worth considering are given a timeline and team-follow-up methodology, which investigates and recommends all ideas that are deemed viable. Many of our current solutions were born from someone’s “what-if” idea. And that’s a strength of our company.”

Like many other entrepreneurs, Fairbanks’s motivation to establish his own company early in his professional career dawned on him when he worked for a firm with a more traditional and, to him, less dynamic management structure. “In the late ’80s, I was working for a very large computing company that was a vendor of electronic data interchange [EDI] services,” he says. “We developed the first generation of online EDI, and this was groundbreaking stuff.”

However, “the organization didn’t really encourage dynamic problem solving,” he says. “I was never unhappy, but I knew I could be happier and more productive. I discovered that the traditional linear corporate environment was stifling my enthusiasm for the job itself. There was too much bureaucracy over which I had virtually no control.”

So, Fairbanks identified an opportunity to solve an industry problem. He and his partners figured out a way to streamline compliance-management administration in order to ultimately offer a full boutique of outsourced compliance-services partnerships—in lieu of the more traditional vendor-based relationships. “Customers seemed fascinated by the promise of this kind of service delivery, but at the time, we were dealing with ‘low-hanging fruit’ and not listening to what the customer actually needed,” Fairbanks says. “And it occurred to me that in the world of technology-related services, dynamic entrepreneurs were more capable of developing and delivering customer-centric solutions simply because they had to listen more and respond faster.

From there, it didn’t take long for Fairbanks to decide where his future lay. “I surveyed my customers about their opinion of a more responsive relevant compliance-management service and, after fielding many enthusiastic responses, saw the opportunity and found others to partner with those who shared my vision and desire,” he says. “The rest is history.”

ComplyWorks has since experienced steady growth, largely because of the consistent market advantages of outsourcing in general (cost savings, greater process efficiencies, mitigated buyer risk) and the heightened administrative responsibilities that all businesses must meet because of greater worker-compliance legislation over the past 15 years.

“Customers see the advantage of focusing all of their internal resources on their core business and outsourcing noncore tasks to providers that specialize in administering them,” Fairbanks says. “Compliance management can be quite tedious and a serious drain on a company’s resources.” ComplyWorks ensures that its outsourcing customers have little cause for concern.