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February 4, 2016

How A Once-Sleepy Company Launched A Successful Scale-Up—And Got Acquired By A Goliath

This past October, a group of 100 employees and their spouses from Veritaaq, an IT consulting company headquartered in Ottawa, boarded a plane to Jamaica. The 71-person company sent them on a four-day Caribbean vacation to reward them for growing revenue by 26% and profits by 38% in 2015. Excited members of its team, who got to bring their spouses, talked about the trip all year. “Some had never been on a plane,” says Paul Genier, president. “The plane ride itself was a party.”

A trip like this might seem like a luxury, but it’s part of the strategy that has helped Genier more than quadruple revenues at Veritaaq to $106 million since 2007.

Back in 2007, the firm’s revenues had grown to $22.5 million, but it had taken the company 24 years to get there. Genier had bold ambitions for the firm but he faced a big obstacle: The mindset of his sales team. Veritaaq’s sales came mostly through government contracts for which there was little competition. He felt its sales associates had gotten complacent, as a result.

That was a dangerous situation, given that a global recession was starting and Canadian procurement procedures were changing to open the bidding process to a wider pool of companies. “Now we were going to be fighting against several hundred suppliers,” says Genier.

To continue to grow Veritaaq, Genier realized, the company would have to go after private-sector business. As Veritaaq approached 25 years in business—that magical inflection point where the real growth started for companies such as Apple and Starbucks—Genier sought out a local coach in nearby Toronto to help him crank up his company’s performance.

His efforts paid off in August 2015, when Veritaaq was acquired by Experis, a Milwaukee-based workforce solutions firm that is part of the giant company Manpower.

So how did Genier and his leadership team pull it off? The first step was tracking new sales opportunities—and making sure the company’s sales associates were going after them aggressively. Veritaaq’s private-industry clients are concentrated in telecommunications, financial services and to a lesser extent, the oil and gas industry.

Les Rubenovitch, a Gazelles certified international coach, advised Genier that while the firm’s sales associates were good at being “farmers” who cultivated existing clients to generate more sales, they needed to become hunters in order for the company to continue to grow. Otherwise, the company would remain a “country club,” he said.

To transform its sales team, Veritaaq needed to define the metrics for success its sales associates needed to meet for the company to grow, Rubenovitch advised.

The company had soon done that, requiring account executives to meet with 10 new clients per week. “The more clients you meet, the more business you’re going to get,” says Genier. “If you meet 10 clients, the law of averages says you’ll get three new opportunities. If you work with 20 clients, you will get six.”

Those weekly goals were tied to quarterly and annual sales and profit goals that Genier and his team set. Following the Scaling Up game plan, outlined in my book by the same name, Veritaaq set an ambitious goal that was within reach-as well as a stretch goal.

The basic goal would be to grow their revenue and profits by 15% per year in an industry where, says, Genier, annual growth generally averages about 7-8%. The company’s stretch goal was to hit at least 20% growth—which Veritaaq did for four out of the last five years, says Genier. Setting these goals—and establishing a clear finish line and reward—turned what might have been a high-pressure situation into an entertaining game.

The sales team wasn’t the only one Veritaaq transformed. “Veritaaq’s leaders sat down and worked their way through the organization, implementing KPIs from top to bottom, and in each department, that would all flow into one another,” Rubenovitch says. Ultimately, the hope was that these would lead to accomplishment of the stretch goal.

That goal setting proved to be a powerful motivator. “With everyone beginning to see an increase in their stats, and able to track exactly how they measured up to their own targets, to their colleagues, and to the industry, employee engagement and productivity flourished,” says Rubenovitch.

Of course, the Scaling Up methodology required greater accountability from everyone on the team when they were not soaking up the sun in Jamaica. As the company embraced the system, some employees—including a star salesperson—self-selected out. He wanted to stick with his own way of selling.

“We knew if we held to our guns on this we would risk losing him,” says Genier. “We felt if we could get everyone else performing at a higher level, that would make up for it.”

Now that Veritaaq has been acquired, Genier and his siblings—Jean, the CFO, and Shannon Lambert, vice president of business development, who owned the majority of the company with him—are minority owners who sit on the board. They’ve all decided to stay on. “We love what we do,” says Genier, whose successful scale-up continues to keep him excited about the company.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.