“There really is no central head office,” explains DynAgra Corp. president Bruce Schmaltz.
Like much of what Schmaltz says, it turns out that this is a statement you can — and should — take several ways if you want to understand or copy the success of the independent Alberta fertilizer and farm input retailer.
DynAgra’s goal is to inject the best thinking at every stage. It isn’t something that happens by chance. Instead, it’s carefully planned for at multiple points throughout the organization, combining the best input from employees together with effective guidance and mentoring from outside.
The Schmaltz’s have developed what’s described as an entrepreneurial business structure for the company wholly owned by Bruce Schmaltz, sons Tasha and Remi, Bruce’s brother Darren and brother-in-law Gerry Schneider.
“It is a flat structure,” says Bruce. Yes, there are managers and people who have to make decisions, but at the same time there is a spirit of equality among the 30 employees.
“We all work for each other as needed,” says Tasha, DynAgra general manager. “If I’m at one of the branches and give them a hand loading products, for example, then whoever is looking after that job is the boss, I just work there.”
It’s part of a culture that recognizes the value of employee, says Remi, manager or corporate development. It pays off not only in improved efficiency, he says, but also in improved job satisfaction.
“As we have made changes and introduced new initiatives, people are excited to come to work,” says Remi. “A lot of times people come in early or stay late and it’s not because they have to, it is because they want to. People feel a connection because their input matters.”
Again, it doesn’t just happen. Instead, points out Tasha, it demands extra effort to identify the right people to work at DynAgra. “We hire good people,” Tasha says, “and everyone is encouraged to participate with their ideas.”
DynAgra has also made of point of identifying the right times to turn to outside expertise. It isn’t a big company that can afford or that needs this expertise on a full-time basis. They hire consultants, for example, to work as needed to provide input or set up new services and programs. For example, when they set up DynAgra Finance, the company brought in an experienced ag lender to help with design and implementation. On an ongoing basis as well, DynAgra contracts communications and marketing expertise, along with computer software services.
“We brought in other CEOs to be involved with the business over the past five years until the boys were ready to take over,” says Bruce. “I think I needed that time to wean me off the compulsion that I had to run everything.
“I look at bringing in this outside expertise as having a series of mentors,” Bruce says. “They can bring their perspective and experience. They can look at our business and take the emotion out of issues and decision making. They can help you see what makes good business sense.”
The company also works with a steering committee, a kind of hybrid between a board of directors and a focus group. “These are third-party business people and producers, people with specific expertise who can provide us input on whether a specific idea or plan makes sense to them and provide us with some direction,” says Bruce. “They can stand back and look at the big picture”.
Bruce has learned over the years that small business always has to be creative in developing new services and programs. “In small business,” Bruce says, “your good idea may last three to five years before a bigger player takes it over and calls it their own.”
Knowing when it’s time
A healthy succession plan starts with an honest self-assessment
It doesn’t mean it was easy. Bruce Schmaltz has thought carefully about when to step aside.
As with most farms, DynAgra is about family too, not just business. Bruce himself came on board as the third generation in the 1980s when the company began selling fertilizer and became known as Beiseker Agri Services Ltd. Bruce then guided the company in the late 90s as it expanded locations and services and became known as DynAgra Corp.
Now, when DynAgra wrapped up its business year at the end of August 2008, Bruce, company president, turned the daily management of DynAgra over to his two sons, Tasha and Remi, who have been with the company for the past three years. Tasha is general manager, while Remi is manager of corporate development.
“In my day it was second nature for me to adjust the carburetor of a ’57 Chevy — it was innate,” says Bruce. “And for these young fellas, the new agriculture technology is the same as that carburetor was to me. The computer, the internet, global positioning systems, satellite imagery, variable rate technology — it is all second nature to them.”
Bruce isn’t a dinosaur by any means, but he says there comes a point in business when you have to face your limitations.
“You build a business over a number of years and it is tough to let go,” Bruce says. “Maybe it becomes something like a benign dictatorship. You say ‘I built this and I can run it all.’ But you get up one morning, look in the mirror and have to realize that you have hit your level of incompetence. You have to realize it is time to let go.”
“The new generation of farmers are interested in this technology and want to see what it can do for them,” says Tasha. “Hopefully, as we bring this new technology to the industry, we also demonstrate our belief that there is a future in agriculture.”