Lesson #1: A Company Is Only As Strong As The Team Behind It

“One of the hallmarks of Onex is that since I started the company in 1983, every professional who has joined the company at our Toronto head office is still here,” says Schwartz. “We’ve had no turnover.”

Above all else, Schwartz considers himself a team leader. He has only been able to guide his company through the ups and downs it has experienced by guiding the very team behind it. “Collectively, we make Onex a dynamic and collegial place to work,” says Schwartz of his corporate team, “which is why we’ve had almost no turnover among our professional staff in the more than 20 years since we started the company.”

Part of maintaining a strong team is making your team members feel like they are making a valuable contribution to the company, and that their voices are being heard. Every Monday morning, Schwartz gathers his top executives and decision makers in the Onex boardroom to discuss the merits of transactions and strategies, both new and old. If one of his key team players is unable to be at the meeting in person, Schwartz makes sure they are there brought in by telephone.

One by one, Schwartz goes around the table and lets each and every one of his staff have their say about the future direction of their company. And, they do not have to go along with whatever Schwartz proposes. If one person raises a doubt about a proposal on the table, the team may still proceed, but with greater caution. If two executives raise their dissenting voices, then the deal is dropped right then and there.

Schwartz takes both the ideas and the criticisms from all his team members seriously. Of them, he says, “I consider myself fortunate to work with one of the most capable teams in our business. They are as tireless as they are inventive, and those qualities have served the interests of shareholders as well.”

Part of the reason for the openness with which Onex executives communicate rests on the fact that company places limited emphasis on the chain of command. “We operate it in a very team-oriented, team-spirited way, and very non-hierarchical,” says Schwartz. “It’s more of a partnership than like a hierarchical corporation.”

Another key to maintaining a strong corporate team is to ensure it never remains static. While no company should strive for turnover, Schwartz understood that if his company was going to stay competitive, it would have to keep bringing in new blood full of fresh ideas. “The strength of Onex is the strength of that team of people,” he says. “And not just the team as it is today. We keep adding to it all the time, younger people who work their way up.”

So, if everybody is on an equal footing and no voice is more powerful than the next, what exactly is the role of the CEO? Personality, says Schwartz. “The personality still comes from the Chief Executive.”

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