Canadian CEO of the Month: Never Let a Friend Down

John C. Fisher, B.A. (Specialized Honours), M.B.A. Candidate – President and CEO at T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. is delighted to have won the Canadian CEO of the Month award and is deeply humbled and grateful for even being considered for this prestigious award. We spoke to him to find out more about this and the work of his impressive corporation.

On winning the Canadian CEO of the Month award, it is even more satisfying to know that this recognition was a reflection of being nominated not by my own advocacy or the solicitation of my team, but from external sources. However, I accept this award on behalf of my team as without them I would not have enjoyed the success that I have. This award is truly a reflection of the great people I am surrounded by, and of their hard work and dedication to the success of our team.

I am very passionate, motivated, engaged and committed to be the best team leader that I can be. In addition, I am a very empathetic leader who has been found to be in the top 5% of Canadians when it comes to this trait. Furthermore, I am always looking to not only improve my abilities, but that of my team by building a collaborative environment in which all can reach their potential.

T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. (THEM) is a corporation consisting of a diverse group of industrial hygiene (CIH and ROH), scientific (P. Geo.), engineering (P. Eng.) and technical (CET, AMRT) professionals providing consulting services since 1979. Our staff is highly educated including multiple M.B.A. and Ph.D. team members.

As consultants, THEM primarily assists clients to maintain compliance with a myriad of environmental, occupational health and safety, and hazardous materials legislation including numerous Canadian Acts, Regulations and By-Laws.

As a corporation, we are currently members of the Toronto chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), Toronto Construction Association (TCA), Environmental Abatement Council of Ontario (EACO), and our staff are members of their respective professional associations. Our clients include members of the organisations above, but we provide consulting services to a wide variety of educational, industrial, real estate, banking, commercial and government clients.

The firm’s strategy and key principles

The consulting business has evolved significantly since the 1970s and we strive to stay at the forefront. The fundamentals of our strategy are simple. THEM is committed to providing our clientele quality services at cost effective prices and in a time-efficient manner. Our motivated staff, supported by state-of-the-art technology, have the expertise to identify a problem and to implement an efficient solution based on our client’s needs.

Our key principle as initially articulated by our founder was and is ‘we always treat our clients as friends, because you never let a friend down’.

Professional services

Our management team is hands-on and dedicated solely to providing professional services in a time efficient, cost effective and regulatory compliant manner to all of our clients. Each project manager has the capability and authority to handle any project specifics that may arise and would be considered to be the main contact for their particular geographic area. As such, they have the authority to resolve any local issues without contacting head office, but at the same time, keeping the primary project manager informed of all developments. Ultimately, each Regional Manager or Head Office Project Manager is accountable to me, the Principal, President and CEO of the firm, and I have the final word on resolving any potential conflict that cannot be resolved locally or to the satisfaction of our client.

Maintaining motivation and positivity to remain successful

It is the belief that on a person for person basis that I have the best team possible to execute and fulfill our mission for what we want to achieve both individually and collectively. I am very fortunate in that I truly love what I do and the people I work with. Furthermore, being a ‘glass half full’ individual fosters a general positivity and the feeling that with any challenge there is a solution that will lead to further engagement and motivation of not only me, but the team to reach for greater success by utilising what former CEO and Chairman of General Electric (GE) and Business Guru – Jack Welch refers to as having ‘every brain in the game’.

Challenges successful CEO’s encounter

For me, this is difficult because I have some physical disabilities that are visually noticeable. As we are a service based company, our strength is our people and I emphasise to my team that first impressions are critical in establishing credibility when dealing with new project teams. Like all individuals – my appearance and voice have a big influence on the first impression I give when meeting new clients – and has led some to question my abilities or how I attained my position as CEO.

As such, personnel issues have been at the forefront of most of the challenges that I have faced.  Finding, and working with team members that are accepting of others, able to recognise the strengths in their teammates and cognizant of their roles has allowed me to become resilient and build a stronger team as well.

The state of your industry currently

Our industry has matured and come a long way since T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. opened its doors as the first consultancy in Canada to be formed specifically to deal with asbestos in 1979. As such, the industry has become commoditised due to the number of companies that profess to be Environmental/OH & S consultants. This has led to a ‘race to the bottom’ for some, with respect to fees, and has made it challenging for us to solely advocate for the value proposition that we strive to maintain and advocate for, which is harder to articulate to our clients who are most concerned with merely the price.

In addition, the state of the economy is always a factor and the mantra of major clients is to only accept the lowest cost provider, which has led to a further precipice in the quality of the various companies in terms of personnel and their training and that are considered part of our industry.

The role of technology in the industry

One of our goals is to be endlessly innovative and promote a culture that fosters not only the development of ideas, but also their implementation. As we are a scientifically entrenched firm, technology plays an integral role in allowing us to become more efficient in the delivery of our services. The sophistication of the sampling equipment and software models that we employ also allows us to differentiate ourselves from our competition. At the same time, we are committed to formulating practical and cost-effective solutions for our clients.

Before we purchase any equipment or software, it is vigorously reviewed from the perspective of what efficiencies it will bring in providing services to our clients and how it will aid in fulfilling our mandate as outlined in our mission, vison and value statements. In conjunction with this, it is established within our firm that all investments must achieve our target Return on Investment (ROI) to be considered feasible.

In addition, we are committed and engaged in facilitating the latest/state of the art training and development courses for all of our employees.

What industry trends CEO’s follow to ensure success

Through our associations, we receive annual reports which outline the trends in the market sector in which we compete.  We can then use this information to benchmark ourselves against others in our industry to verify if the changes or methods we are implementing in the delivery of our service offerings is providing the results we want to ensure our success.  In addition, by being active members in various industry associations and advocacy groups we can view the trends that are developing through those groups.

Over the next five years, it is my belief that there will be some consolidation in our industry and as governments become more concerned about the environment and occupational health and safety, regulatory requirements will become more onerous and provide an impetus to allow growth as compliance will become mandatory and enforced.

Future aspirations, plans and projects

I look to motivate my team to fulfil our mission, vision and value statements, but specifically with respect to our mission statement, ‘to become the preeminent niche environmental and occupational health and safety consulting firm in Ontario and Quebec’.

To be a little coy, I am looking to expand our mission statement to areas outside of Ontario and Quebec. But more importantly, to further diversify our service offerings to allow us to achieve our status as providing exceptional services in a niche environment.

Closing thoughts

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our clients, my team members and vendors for their great support over the past 37 years for our firm in general, and 28 years for me, specifically. I have been truly fortunate to have been associated and worked with so many wonderful people. I look forward to maintaining old friendships and creating new ones.

It is our dedicated personnel that have enabled us and me to maintain our commitment to our clients and suppliers. Obviously, my team is our most valued asset and I am proud of the commitment that they make to me and to our clients.

I believe that we are still at the forefront of most environmental and occupational health and safety issues in Canada. We celebrate our successes, which I believe is attributable to the strong set of principles and values that I have and this company has embodied for all these years.

About Us:

T. Harris Environmental Management Inc. (THEM) is a leading Canadian environmental consulting firm in the fields of environmental services, hazardous materials management, industrial hygiene, and occupational health and safety. Our professional staff serve a wide range of clientele including commercial, government, industrial institutional, and residential. We are passionate about health & safety and committed to excellence.

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For more than 35 years, we continue to provide high quality services, taking pride in building long-term relationships with our clients. We are dedicated to understanding your concerns and meeting your needs by delivering efficient, cost-effective solutions.

Mission: To be the preeminent niche environmental and occupational health and safety consulting firm in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Vision: To enhance our position as a premier niche environmental consulting company based on knowledge, innovation, technology, and be at the forefront of emerging EHS concerns and regulatory changes. We will achieve this by further developing our expertise, fostering growth of our team, synergistic relationships, excellence in performance, and strengthening client relationships.

Value Statement: We are committed to understanding client concerns and meeting our client’s needs by formulating practical, efficient, and cost-effective solutions.