The Importance of People in Business Growth

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Leif Ellefsen, Executive Vice President, Growth and Strategic Partnerships at Unimax, explained his vision as a manager to Autosphere. Photo Michel Beaunoyer

He has the name of a Scandinavian conqueror, yet he is a discreet, warm-hearted man whom we meet at his Boucherville office. Leif Ellefsen, Executive Vice President at Unimax, combines a remarkable career with an inspiring management philosophy.

The son of a Saguenay entrepreneur, Ellefsen’s Norwegian heritage has long been rooted in the region. Where history meets legend, he is a descendant of the Viking explorers who are said to have set foot in this region long before the Europeans planted their flag.

One thing is certain, young Leif, whose mother is a Tremblay, he hastens to point out, is leaving his region to enrol at Université Laval in administration. He was very interested in management and discovered a passion for retailing and operations.

He got his start in this field at the Multimarques bakery in Laval before moving on to operations at a major ladies’ swimwear manufacturer in Montreal. He then moved to Akzo-Nobel, the paint manufacturer, where he consolidated the country’s distribution network.

Developing his experience

“It was a valuable experience,” he says. “The head office was in Cleveland, which enabled me to improve my English while discovering the ramifications of an international company. This four-year experience was a great learning experience for me, as I was responsible for distribution and transport.”

Ellefsen continued his career at the well-known St-Hubert restaurant chain. The level of complexity of his tasks rises several notches as he takes on the role of Vice President of Supply Chain. We’re talking about a company with 10,000 employees who work in restaurants, but who also supply supermarkets with food products from the popular brand. After four years, the manager decides to take a step back and take a sabbatical in his fifties.

Joining Unimax

It was Bruno Leclair, President and CEO of Unimax, who sounded the siren call and recruited him into his company in 2016. Firstly as a Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer of Distribution Stox, and since last July as Executive Vice-President, Growth and Strategic Partnerships, he has played a pivotal role in the restructuring of this organisation in terms of both supply and distribution.

Unimax oversees tire distribution under the Distribution Stox umbrella, as well as the entire network of Point S, V1, Otobox, Pneus Prestige, Mega Pneu and Local Tire dealers. “We had to ensure that we developed our teams in line with the rapid and significant growth in our business volume,” explains Ellefsen.

For the manager, business development under his new mandate is based on acquisitions across Canada to make it a truly national company. There have been 14 such acquisitions since 2016.

Supporting collective success

“With our new chairman, Jean Novak, I have a quality man who is a leader, a coach and an excellent team player. This type of management is similar to my own. The management team works as a collegial unit, and it’s clear that we’re all there to help each other and ensure the success of each individual, as well as that of the company as a whole. We’re ready for the next stage in our development.”

With his wealth of experience, the vice president has reached an enviable position in his career. “I’ve always had the chance to choose my bosses,” he says. “For me, there has to be a shared vision. And this sharing of values has to extend to all the members of the team.”

For this manager, the product to be marketed may change, whether it’s paint or ready meals, the important thing is to be a source of inspiration and motivation for the people who devote their hours to moving the business forward. And in this respect, Leif Ellefsen embodies a very personal approach.

Being close to people

“When Jean became Chairman, we toured our facilities. He wanted to meet the people, find out the details of our operations and understand them. He’s close to the people, and that resonates with me. For me, the well-being of our employees is the basis of our success. Here, trust is at the heart of our relationships, both on the management committee and in all our teams. Beyond words, I believe that everything we do to make their work more enjoyable counts.”

He cites the example of warehouses, where relaxation areas are set up for workers. The equipment and premises must be modern, well-maintained and safe. Even the fleet of delivery vehicles has been modernised and lettered in the Distribution Stox colours. This initiative has had a direct impact on operator pride and behaviour on the road.

Flexibility and adaptability

“All our managers have a leadership and coaching role for the new generation joining our team,” continues Ellefsen. “These workers have expectations and needs that are essential to them, and that makes our job so interesting. As managers, you have to be flexible and adaptable. With our acquisitions, we’ve been able to add a lot of new talent to the company, people who know the particularities of their markets. It’s a real asset for us to have access to their strategic intelligence.”

According to this expert, the tire sector has a bright future ahead of it. Whether they are petrol, electric or hydrogen-powered, the vehicles of tomorrow will always need tires. The challenges of sourcing have faded and working with suppliers, faced with the shifts in the global market, remains at the centre of Ellefsen’s mandate, which still relies on the quality of interpersonal relationships.

Responding to consumer habits

With regard to changing consumer habits, the Vice President sees Unimax’s purchasing power as a competitive advantage when it comes to price and availability. What’s more, with its network of Point S merchants and other banners, the company can direct consumers to the product and service they need, directly via the web platform.

“For me, good management is above all about encouraging the sharing of expertise; tell the members of our teams to consult and don’t hesitate to ask questions, someone has the expertise that can help you find solutions and develop better practices.”



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