Matrikon Inc.: People power

Written by Jack Kohane

“It’s people who make or break a business,” says Nizar Somji, president of Matrikon Inc., an Edmonton-based industrial IT firm founded in 1988. Somji’s convinced that his staff has the power to grow his business — or tank it.

Somji’s not all talk. He cites three human resources tactics he has used that have helped Matrikon to grow: hire people with a flair for enterpreneurship, give them power and encourage them to come to him with ideas at a moment’s notice. It is partly these practices that have helped Matrikon to become one of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

Somji’s convinced that hiring staff with knack for entrepreneurship is the way to go. His rationale: “They are more likely to identify new opportunities and blaze new paths for the business.”

One of Matrikon’s star performers is Amin Rawji, who came on board in 1995 to manage the Drivers Group, a division that develops drivers to enable communication between process control computers and software applications. In the interviewing process, Somji saw in Rawji “leadership and vision” — and was not disappointed. In only two years, Rawji took the department from 4 staffers and sales of $350,000 to 20 employees and $2.4 million in sales, making it one of the company’s most profitable departments. He simultaneously catapulted Matrikon’s reputation as an innovator in drivers technology onto the world’s stage.

“This exemplifies how we empower individuals to drive the business, to run it as if it was their own,” lauds Somji. “We give people an opportunity to really make things happen. We hire people who are excited by those prospects, those who can smell opportunities, meet the challenges and achieve success.”

But how does Somji find these individuals? He says snaring the right people is more art than science, more about character values than curriculum vitae. “Sometimes you’re wrong about someone, but hopefully you get it right most of the time.”

The firm’s headhunting strategies include local media advertisements, the Matrikon website and also scooping up the brightest fresh out of academia. To ensure his company is front and centre come graduation time, Somji offers various computer engineering scholarships to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. “We support students with solid written communication skills, high academic standing in all semesters and those who demonstrate a passion for software development,” he explains.

Finally, another successful HR success strategy is keeping communication wide open among his 415 staff. The large group, primarily computer engineers and technologists, is spread out around the globe in satellite offices across Canada, the U.S., Australia, Europe and the Middle East. But their wide geographical differences shouldn’t stop employees from communicating with the president. “Anyone, anywhere, anytime can call me and discuss new ideas or concerns,” says Somji, who feels open communication between all levels is crucial to his firm’s success. “If someone offers a suggestion how we can better serve our clients, or run the company more effectively, I want to hear it and act on it.” After all, why hire brilliant staff with entrepreneurial flair if their ideas will go unheard?

Read about other Winners — promising Canadian businesses or business people.

© 2003 Jack Kohane

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