When Warren Spitz started UCS Forest Group in Toronto in 1986, the imported decorative building materials market was already quite competitive. “We weren’t doing anything that different in terms of products, supply or delivery,” says Spitz, who partnered with his wife, Maureen, and company controller Andrea Moore. “But early on, we developed a very deep sense of teamwork and culture. I wanted to create a company where no one felt like an employee [or] a lack of control over their career or responsibilities.”
Spitz has a degree in organizational behaviour—not the typical training for an entrepreneur. But he says that field has greatly influenced the way he manages his company. “We have a focus on ‘inter-preneurship’ and encouraging people to achieve whatever they want to achieve within our company,” he says. “We’re approaching 0% voluntary turnover. We listen a lot. We engage a lot. We don’t allow the B-word [boss]. We hug a lot. We don’t monitor when people take vacations or when they come and go. We treat them with respect.”
Selling hardwood, softwood, composite panels and plywood to customers in the architectural woodworking, commercial and residential furniture, and cabinetmaking industries, UCS now operates in 12 cities throughout North America. Spitz says his firm’s culture is consistent across each office. One of the ways this is accomplished is through a training program called UCS University, at which recent recruits learn about the company and more seasoned team members continue their professional development. “I was talking to some new hires in their 20s the other day, and I told them I hope they retire with us,” recounts Spitz, who says UCS recruits most of its employees right out of university or college. “And I meant it. [I’m] saying [we’re] going to care and nurture them and offer resources throughout their careers. We [view] creating a career path for people with a tremendous amount of responsibility.”
Community engagement is also a priority at UCS, starting at the top: Spitz has been involved with a number of boards and not-for-profits, including the Toronto International Film Festival and SickKids hospital, and was recently named chair of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival. The Spitz Fellows Program, launched in 2015, offers opportunities and financial assistance to aboriginal women pursuing a bachelor of commerce at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “We’ve been involved in major charities from the very beginning,” says Spitz. “All the outside exposure you get allows you to compare and contrast management styles and best practices.” Every UCS employee receives one paid day off per year to help out in his or her community.
The company celebrated its 30th anniversary last May, and Spitz is taking a long view in crafting its future. None of his children are presently involved in the day-to-day operations, but his eldest son has a seat on the board and his daughter will be joining it shortly. “We’re building the business to [have] multi-generational ownership but professional management.”