Leadership and Resilience: How Polykar Edmonton Came About
When Polykar officially broke ground for its new, 50,000 square-foot state-of-the-art plant in Edmonton in July of 2021, there was no way of knowing the full extent of the hurdles ahead.
The persistence of the COVID pandemic; supply chain issues; shortages of skilled trade workers – all of these challenges became magnified.
But thanks to the efforts of Polykar’s closely-knit Edmonton team and the unwavering support from the company’s Montreal leadership and staff, the new facility will officially open on Thursday, December 1, broadening the companies reach to include much of western Canada and portions of the U. S.
Westward expansion was driven by the vision of Polykar CEO Amir Karim to achieve growth by making the company truly national. This called for investment, not only in financial terms, but by bringing together the right team to get the job done.
“As we approach the opening of the new plant in Edmonton, I can’t begin to say enough about the extraordinary performance by our Edmonton team, led by plant manager Doug Clavier,” said Amir. “They overcame every obstacle thrown in their way.”
In addition to Doug, key players of the Edmonton team included Manufacturing Manager Padam Devsingh, HR Manager Elaine Zambo, and Office Manager Geneviève Lapointe.
“If I were to write a book on the success of getting this plant up and running, it would begin with the hiring of Padam,” said Doug. “Without him as my partner on this project, this wouldn’t be happening.”
Fitting out a brand-new plant required planning and executing a complicated procurement strategy – at a time when supply chain issues and COVID-related production stoppages were bedeviling suppliers.
“The list of items needed ranged from chilled water systems and recycling equipment to things like pallets and forklifts,” recalled Doug. “Early on Padam and I traveled to Germany to carry out some tough negotiations to ensure we got what we needed at a price that made sense.”
Included in the procurement are state-of-the-art robotics, which automate repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to engage in more meaningful tasks. By any measure, the new plant is one of the most modern and innovative of its type in North America.
Padam, who had previously worked in India and Dubai prior to coming to Edmonton and Polykar, related that he had a challenge of a different kind.
“Having worked in extreme hot weather climates and thinking mostly about cooling things, in Alberta I had to shift my thinking completely planning for extreme cold by proper heating,” he related. “I went from plus to minus.” He now agrees he could work anyplace in the world, regardless of temperature extremes.
Getting the right machines and equipment into the facility in a timely fashion was one challenge; another was finding the right staff for the new facility. This is where Elaine excelled. An Alberta native with 14 years of manufacturing recruitment and human resources experience, she set about to staff up.
“I looked for individuals with positive attitudes, workers who would be a good cultural fit for Polykar,” she said. “I also looked for people with a good sense of humour,” she added.
Elaine’s biggest challenge was landing entry-level workers.
“In this market, you need to offer people jobs immediately, or they simply disappear,” she said.
She added that recruitment was also aided by a strong employee referral program.
“In terms of more experienced hires, including extrusion operators, we were very fortunate to find several right here in Alberta,” she added. At the time of the official opening, the plant will have 45 employees; at the conclusion of Phase II, it is expected to have 70.
From the start, great emphasis was put on training the new plant’s personnel. “We wanted to set operators up to succeed,” she said. “We sent people to Montreal for hands-on training, typically for about three months. It turned out to be a very smart move, because they not only learned how to operate machinery, but also came to understand the Polykar way of doing things, the can-do culture that exists.”
Recognizing that being away from family for three months can be a hardship, employees were offered an opportunity to return home twice during the training session.
According to Doug, the Montreal team has not only been helpful in training operators, but also has been critical in the set-up and installation of equipment in the new plant. “They’ve been a huge help and very supportive, even though they themselves have been crazy-busy,” he said.
One person not surprised by the support provided by Montreal is office manager Geneviève L, known as Gen to her team.
A long-time Polykar employee at the Montreal head office, Gen was among the first to sign up for Edmonton and provides a critical link between the two facilities. She is one of three Polykar employees to have made the leap to Alberta.
“I love it here,” she says. “I grew up in northern Quebec, and I love the open spaces and mountains nearby. It’s a beautiful province. And it is great to be part of a talented team.”
That is a theme echoed by the others.
“Our leadership team is close and tight,” says Elaine. “We are here for each other.”
Doug chimes in: “We actually like each other,” he says with a laugh. “We have fun. And Padam and I have linked brains.”
Padam adds “We are not horses with blinders on. We look out for each other.”
That sense of togetherness – of pulling together towards a common goal - helped the team pull off what seems in retrospect something of a miracle given all of the obstacles in their path.
The December 1 official opening truly is something for all of Polykar to celebrate.