Renewing the Foundations


“We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.”
~ Winston Churchill

I love old bricks…
My wife, Kate, and I once rented an apartment in Ottawa sight-unseen simply because the landlord professed, “the living room features a beautiful three-story 19th century stonemasonry wall … and someone is scheduled to see the place this afternoon…”

I love old bricks…
Quietly walking through the streets of Cabbagetown – located in the corner of busy downtown Toronto – time slows down in the cobblestone alleys and drifts past the hand-built homes.  The frantic pace of the city fades for a moment.  Peace of mind gently settles in…

I love old bricks…
Further down Parliament Street – at the Distillery District – the richness, depth and texture in the stones tell a story.  Many seasons have deepened their pores, etched autographs speak of milestones passed and, now, imagination has breathed new life into this once forgotten place…

Protection Racket

It’s strange – bricks that have survived just a century seem rich with history in the North American landscape.  So many have been knocked down for something better, painted over by zealous landlords, and sandblasted by gentrification.  Our culture is constantly speeding towards the future, barely taking a breath to reflect on our past.

For this company, we have arrived at a moment that is all about the future.  By October this year, we will be launching our new logos and website (see the new logos here).  If you’re reading this, you’ve already found our new blog – perhaps via social media or our new quarterly newsletter.  We have a new parent brand, “The Ian Martin Group” (IMG), to carry the well-known brands in our existing family: IML (Engineering), IMIT (I.T.) and The 500 Staffing (Temp & Perm).  Furthermore, two new companies: IMT (Telecom) and Granary Inc. (Executive Search) are joining the fold to articulate expertise presently buried in other areas of the organization.  New opportunities abound for our employees – we have adapted our “org chart” to increase capacity, improve our training & development and support deeper collaboration between teams.  We even have a new face in senior leadership – Sue Hyatt has joined us as National Director of The 500 Staffing.

Recently, Rob Chorney, our IMIT branch manager in Toronto (also a new gig for him), likened all of this activity to a wedding announcement – the October launch may seem a long way off but you know the celebration is coming!  At the risk of stretching the metaphor, I’ll add this: while the ceremony is the focal point of any wedding, we know the important stuff happens before the invitation and after the festivities are over…

So, for the rest of this post, I’m going to step aside from the buzz of “new” and reflect on our roots – as Bruce Mullock (VP Client Relations – who has a deep sense of our history and, notably, has served at IML longer than I’ve been alive) often helps me to do.  Time in reflection often helps us see clearly the kind of future we want to create together.

About 12 months ago, we started working with brand-expert, Brian Rawlins, to help us more clearly understand, articulate and visualize the essential characteristics of our company.  This sparked a conversation that has been germinating throughout the organization ever since.  It begins with some basic questions:

Who are we?
Where have we been?
Where are we going?
And – especially – why?

We know the fundamentals: we have an excellent team of staff and contractors, a solid 50-year reputation in the marketplace, expertise in important verticals, long-lasting client relationships and a tradition of entrepreneurship.  But one question from Brian just continued to persist, “Is there anything that makes you truly unique – a ‘leader’ in the marketplace?”

We turned this question over for months, backwards and forwards, up and down, at all hours of the day and night – asking everyone, anyone – to make sure that we had considered every possibility.  In the end, the answer was right in front of us – in the form of an ‘old brick’:

“Fairness and integrity are the cornerstones of Ian Martin Limited.”

Once a leading, active, and unique vision in the marketplace – our cornerstones had been layered over by the explosive growth of ‘integrity’ as a buzzword in business – so over-claimed that it no longer provided any clear directive.  Yet inside, we knew that this legacy of ‘fairness and integrity’ had gifted IMG with something rare and authentic.  It was time to get out the sandblaster and rediscover its beauty.


The search for the right words continued for many months, with many contributing voices.  One comment by Marc Ang (IMIT Recruiter) about “responsibility” stands out in my own mind, along with an article that Bill Fretz (Director of Search) turned up from a 1999 “Business Builders” meeting.  That article focused on unpacking a single word – a word deeply embedded in our culture, like a buried treasure – an uncomfortable word, perhaps – awkward because it “just sounds so old-fashioned.”


Yet, suddenly that word began to embody the kind of unique, generative, authentic ‘integrity’ we’ve always known to be our cornerstone.  Practicing ‘stewardship’ would mean taking our intrinsic talents, resources and opportunities – our gifts – and applying them to create a benefit that we share with others.

This past week, John Breininger sent me a quote from Benjamin Desraeli that I think beautifully captures the spirit of Stewardship:

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share
your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

At our best, isn’t that what we do?  The word Stewardship can certainly be applied to the basic interactions we have in the natural course of business: ‘stewarding’ the careers of our candidates, becoming ‘stewards’ of our client’s success, and practicing responsible ‘stewardship’ by giving back to the community.

The 3 traits that make IMG unique.

But Stewardship also demands that we ask some new questions that we still haven’t answered yet.  For example, at IMG, how are we ‘stewarding’ the resources of our planet – do we even know how to measure that?  As managers, do we think of ourselves as actively serving those who ‘work for us’?  How often do we talk about the productive tension between ‘stewardship’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ (another one of our traits)?   What about our time and talents – our ‘expertise’ – are we lending it back to our communities in a way that will foster growth for others?  How are we modeling ‘stewardship’ or inviting others to participate with us in the joy of giving?

These kinds of questions – though none fully answered – have actually been taking shape in this organization for many years.  Let me tell you a quick personal story…  Back in 1995, I remember being cornered one weekend by my dad, Bill Masson (President of IMG).  He had an idea (not like that was unusual) and he fully intended to draft my free time toward its execution (also, par for the course).

That year, Bill Gates had been named “Richest Person in the World”.  So, my dad had decided to write him a letter.  His idea was to convince Mr. Gates that he should give some of his fortune away (*teenager eye roll*).  My dad’s role in the project would be author, and mine editor. Despite my “lost weekend” and the “obvious futility” of the exercise, we worked hard on this project.  Looking back, I think it was a foundational exercise in articulating his vision of Stewardship – a base on which he and his team later laid the cornerstones of ‘fairness and integrity’ in 1997.

Unsurprisingly, Bill Gates never wrote us back.  But, in a way, he did respond…

In 2008 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Gates gave a speech titled: “A New Approach to Capitalism in the 21st Century”.  In it, he envisions a world where business demonstrates leadership by practicing what he calls “creative capitalism”.  Gates explains: “Such a system would have a twin mission: making profits and also improving lives of those who don’t fully benefit from today’s market forces. ”  Thirteen years removed from 1995, not only was Gates giving most of his fortune away, he was challenging us to integrate the idea of Stewardship right into our business’ day-to-day operations.  Gates concludes his speech:

“The task is open-ended. It will never be finished. But a passionate
effort to answer this challenge will help change the world.”

At IMG, we want to have the courage and perseverance to take up that kind of challenge – and to be leaders in the effort.  So, standing on our cornerstones of ‘fairness and integrity’, we’ve crafted a new statement to guide the journey – learning day-by-day to practice stewardship and entrepreneurship in balance.  At IMG, we are:

“Building authentic connections around meaningful work.”

One final word – on bricks:

The renewal of the Distillery District in Toronto was sparked by a few people who committed themselves to a gathering vision – but it has continually flourished and been given new life by the artists, retailers, architects, tourists, construction crews, residents, engineers, pub owners, festival operators, photographers and citizens who have lent their talents to ‘steward’ its transformation.

It is that kind of collective leadership – leadership by stewardship – that I hope we can model as we walk boldly into the next chapter of our story at IMG together.



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