Ritchie Bros. secret to success is to do what is right

Peter Blake, the CEO of Ritchie Bros. auctioneers, takes a coffee break outside the Kelowna Cafe, one of the employee amenities at their Burnaby head office. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Peter Blake, the CEO of Ritchie Bros. auctioneers, takes a coffee break outside the Kelowna Cafe, one of the employee amenities at their Burnaby head office.

As Peter Blake walks from his corner office at Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers to the Kelowna Café, the company’s on-site bistro, he greets every passing colleague by name, from his assistant to the cleaning lady, her arms burdened with a thick roll of paper towels.

It’s not every CEO of a leading worldwide company who has a smile for every one of the 340 employees directly in his charge.

Then again, Ritchie Bros. isn’t a typical employer.

Even as it has grown from a single unreserved auction held in Kelowna in 1958 to a $4-billion-a-year company that conducted 339 industrial and agricultural auctions at 40 sites around the world last year, Ritchie Bros. is still, at heart, a bunch of working folks in flannel shirts picking out the slightest flinch in the crowd that indicates a bid on a tractor, a combine, a backhoe.

Much of the bidding is now done online, through a sophisticated bid room where buyers are linked by computer to the live auction through a virtual spotter who monitors the pricing activity on a busy monitor and barks bids into headphones. And the equipment they’re bidding on now ranges from surplus vehicles and logging trucks to an entire mobile asphalt plant and giant industrial construction cranes. But the core values upon which founder Dave Ritchie started the company remain the same, says Blake.

“He had a clear view of what he wanted to achieve,” he says. “Do what’s right, operate as one team and have fun.”

In fact, it’s those values that drove the design of Ritchie Bros. new world headquarters in Burnaby’s Glenlyon Business Park, where the company moved in 2009.

A consolidation of three separate facilities that used to be located in Richmond, the building includes the bistro, where the menu changes daily, a subsidized daycare and an expansive gym equipped with treadmills, stairclimbers, rowing machines, stationary bikes, free weights and shower facilities.

Those physical amenities, combined with services like lunchtime fitness classes, nutrition counseling,  the availability of a hotline for employees going through difficult times and the company’s commitment to community causes like KidSport and Junior Achievement help create a balance between work and life that attracts and retains good employees, says Blake.

“People want to live and work in a nice place.”

It also helped the company win recognition as this year’s Business of the Year by the Burnaby Board of Trade, an accolade Blake says shows them they’re on the right path.

“It’s an investment. If you believe in something, there’s payback.”

Which is especially important because, as a publicly traded company, Ritchie Bros. has shareholders to answer to. For the most part, Blake is confident they like what they’re seeing.

“If you don’t focus on the customer, if you don’t have great employees, you can forget shareholder value,” he says. “If the way employees live their life lines up with the way the company operates, that’s when the magic happens.”

One friendly greeting, one giant earth mover at a time.


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