Canada Goose is a company that Canadian consumers identify with, both because its cold-weather apparel is in demand and because it has leveraged a sense of national pride both in its name and in the company’s insistence that its products are made in Canada.
Including three production facilities and about 1,200 employees in Winnipeg, it now has operations and stores around the world so it had the challenge of managing a global workforce amid regional lockdowns during the pandemic.
In a presentation to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Kara MacKillop, executive vice-president people and culture for Canada Goose, spoke about the approaches her corporation took, emphasizing some of its core values, including empathy and authenticity.
MacKillop said that when the first pandemic shutdown occurred in the spring of 2020 there was a realization that many employees who could not work — because factories were shut down — would not be able to get immediate access to government programming. The company created an employee assistance fund bankrolled by CEO Dani Reiss’s own salary which he donated, along with contributions from other staffers’ salaries.
"For me, that stood as a testament to the strength, the empathy and those authentic connections we have with our team," MacKillop said.
But early in 2021 unsuccessful unionization efforts at its Winnipeg factories brought out claims of a "climate of fear" amid a mostly immigrant workforce as well as concerns about lower piece-rate at the non-unionized factories in Winnipeg than at unionized Canada Goose factories in Toronto.
MacKillop did not address unionization issues, but in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this year, Reiss said the number of unionized workers at his company has grown more than 175 per cent in the past 20 years.
"We respect the rights of all workers, we respect the rights of everybody to unionize, and we have always enjoyed a great relationship with the union," he said.
MacKillop said the company now has an inclusion advisory council. Earlier this year, a company official told the Free Press it has gone out of its way to hire and train a diverse workforce in Canada and in particular in Winnipeg.
"Looking forward," MacKillop said, "We are hiring our first-ever director of diversity and inclusion who will drive our diversity and inclusion strategy that will be integrated across all areas of our business with focused initiatives and programs."
She said a hybrid model of remote working has proven successful during the pandemic and that in the future some version of working from home will be implemented at Canada Goose, but there are no plans to go entirely virtual.
She also acknowledged the pandemic has taken an emotional toll on the workforce and the company is developing programs that will allow employees to feel emotionally supported.
"A focus on health and wellness will continue to be a top priority," she said. "We will make sure mental health offerings are in place and are annually reviewed. We’ve always had health and wellness policies and recently we have established a wellness council with expanded wellness benefits."
After what sounded like a rancorous unionization drive last year — which ended in a Manitoba Labour Board ruling in the company’s favour (riding on what union officials said was "technical issue") — MacKillop’s descriptions of the company’s human resource policies may be of some reassurance to workers.
Last week, Canada Goose reported a fourth-quarter profit of $2.9 million, up from $2.5 million a year ago, as its revenue rose more than 30 per cent. In its outlook, Canada Goose says it expects total revenue for its 2022 financial year to top $1 billion.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.