Special SAMSSA Legacy Profile
By Jenny Lamothe
Freelance Journalist on Behalf of SAMSSA
June 5th 2018
When you first enter Technica’s building, and walk its first long hallway, you are greeted by smiles. From the employees you encounter of course, but also from the great wall of community, one that aligns your first impressions of the company with their unwavering support for the place they live. It is covered, floor to ceiling, in pictures of sports teams, children, staff members and certificates of achievement. It tells you one thing right off the top – people matter here.
Most of all, employees matter here. Technica is not a company that seeks to have a stranglehold on anyone who works for them, but rather to create an environment where employees feel valued. In turn, the staff will give everything of themselves, knowing that every ounce of energy is received with gratitude. “It’s always been our philosophy here, we have a hierarchy out of necessity, but never in action,” says Mario Grossi, Founder and CEO of Technica Mining. “From an accountability based standpoint, of course we have a hierarchy. But it’s working with people, together, roles and responsibilities really intermingle well, and we want to create an environment where people want to work instead of a place where they need to work. And it’s a really big distinction for us. And it always started with people first. Finding the right people has been the biggest success factor so far.”
When looking for the right people, Grossi says it is about aligning the company’s core values with a potential employee’s core values. Something easy for Technica to do – especially when your core values are the same as those of a family. “Here at Technica, we have some really strong core values that people really align with,” says Grossi, “So respect, integrity, courage, honesty, humility, many of those basics you’ll find that in just about everybody here.”
It’s no surprise that the idea of family runs throughout the company; Grossi is not only proud of his family, but credits them, and what they taught him, for his success. Not only did he learn empathy and the importance of emotional intelligence from his grandmother, a widow he spent hours of his formative years with, and his mother, who he and his four brothers sadly lost when Mario was 23, but his father began to show him the ropes at the tender age of five. Not because eldest son Grossi was forced, but because he would demand it. “If my father left on a Saturday or Sunday and I wasn’t with him, I would scream until I got there,” he says. “My poor mother had to drive me over and I would sit with my dad, whatever he did.” His favourite activity? Not one that you would expect. “My favourite thing was sitting in a board room, and he made no qualms about it on a Saturday – there was no weekend for my father, weekends were for everyone else. I’d sit in with him and my job was just to sit and watch, and after the meetings he would commonly ask – ‘So, what did you think? How was that guy? Was he supportive, was he on our side, was he not on our side? How did you read the room?’ And then just slowly, I learned the street smarts of this business.”
Armed with both street and heart smarts, Grossi decided to add book smarts too. It was during his time at Laurentian University studying for his Bachelor of Commerce that Grossi had the importance of people reinforced a third time – and you know what they say, third time’s the charm. “I had one Prof in there that I really respected, and you know I remember him saying people are 50 per cent of your business success. And looking back now with what I know, respectfully, he was wrong, it’s more like 90 per cent. But when we heard 50 per cent back in university, it was a crazy statistic.”
But Grossi took those lessons, from family and from experience and from academia, and learned to be a leader. But not in the traditional sense. He believes that if you create a culture where people feel valued and respected, they in turn will value and respect the company for whom they work. “My job as a leader,” says Grossi “is to make them not feel bad, because they’re harder on themselves than I or anyone else above them could be. So when you surround yourself with people – self-motivated, self-disciplined, and just really good people – it creates a very fun, sustainable work place.”
And when you care about your staff like they are your family, their safety becomes of primary importance. According to Grossi, safety is a “way of being” at Technica. “Safety is a really phenomenal concept to consider. We know that the tangible piece of safety is that people have to come up from underground or home from work every day. That goes without saying. But safety became a way of being here at Technica instead of something we had to do.”
That started with re-evaluating the way safety is regarded, commonly through the eyes of the past. “We spoke of safety in the industry in the past – it was always measured against your past performance,” says Grossi. “And so, incidents over man-hours worked gave you a ratio or a frequency of some kind – so while it was a good tool to have, we really understood that safety is more about the present and the future than it is the past. Past is just the way we measure and speak of it, but the reality of safety is that next few seconds, few minutes, few hours ahead of you- and then looking to the future.”
This re-alignment also considered the concerns of the younger generation moving into the mining industry – and a potential misunderstanding. The Neil George Five Point Safety System has for its fourth step: ‘Do an act of safety.’ But for new employees, that could be unclear. Grossi says, “While the original ‘act of safety’ was for someone to be ‘in action for safety,’ we felt that it was literally lost in translation where someone would read it and say ‘do an ACT of safety.” And so we started thinking that really hit home, that was neat and philosophical for us because, what if we can do better? What if doing an ‘act of safety’ is just exactly that, in the theatrical sense? And what if it had unintended consequences? What if people only were safe because they needed to be, not because they wanted to be? And so we started really focusing in on our people with ‘safety beyond work.’ And people who take safety for what it’s worth, and not because they’re told to – they see the true value in it.”
This became a focus on ensuring that thoughts of safety were in the present and future, rather than with past measurements. At one point, Technica had 34 months of zero harm. Then, they had an incident. It was at that point Grossi identified that if they continued with the same safety operation, one that worked previous to the incident, they were setting themselves up for failure. “If we did the same thing over and over again, and tried to stay sustainably at zero harm, we’re not going to get there. How can we expect a different result using the same design?”
So the new culture of safety began at Technica, one that Grossi attributes to what he calls the yin and yang of safety – humility and courage. Employees, never made to feel like whistle-blowers, are instead asked to be courageous – to speak up without fear of criticism, or negative career ramifications. The leadership of the organisation is encouraged to be humble, and listen to every member of their team, regardless of their position.
“If I can integrate safety completely into the conversation, if I can integrate safety as way of being, if I can make you truly feel like safety isn’t something you need to speak to me about because you know everything I say and do is safety included, then I know we’re breaking boundaries and new frontiers.”
Those new frontiers for Technica come in safety – especially with Grossi’s excitement over the rapid pace of technology’s development and potential for predictive analytics – but also in strategic partnerships.
In fact, a wide grin appears on Grossi’s face when he’s asked what’s upcoming.
Technica has recently begun a strategic partnership with another Sudbury company, Hard-Line, and their Teleop Teleremote Control System. As Technica works with a wide range of primary equipment manufacturers, any hopes they have for tele-remote operations must be applicable to all makes of equipment. Luckily, Hard-Line has just what they were looking for – for many reasons. “The biggest one is the relationship,” says Grossi, “and everything will always boil down to relationship. We have built a very good relationship with their team, and, we felt comfortable that their Teleop Teleremote Control System will be applicable to all of our different types of equipment. What Hard-Line allows us to do is to put one tele-remote software platform across all of them, and so, it doesn’t matter what kind of scooper truck it is, we can still use their software and hardware.”
Not only does the future of Technica look bright, but it looks safe as well. When you are protecting and supporting your family, whether that means your immediate family or your treasured employees – from six in 1999 to 375 in 2018 – you create a culture where their contributions, and sacrifices, are valued.
“The people on this team, they are everything. They truly are.”