November 21, 2016
By Line Goyette
Flextherm, a company in Montreal’s southern reaches that specializing in the design, manufacture and marketing of floor heating systems, came into being 25 years ago. A celebration last summer captures the expectations and ambitions of the founder and president, Philippe Charron. The event brought together customers, distributors and employees.
Modest in its infancy, born of an innovator’s passion, Flextherm has nearly 50 employees, operates a modern and innovative 50,000+ square foot plant, and takes pride in its R&D department. Flextherm products are sold across Canada and the United States.
Head of the company since its inception, Philippe Charron is an epicurean, jack-of-all-trades, lover of detail, and resolutely turned towards innovation and performance. We met with him recently on the company premises.
How did Flextherm come about?
The idea started when I was 28 years old. I had an irrigation company, I was doing carpentry, mechanics. I’m a jack-of-all-trades, I want to understand and experience everything. At the time I was working on heated ceilings with a distributor. The company closed its doors and I began to imagine how with cable and excellent insulating products you could control temperature. From innovation to innovation, the company has grown.
When we’re 30 we don’t know much, but I’m a person who’s always had a lot of ideas. I don’t have a degree, but I’ve always liked to touch everything. When I was younger, I took apart and reassembled anything around me that was mechanical or electrical. I wanted to understand how things work and how to improve them. This is how heated floors came about, a product that at first glance seems simple, but we have perfected.
Your biggest challenge since 1991?
Surrounding myself with good people. When you have good ideas and a good project, you can find the money, but finding the right people is more difficult. As a boss, you must ensure that the work environment is healthy and helps the company grow. If you are not surrounded by the right people, you should help them find another challenge.
Q. in your career, what have you found most stimulating?
Doing things differently. For me, things deserve to be made once and well, so that they last a long time. The most stimulating thing about it is the creativity. It’s not easy to step away from the usual way of doing things. A constant for me in my career is the win-win relationship. To last, it must be fair and equitable. We must also adapt and innovate.
Technological change propels us towards new business models and enables us to do things differently. When I started my business, we had two or three models. You would have a showroom, exhibit at trade shows, and publish new product releases in magazines. Today, the options are much greater, and visibility is more sharply defined than ever. The customer approach has changed. It’s a big challenge for companies to have effective strategies in a world in motion, the changes are very fast. Today in a marketing department you need a specialist in social media, an internet expert, etc., all specialties that did not exist 20 years ago.
How do you combine your personal life with your life as an entrepreneur?
My starting point is to have fun. I’m the same person in my private life and at work. I organized the company celebration in detail: the guests, the presence of all employees, the sound, the food, even the arrival of the full moon over the scene at the beginning of the show. Moving to the country, I built our home with my wife. We chose the materials, built the house, moved onto the land. We did everything. Here too it is important to create and innovate.
I don’t have a chance to read as much as I’d like, but I travel a bit and again I give myself to it completely. Two years ago, my wife and I made it to the Everest base camp. Last summer, 11 days in the fjords of Greenland completely on our own. We are currently preparing a trip in the outlying islands of Indonesia in a schooner. Cellphones don’t fit into these places. You have to disconnect. I prefer adventure travel over tours, it’s more demanding but much better for clearing your head.
Your children (two girls and a boy) attended the celebration marking the company’s first 25 years. Part of your succession plan?
A. No, unlike many entrepreneurs I don’t have a family succession plan. I think I was lucky not to have been left anything. I was able to grow with my company. It’s a big responsibility to take someone else’s place. If my father had started the business 30 years ago, I’m not sure I would have taken his place. To my children I say that the important thing is to do what you like, to choose to be happy.
If I had gone to university or if I had technical training and formal business management training, I would have probably been less on my own. Fortunately, there are business groups that help us deal with challenges, to give it our best shot. A few years ago I took entrepreneurship courses to improve my management skills and learn to be a better coach. In the process I learned that my ideas were just as good as other people’s. These courses gave me confidence and leadership skills. I’d like my children to experience this on their own, which will give them confidence and a desire to do better.