Real Leaders

Why I Buy Dirty Businesses and Clean Them Up

I am asked all the time, “what do you do?” to which my most authentic response is, “I buy dirty businesses and clean them up.”

This all started in the early 2000s when I bought a local same-day courier company, which forever changed how I do business. 

When I acquired Novex Delivery Solutions, the local same-day industry was full of contractors using old “beater” cars. The annual turnover of drivers averaged 40%. This was when the first hybrid vehicles were being produced, reducing pollution by 50%, and harmful particulate matter by 99%. With these vehicles becoming available, I had to find a way for our drivers to afford to upgrade their vehicles while continuing to make a profit for themselves and the company. And so began the quest to operate as a triple-bottom-line business.

“How” was the big question, and it demanded that we and our customers change how we do business. We even asked ourselves if we would be a green company that delivered packages or a courier company that didn’t pollute the air and lungs of the people in our community.

Fortunately, I was joined by an incredible team who, after learning about the effects of climate change, was enthusiastic about making a difference and having an impact — from sustainability strategies to culture, to define the purpose behind why our staff came to work. 

This work is both practical and aspirational. Of course, we had to help offset costs for our drivers so they could upgrade to hybrid vehicles. We solved this by selling full wrap advertising on the cars to like-minded and forward-thinking companies such as Vancity and passed the advertising revenue to the drivers. This achieved one known benefit, another hoped-for benefit, and one unanticipated benefit:

  1. Less pollution. This was known and led to benefits number two and three below. We were (and still are) the change. 
  1. Increased business! Doing good work and doing the right thing gave us the hoped-for advantage over our competition. More companies started deliberately choosing to work with Novex because we were focused on sustainability and positively impacting our shared community and environment. 
  1. Increased morale of our drivers. They were proud to be using hybrids and minimizing pollution. This resulted in significantly less turnover, and fewer costs in hiring and training, resulting in increased profit. Today we have less than 15% driver turnover, and the increased profit goes toward our environmental and social work. 

Of course, we had milestones to achieve, but we also discovered many unanticipated benefits of making these changes. Due to the combination of setting targets plus having a passionate team with the same vision and values of people, planet, and profit, we managed to keep hitting (if not surpassing) our milestones. 

I’ll take a moment to brag about the team and their achievements: 

  • 2004: Introduced 20 hybrids to our fleet of 100 vehicles
  • 2007: Novex became the first carbon-neutral courier company in North America and set a goal to reduce GHG emissions by 33% by 2020
  • 2009: Introduced the first 2 Smith electric trucks in Canada for delivery
  • 2013: Became B Corp Certified
  • 2017: First fully electric cars added to the fleet 
  • 2018: Novex joins the United Way Social Purpose Innovators program
  • 2020: Achieved 59% emission reduction, surpassing the goal of 33%
  • 2022: Announced the plan to become a zero-emission company by 2030
  • 2022: Launched a podcast called “CEOs & Self Driving Cars,” adding visibility and fun into the green space

The lesson and my takeaway from this experience are that as a triple-bottom-line company—this is just a proxy for better management. If you are ready to make the change, willing to get creative and buy-in from your team, then business can be the solution

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