Eight years ago, when Mary Testani landed an IT job at Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada, friends were concerned. Ms. Testani came from a white-collar environment and knew nothing about motorcycles. But she'd heard great things about working at Deeley's – and the place looked like fun.
"People said, 'Oh, you're going to be a biker chick,'" recalls Ms. Testani, 47, senior manager of business systems at the company's location in Concord, Ont. "But that's not the atmosphere. I realized very quickly that they're regular business people. We work very nicely in the sandbox. The cowboy attitude is not well respected here."
For the third consecutive year, Deeley's has been named as one of Canada's Top 100 Employers. Any lingering stereotypes about a testosterone-driven culture are further squashed by the company's human resources director, Michael Harwood. Women make up about 40 per cent of Deeley's 149 employees in the company's offices and distribution facilities in Concord and Richmond, B.C.
The firm, the exclusive Canadian distributor for Harley-Davidson and Buell motorcycles and parts, hires primarily for skill, but has made an effort to recruit women by advertising outside traditional motorcycle industry programs or motorcycle magazines, which are generally geared towards men. The company maintains a strong online presence through CareerBuilder Canada, and makes use of other industry opportunities. For instance, Mr. Harwood explains, if they're looking for marketing people, they'll go to the Canadian Marketing Association.
With several female senior managers, and a female boss in the IT department, Ms. Testani says Deeley's doesn't feel like a boys' club at all. She describes the workplace as very co-operative, family oriented and close-knit. She says one key to the company's success is getting together regularly for "fireside chats," when team members share and update each other.
"Here, you're not just a number," says Ms. Testani. "Although we've grown extensively since I've been here, we try to keep communication lines open. Where I worked before, only the senior executives knew information. It never trickled down. Here, I think we try to go the extra mile to ensure that everyone has all of the information."
The company is actively involved in community issues. Last year, Deeley Harley-Davidson Canada partnered with Rethink Breast Cancer, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the disease, to offer the Pink Label clothing line, with a portion of the sales proceeds donated to the charity. This year, they've added more fashion items to the popular collection.
From a brand standpoint, the company has also increased its focus on the female rider, developing a stronger presence with women through marketing programs as well as their relationship with Rethink Breast Cancer.
"By association, it opens up eyes to Deeley's as an employer because of that support," says Mr. Harwood. "We're able to tie our brand marketing with our employment brand."
"What makes working at Deeley's different revolves around our internal operating credo of 'Work hard, work smart and have fun,'" says Buzz Green, 55, the company's general manager and senior vice-president, who has been there 14 years. "We build that philosophy into everything we do. It translates into a huge level of employee appreciation and engagement. We really go out of our way to encourage teamwork and fun."
The company's social committee, Riders at Play, regularly plans barbecues, bowling nights and staff celebrations, as well as outside activities such as Nascar driving, jousting or bull riding. But the most popular perk is the approximately 15 demo bikes that are available for the staff to book either Monday to Friday or over the weekend.
"Whether you're one of our warehouse associates or working in the office, you've got equal access to book a bike," says Mr. Green, whose own choice is the "more comfortable" Street Glide, also favoured by Mr. Harwood, 47. "The staff love it. It's gets them out there on the product, and the more they do that, the more they become engaged with the product and our customers. It kind of keeps the whole thing going around."
About 65 per cent of staff have motorcycle licences, something that Ms. Testani hopes to acquire next April so she can get in a full riding season. If employees are successful at taking the course, Deeley's picks up the tab.
"It took me eight years to work up to it, but I'm so pumped to go," says Ms. Testani. "One of my female colleagues who's 54 recently got her licence. I've got to do this, even if it's just to say that I ride!"
As a proud ambassador of Deeley's, Ms. Testani owns more than a dozen Harley-Davidson leather jackets. Staff get a clothing allowance and are encouraged to wear the product, although it's optional.
"I don't know anyone in the company who doesn't wear it – from the top down," says Ms. Testani. "It helps team spirit. When a new shipment comes in, everyone's showing them off. This is just a wonderful place to be. I feel like I've landed. I'm home."
Special to The Globe and Mail