Deep into a conversation about leadership, Tom Redl makes an unexpected revelation about the 20 years he spent as CEO of Chandos Construction.
“I haven’t made a major decision for our company in years,” he says. “My job is to facilitate a creative organization where people are empowered and there are processes in place that help people make good decisions, and to support them in those decisions. So, I don’t really need to make any, I just need to create the conditions for good decision-making.
“If you’re making decisions for people, you’re thinking for them,” he adds. “You’re taking responsibility out of their hands. So if you’re a truly empowering leader, why would you be making decisions? That’s a paradox.”
Redl, 59, has more time to think these days. After a more than 30-year career in construction and commercial real estate – the past 23 years with Chandos – Redl recently moved out of the CEO role to become the company’s executive chair. His job now is supporting the next generation of leaders.
The transition has given Redl, who’s married with a blended family of five children, a chance to slow down and ponder what it means to be a leader.
Redl grew up on a farm near Saskatoon. His father’s eventual move to full-time entrepreneur in the countertop business made a lasting impression.
“I saw how scary that was for him, but it was successful. He started making a good living, and it was transformative for him as a person, and for our family as well, so that really kindled an interest for me in becoming an entrepreneur and loving business.”
It wasn’t the only legacy his father left him with. Redl was a young adult when his father revealed he had Indigenous heritage; Redl learned he was Métis.
Redl took chemical engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, but his career trajectory changed when he took a business elective for engineers.
“When I graduated from high school, I did not know there was such a thing as business school,” he says. He transferred out of engineering to earn a Bachelor of Commerce.
He was hired by Imperial Oil, working in Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Edmonton, before changing tracks again.
“They were going to move me to Toronto, and I wasn’t really liking the big company thing, so I bailed and I went into commercial real estate,” he says.
He worked for developers such as Qualico before meeting the founder of Chandos, who was looking for a successor.
“He just kind of threw it at me. I said you know, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I saw the ability for business to transform people’s lives. I had an opportunity to buy in to Chandos as a partner, and I did.”
Chandos grew during Redl’s tenure as CEO; the fully employee-owned company now has 500 staff and seven offices across Canada, and is a certified B-Corp — which signifies social and environmental accountability, and corporate transparency.
Along with several other board positions, including the Citadel Theatre’s board of governors, Redl sits on MacEwan University’s advisory council for its social innovation institute, which formed in response to a paradigm shift in what society demands of business.
“The old version used to be, do well and then give back, out of a sense of obligation. The whole notion of a social enterprise is that you embed good social practices into the strategy of the organization,” he says, attributing its rise to millennials.
“It really comes down to: there’s a hell of a lot more to life than just making a bunch of money. How does a business function in a society that says, ‘You’ve got to do more than just… suck up money?’ What are you here to do?
“People want meaning in their work. If you don’t have meaning, people just aren’t going to do it anymore. If you don’t have a purpose, you can’t attract the right people, you don’t get their energy and their hearts. If you don’t have that, you can’t compete.”
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This article appears in the April 2021 issue of Edify.