Reach for the top 

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Whistler does a lot of things well, but one area we apparently suck is in training and developing our own people to take over the top positions in town.

Consider the recent hiring of Norm McPhail as our municipal general manager, corporate and community services. It's not like McPhail is an outsider here, he served with the Whistler RCMP for 11 years in his 30-year policing career and he has established roots in the community. To boot, he's a proven administrator with a lot of experience managing others, and I'm sure he'll do a great job.

But he wasn't a member of our municipal staff. I have no idea who else applied for that job, or whether anyone internally even applied for the position, but hiring from outside the community seems to be a bit of a pattern. For example:

Mike Furey, our Chief Administrative Officer, was recruited from the ranks of the provincial government in Victoria.

Harry Kim, a former general manager of environmental services at municipal hall, was hired from a Toronto business in 2010. The circumstances of his departure not long afterwards resulted in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit and countersuit, which was settled out of court last December.

Our head librarian, Elizabeth Tracy, was recruited from Telluride, Colorado. Our outgoing fire chief, Rob Whitton, was recruited from Abbotsford. His predecessor Bruce Hall was also hired from outside the community after stints in Abbotsford, Nelson and Mission. When the municipality created the Centre for Sustainability they hired Cheeying Ho from Smart Growth B.C. in Vancouver to run the organization.

And it's not just municipal hall that is recruiting outside of the community. The Whistler Chamber of Commerce recently appointed Vancouver entrepreneur Val Litwin as their CEO, replacing Fiona Famulak. Hotel managers are routinely hired from outside the resort as well.

By all accounts these imports did, or are doing, a great job. They've added to the community and made it better by bringing in expertise and experience. It would be unfair on my part to suggest that any of these decisions have been negative for the resort.

And sure, sometimes there are good reasons to hire externally. Maybe a person is just too good to pass up. Maybe there are some internal politics that make it better to bring someone in from outside the organization. I'm sure the reasons are different in every case, but to an outsider without all of that information the decision to staff many of our top positions with people from outside seems a little strange. To me, it says we're not doing enough to train and groom the people we already have for management positions.

There are a lot of reasons why hiring internally is a good policy. For one thing, employees should have something to shoot for, some motivation to work hard and to continue to educate themselves, and a spot in middle management isn't going to cut it. Working your way from the mailroom to the top floor corner office is what working life is supposed to be all about. The cream rises to the top in this paradigm, not "the cream gets replaced with some other cream from out of town while the other milk curdles."

Another reason is loyalty. Take Costco: something like 70 per cent of store managers started working at the bottom of the ladder, pushing brooms and stocking shelves, and worked their way up. The company doesn't hire people with MBAs, and it doesn't listen to activist shareholders who want Costco to cut wages, cut staff or break unions. Its staff is one of its strengths, and the company is as loyal to its staff as the staff is to the company.

To a large degree Whistler Blackcomb is the same, promoting from within and developing its own people. I know former liftees that are now millwrights and electricians on the mountain, and who were supported with part-time work and experience while going to school to get their certifications. Whistler Blackcomb's bike park manager was a ski patroller. The manager of strategic partnerships was a ski school instructor. There are countless examples.

Hiring from outside isn't just a Whistler thing. When Crown corporations like ICBC, BC Hydro or BC Ferries hire they always seem to go into the private sector looking for talent rather than hiring from their own ranks. Salaries have gone up hugely as a result of bringing in all this outside executive power but other than larger payrolls none of these agencies appear to be any better run than they were in the past, and in some cases you could argue that they — and us by extension — are worse off.

Again, I'm not suggesting that the people we're hiring from outside of Whistler are anything less than excellent; just that we could be doing a better job preparing the people we already have for these roles. We're reminded time and time again that we have a highly educated, highly skilled workforce here in Whistler. So let's give those workers a chance.

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