The saying “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” is something Cathy Orr is very familiar with. She has read the studies that state only 30 per cent of family businesses survive into the second generation and a paltry 12 per cent make it to the third generation. But with a rock-solid 55-year foundation beneath it, she is confident that RGO will not only survive but thrive.
“There is pressure in all that, but the things that my dad focused on all these years to build RGO put us in a good spot,” says Cathy Orr, president and CEO of RGO. “Everything is changing and we have to find a way to adapt, stay strong and stay viable and relevant. That is top of mind for me all the time – how to keep the business really current and attract the best talent.”
The best talent finds rewarding work and a great culture at RGO. Founder Ross Glen’s philosophies, vision and values are evident throughout the organization and it still operates under his core values of passion, trust, competence and efficiency. These values created the culture of collaboration, innovation and expertise that has made RGO an industry leader for decades and led to being named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies Platinum Members, as well as one of the Best Workplaces in Alberta, Best Workplaces for Mental Illness and Best Workplaces for Giving Back. Orr credits this to her leadership team’s practice of checking in, asking questions, listening to answers and ensuring staff feel appreciated and valued.
She has built an outstanding leadership team that supported her as she transitioned into the President and CEO role in 2016 and continue to help her steer the company into the future. Her husband, Dave Orr, joined RGO in the early 1990’s and currently is the VP of Office Environments and takes care of the furniture side of the business. Jake Gebert came on board as CFO in 2014 and helped Orr with strategic planning and installed some significant changes including streamlining the organization’s IT to create a modern workplace. Sarah Chin, VP of Human Resources and Corporate Services, has led RGO’s navigation through the unique and ever-changing needs of the past couple years, for both staff and clients.
“I have a phenomenal team here. With their support it has been amazing,” she says. “All things considered, it has been a good transition.”
The “things considered” were a combination of an economic downturn, the energy crisis and a global pandemic that has impacted every business in Alberta. This made it more challenging for her to grow the company in such a tough market and has required agility as the pandemic changed the face of today’s workplaces.
Orr’s goal was to keep doing what RGO had always done – to make spaces better – but what that entailed is vastly different than when her father was at the helm of the company. What started as a business selling office furniture has evolved well beyond that today, to encompass how entire spaces are designed and utilized. Given the number of busts and booms RGO has experienced over the decades, pushing for an increasingly diversified business was important to Glen to start and for Orr to continue. Today’s RGO offerings cover all aspects of a space and the company partners with the top manufacturers in the business to achieve the best results: the company carries Steelcase and Global furniture, Hunter Douglas, Lutron and SunProjects window coverings, Kyocera and Epson technologies the industry’s leading brands of commercial flooring options, as well as Raised Access flooring to offer greater flexibility. More and more, clients are availing themselves of the offerings in multiple RGO divisions to meet their complete office needs.
“We want to keep growing. And carry no debt. Those are critical things in business today,” says Ross Glen, founder and chairman of RGO. “The other thing we have going for us is we’ve got the Steelcase line, which is the biggest in the world. That’s critical because their technology’s ahead of everyone else.”
RGO has exclusive Alberta rights for Steelcase’s catalog of innovative products that are designed based on global research on technology and trends. Steelcase shares their findings on global insights with the RGO leadership team, and most recently they found that 67 per cent of global organizations plan to or are experimenting with hybrid workplaces. RGO is on the cutting edge of technology integration and global trends to ensure clients don’t design spaces that are obsolete by the time they are finished. Whether clients need ergonomic chairs for staff working at home or are designing their spaces to integrate the technology needed to keep employees connected, RGO is proud to be the one-stop shop.
“In everything we do, I see the significant integration with products, technologies, building practices and strong, well thought out designs that all play a vital role in the outcome of the final deliverable,” Orr says.
The team talks about spaces of the future, which provide clients with the tools to make environments functional, efficient and comfortable as well as helping to keep people connected. RGO sells products to post-secondary institutions, corporations, hospitals and seniors’ living centres and as these places have changed how they approach interactions in their spaces, RGO has applied its knowledge and expertise to access products that seamlessly bring together all the relevant pieces for a perfect space. This can be anything from lights that automatically come on when someone enters a space, to a comfortable, collaborative space that promotes creativity while integrating technology to accommodate the need for connection.
“What gets me motivated is where we are creating environments in every part of life, where people work, where they learn, where they grow, where they play, where they’re entertained, where they heal and now where they age well,” she says.
RGO stays ahead of the curve and proudly provides its diverse client base with innovative solutions for their businesses. After 55 years, the organization enjoys a stellar reputation earned through quality products and service delivered by a dedicated team of professionals. As Cathy Orr looks at the contributions of the next generation working alongside her to grow RGO – her daughter, Sarah, and her niece, Cassandra – she is confident that the family business will have no use for shirtsleeves as it remains strong into the third generation and beyond.
#100, 229 – 33 Street NE
Calgary, Alberta T2A 4Y6
Phone: (403) 569-4400
Fax: (403) 569-4550