WHO IS SAMI ELKHAZIN? MEET SCHWANK NORTH AMERICA’S PRESIDENT
Queens University Engineer graduate by trade and Toronto Raptors fan by night, Sami Elkhazin has been the President of Schwank since 2020—providers of smart comfort systems, including energy efficient infra-red heating and air movement equipment for commercial and industrial spaces.
Though an unexpected shift, Sami recounts his business journey truly starting when he stepped away from engineering in 2004 and moved to reporting on Profit & Loss statements. It was here, he realized, where big decisions are made and the magic happens. Since then, Sami has ventured through roles with a heavy focus on sales, marketing, and leadership.
Working his entire career in the same industry—HVAC—Sami was initially intrigued by the many facets and influencers involved in building a building. What’s kept him in the industry for 18 years is the feeling that he and his team do important work— “Human beings spend 90% of their time in the built environment, and we’re in the industry of making these people feel comfortable,” says Sami.
Although always partial to leading projects and teams in university, Sami felt like his potential was untapped until he stepped into his first leadership role in 2006 that unlocked his love for motivating people and setting direction. As the power of leadership began to unfold, he realized that a team reaches its potential through synergy—“the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.”
His love for leadership was officially mobilized.
SAMI’S LEADERSHIP CHALLENGE
Successfully climbing through the industry for 18 years, Sami eventually started his role as president at Schwank in February of 2020. Needless to say, his well-thought-out 90-day plan was turned on its head when the earth-shattering events approached just one short month later.
“As the pandemic hit in March, our sales dropped colossally. We had staff who were terrified of what was coming down the line. Brand new to the company, let alone as the president, I didn’t have the trust level with the team that I needed yet. I felt more disconnected than ever. I had to get the company back on the rails and quickly,” says Sami.
His new role, the team’s livelihood, and the entire company was at stake, and Sami had to lead through it.
It wasn’t until he reached back into his arsenal of leadership skills that he found the one to ultimately lead him out of the rough waters: decisiveness.
It was a skill he learned and polished during his time with TEC Canada; in 2014, Sami was invited to join the TEC Group of Bruce Harbinson—a TEC Canada Chair since 2003 and successful business leader. Having heard about the programs from long-time TEC member and president at his previous company, he was aware of the impact it could make and took the opportunity to join straight away.
EMERGING FROM THE CHALLENGE
Mid-pandemic, Sami and his team employed this TEC-learned quality of decisiveness while walking the fine line between over-analyzing and impulse. He was able to make informed decisions during the ambiguity and uncertainty—arguably his most challenging time as a leader—instilling trust, confidence and security in his team.
He was also able to work through the team’s feelings of disconnection through another TEC-polished skill: communication.
“TEC taught me that there’s no such thing as overcommunication, especially in times of fear. We connected with one another virtually, hosting Town Halls and sharing photos of our pets and kids.”
Through these leadership skills and a myriad of others, Sami and the team not only managed to keep Schwank afloat, but steered it to record-breaking sales in Q4 and the most profitable year in history. As temperatures dropped and pandemic-safe activities started to take place outside, businesses everywhere were taking steps to make their outdoor spaces more comfortable. Enter Schwank, purveyors of outdoor heating.
“I attribute so much of it to TEC. My TEC Group taught me how to harness decisiveness and remain connected to the wellbeing of the team, helping to pull Schwank out of those rough waters in a big way. I re-joined TEC in August of 2020, just in time for Schwank’s transition from a machine that didn’t know how to move to a machine moving faster than it ever had before.”
TEC’S PROFESSIONAL IMPACT
Enthusiastic about all the ways TEC has helped his leadership journey, most prominently, Sami admits, is his overall leadership style.
“I used to think that pride, confidence and having all the answers were critical as a leader. TEC showed me that was a bunch of rubbish. It’s possible to make necessary decisions without knowing the answer.”
Now, Sami often walks into Schwank meetings without a decision or opinion, delving into and understanding his team’s angles and opinions first. They even use TEC style “clarifying questions” to go through the issue together and come up with the answer.
“It really has been freeing not to be the person who must have all the answers. That has been such a transformational leadership piece from TEC.”
Sami encourages TEC Canada members to let go of their pride and not be afraid to ask questions.
“With hundreds of years of collective experience in one room, you ALWAYS learn something at TEC. The value of TEC is the collective experience and wealth of knowledge that can translate into anyone’s personal and professional life—even a groomed president.”
For example, upon implementing an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system at a former company, Sami brought the situation to TEC in search of advice to carry out the process efficiently and effectively. Rather than being an executive “above” an ERP implementation, Sami’s group advised him to create a “war room” and be in there to feel and work through the pain points with the team.
“These pieces of advice were instrumental in having a successful ERP system launch. I could list off ten first-time projects we undertook that felt like we had experience because TEC members had given us advice on how they handled it.”
TEC’S PERSONAL IMPACT
Since joining TEC, Sami now records yearly goals for himself and his family using TEC’s categorization approach. Whether they’re health goals, financial goals, or anything in between, the technique helps him accomplish them.
“Because of TEC, my acumen has become much more fine-tuned. My marriage benefits because I have a better understanding of how to communicate through active listening. My finances benefit because I have been able to make decisions about getting wills in order. When you’re around extremely successful people who have everything organized, it’s a reminder to get your life in order, too.”
Sami continues to gain deeper insights, make better decisions, create real impact, and become a better leader with TEC Canada.
People engaged in the passionate pursuit of business excellence and leadership often wrestle with questions surrounding meaning, value, and potential. To determine their best course of action, leaders like Sami, are attracted to TEC to learn more about themselves and the world around them.
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