Rebel for a cause
If there was a prize for nicest entrepreneur in Atlantic Canada, Dallas Mercer would be a top contender.
She’s an engaged listener, easily and accurately recounting her first meeting with the interviewer for this article. (It was at an awards banquet more than a decade ago.)
She’s an empathetic employer who genuinely cares about her employees, their families and even their pets. There’s cake for every birthday and staff are encouraged to take time off for their children’s events. “I don’t want any of my people to miss a school concert because of work,” she says.
She’s a prolific volunteer and generous corporate donor, giving over $40,000 annually in cash and in-kind contributions to more than a dozen different causes.
But as much as she oozes likability, Dallas Mercer is nobody’s pushover. In fact, she’s actually quite the crusader when it comes to defending her beliefs. Like the time she was in grade 11 and organized a walk-out to protest a planned name change to the school. She felt the identity was important to students and she was willing to fight for it. That same willingness to champion a cause was what motivated her to launch her company.
When she worked at the former Newfoundland and Labrador Workers’ Compensation Board (recently rebranded as Workplace NL), Mercer says she was appalled at what she describes as a “system that lacked employer accountability.”
Dallas Mercer and her team — many of whom were once case managers at Workers’ Comp — work to right that wrong by advocating for their clients (“Employers have no idea what they are paying for … so much more could be done to lower rates for employers”). Mercer says they often know more about employer rights and appeal processes than front-line workers at the agency. DMC uses that knowledge to bring accountability to the system, to find ways to keep workers healthy, safe and at work while saving money for their clients.
“We should never be a cost to the client,” she says. “We should always save them more than enough to offset our fees.”
This super-savvy businesswoman is achieving enviable growth at a manageable rate. With the help of her husband and business partner/money manager, Pete Mercer, Dallas Mercer Consulting has grown 233 per cent since 2008. What started as a one-woman operation now has more than 30 employees and clients across the country.
“A fax machine, phone, internet and a company name were all I had when I started — that, my expertise, and referrals from satisfied clients. When I began, I had five clients, and I thought, ‘if only I had 10 clients’. When I had 10 clients, I wanted 15, then 20. Now, I want to double in size in the next three years.”
“If being retired is doing what you love, then I’m retired,” says Mercer.
It’s interesting to note that even though the company is named for its founder (“It was just me in the beginning. I never expected it would grow as much as it has!”), Dallas Mercer Consulting is very much a team effort. But it wasn’t always that way.
A self-described control freak, Mercer says she had no choice but to learn how to delegate. The lesson was forced upon her during the two months she and Pete spent in Kazakhstan in 2008. They were there to adopt their son Max. “Between the nine-and-a-half-hour time difference and the dial-up internet, I wasn’t very accessible. But, thankfully, I have the most amazing staff. They kept everything running smoothly while I was away.”
It’s that support that has enabled Mercer to transition from working in her business, to focus on growing it. This is why Nova Scotia employers can expect to see a lot more of her smiling face in the near future. “We’re there now, but not in the capacity that we’re going to be there in the future. They have some of the highest workers’ compensation rates in the country; we have a lot of work to do.”
The crusade continues.