People on the Move is supported by Boyden, connecting great leaders with great companies in Ottawa, across Canada and worldwide.
At the tender age of 22, Jason Tasse had been working outside at a lumber yard to pay for his undergraduate degree at Carleton University when he learned Lee Valley Tools was looking for seasonal employees to help with its Christmas holiday rush.
With winter coming, he liked the idea of holding down an indoor job and had heard good things about the Ottawa-based, family-owned Canadian business, which sells hardware, woodworking, gardening and kitchen tools.
“If you really worked hard, they’d keep you full-time,” said Tasse, who first got hired for a warehouse job. “My objective was to stay warm, work hard and keep the job.”
The company not only kept him but steadily promoted the young man to such positions as director, manager, vice-president of operations, chief operating officer and, very recently, president. He still retains his role as chief operating officer.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Tasse has been part of the business for 25 years, first working under founder Leonard Lee and now his son, Robin Lee, CEO of Lee Valley Tools and chairman of Lee Valley Group of Companies.
There exists a mutual respect and loyalty between Tasse and the Lee family.
“By my defined generation, I should have changed jobs at least a half a dozen times by now but I’ve been blessed and fortunate to be supported by such amazing people through two generations,” said the 47-year-old executive and married father of two boys, ages 19 and 17.
Even during Tasse’s early days as a warehouse employee, Leonard – who grew up on a farm in small-town Saskatchewan – would chat with him at the end of their long workday, when they were often the only two still there.
“He really appreciated hard work and I’m a believer that you have to work hard for what you want to achieve,” Tasse said.
Lee Valley was very accommodating when Tasse had the chance to play professional lacrosse for his hometown team, the former Ottawa Rebel, 20 years ago. His sports career was only a couple of years long, but it remains a highlight of his life.
“It was an athlete’s dream to play pro in front of your home and Lee Valley was extremely supportive of that,” said Tasse, who still plays and coaches lacrosse.
While at Lee Valley, Tasse has earned himself a logistics certificate in supply chain management from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Queen’s University. He’s also a new member of the Ottawa Board of Trade’s CEO Council.
His accomplishments at Lee Valley include leading key systems implementations, long-term strategic planning, digital transformation and brand marketing direction, and site selection and design of the 150,000-square-foot distribution centre on Carp Road.
As well, Tasse played a key role in the company’s leadership succession management. A wave of long-time store managers retired and left big shoes to fill.
“Nobody has a bigger impact on the culture of a company than its leadership team,” said Tasse. “We were essentially turning over an entire team.”
Tasse acknowledged that the coronavirus crisis has created challenges, such as causing temporary closures of its 20 stores, staff readjustments and general uncertainty.
Fortunately, the company launched, just months prior to the start of the pandemic, its new website, which has helped to significantly boost online sales. Traditionally, Lee Valley has been known as a successful catalogue company.
“As the world migrated toward digital, Lee Valley acknowledged that we not only had to preserve the customers we have but we had to reposition the brand to the customers we want, and we knew the path forward was digital,” Tasse said.
The appeal of hobbies and home projects during the pandemic has been good for business, said Tasse, an aspiring woodworker who’s just completed a homemade floating wine bottle holder. When asked how it turned out, he responded modestly: “It’s all about the doing, it’s all about the doing.”
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