Industry leaders are essentially architects of innovation—always dreaming up new, better ways of doing things. While many people automatically assume innovation is technological, it’s actually so much more than that. In this article, we look at three past Innovators of the Year and the very different sectors they lead. And the results they achieve by being ahead of the curve.
Imagine, if you will, that you’re a prominent orthopedic surgeon and respected citizen. You’re the son of a Canadian senator; you’ve studied at world renowned universities. Now imagine that you’re at home in Newfoundland, sitting in your comfortable living room, when your cozy space is invaded with horrific images of suffering and devastation. On every channel, your television delivers shocking proof after visual proof of what a magnitude 7.0 earthquake can do to a densely populated, already impoverished area. Do you shake your head at the heartlessness of nature? Do you wring your hands in empathy? What do you do?
If you’re three-time Top 50 CEO award winner Dr. Andrew Furey, the most unthinkable option is to do nothing. Instead, you, along with your wife (an emergency room doctor) and a colleague (an orthopedic resident), volunteer for a week-long medical mission to Haiti. And while it’s time well spent, you know in your heart that there was also time wasted—finding your way around, getting organized, learning how to work with unfamiliar colleagues. Do you bolster yourself with “at least I tried” platitudes? Do you regret what could have been? Do you share your lessons learned with other volunteers?
Again, if you’re Dr. Andrew Furey, your reaction is one of immediate action. You create a non-profit, non-governmental organization with the express purpose of sending medical professionals to Haiti. And you recruit volunteers—convincing doctors and nurses to not only give up their vacation time for the cause, but to also pay their own way to get there. And you organize these volunteers into a coordinated team who are off the plane and saving lives on the same day. Then you do it again. And again. And again. Multiple missions every year: 18 in 2016 alone.
Since its founding in 2010, Team Broken Earth has grown from a single team from Newfoundland and Labrador to include teams from across the country. More than a thousand volunteers now conduct regular missions to Haiti, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Nepal—and their efforts are supported by thousands more volunteers home in Canada. And the work those teams do has expanded beyond medical care to include the education of medical professionals in those various destinations.
In the May 2015 edition of Atlantic Business Magazine, Pierre-Yves Julien, one of the Top 50 CEO judges that year and CEO of Medavie (he has since retired), described Furey’s social innovation as truly unique. “There are a lot of good doctors, and there are a lot of good businessmen. But it’s rare to find a health care professional who can transform advocacy into a business model, rally a large number of people behind their cause, package it to make it appealing beyond Atlantic Canada and produce something in a way that is both sustainable and important.”
The results of that innovation are both concrete and immeasurable: the direct impact on patient health… the educational outreach… the strengthened personal relationships at home and abroad… and a reinvigorated coalition of Canadian medical professionals whose teamwork has never been better.
It is these people, in fact, who Dr. Furey wants you to think of when you picture Team Broken Earth. “I hope you see past my name, even forget it, to feel the momentum of all the teams of volunteers from across the country who have given of their time, talents or funds to make our organization successful and sustainable.”
Spoken like a true leader.
Agriculture is one of the world’s oldest professions. In fact, potato farming is thought to have begun in Peru around 8,000 B.C. It’s hard to imagine there’s anything new to learn in an industry that’s been practiced for thousands of years, but John Griffin is full of surprises.
A second generation potato farmer from Prince Edward Island, Griffin and his family (via their farming enterprise, W.P. Griffin Inc.) plant the seeds for innovation with every crop they sow. In 2016, they bought 500 acres of land in a neighboring community to improve crop rotation. That same year—and likely with their increased acreage’s growing output in mind—they built one of the largest potato storage warehouses on the island (capable of storing 10 million pounds!). The year before, in 2015, W.P. Griffin expanded their packaging and wash plant by 50 per cent. That modernization project also included an optical grader, metal detector, new bagging and handling equipment, and cold storage facilities.
Concurrent to their infrastructure investments, W.P. Griffin is diligently cultivating new tuber varieties, such as the Red Rooster™ potato, and creating value-added specialty products. And they recently added anti-oxidant-rich purple flesh potatoes to their product line, joining other innovations such as microwave ready potatoes (they were the first potato packer in Canada to do so). This year, they’re working on new baby potato products and repackaging/redesigning a number of existing products.
While these innovations (and more) earned John Griffin the title of 2016 Innovator of the Year, he’s not motivated by accolades. When asked why it’s important for him to be an industry leader, he equates weak leadership with driving a car while blindfolded. “When you’re a leader, you can avoid pot holes or steer your car on an entirely new course or path. You need a positive vision of where you want to be.
So far, John Griffin’s foresight has earned W.P. Griffin an enviable reputation with both industry peers and consumers. “The focus on producing easy-to-prepare healthy potato meal choices has forced our company to reinvent itself in terms of our ‘bricks and mortar’ and the growth and development of our staff… Today, our company is recognized as a leader in the potato industry and the Griffin name is known across North America,” he says.
If you need further evidence that it pays to be out in front, all you have to do is look to the bottom line: revenue has grown 22 per cent since 2014 alone. Then again, John Griffin’s green thumb should come as no surprise at all: he is a farmer, after all.
Lifelong sport and fitness enthusiast Dr. Travis McDonough fits the technological mold of what most people imagine an innovator to be—except that he doesn’t. Fit any mold that is: a three-time Top 50 CEO award winner and 2014 Innovator of the Year, McDonough is creating groundbreaking products for sport performance and predictive analytics that could (fingers-crossed) revolutionize health management. It’s so different, in fact, that initial sales efforts were complicated by their need to convince potential customers that they wanted something they didn’t know existed.
The official blurb states that McDonough’s company, Kinduct, has a “secure, cloud-based platform that allows human performance, health and wellness organizations to spend less time managing data and more time using it to inform decisions, promote constant improvement and produce exceptional results.”
Which, to the technologically uninformed, is spectacularly uninformative—until you understand how it works in practice. For professional athletes, Kinduct monitors how their body performs in different situations and offers evidence-based suggestions to improve their game. For example, thanks to Kinduct, hockey coaches now know that there’s a correlation between a player’s grip strength and number of goals scored. And NFL trainers are learning that player sleep quality affects field goal accuracy.
McDonough says their methods are much more reliable than verbal interviews because Kinduct’s technology communicates with the athlete’s body, rather than relying on someone to verbalize how they are feeling. Those feelings aren’t always an accurate representation of how their body is reacting to sleep, diet, and training programs, among other things. And that’s why Kinduct’s software is already being used by more than 85 professional sports teams as well as sports centres and the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The implications for the global healthcare industry, McDonough says, are even more disruptive. His five-year plan is to continue refining their technology so that it is the world’s most accurate predictor of illness and disease. “Having the ability to accurately identify who is at risk of a given injury or disease can allow for an informed intervention to take place,” he says.
It’s here, however, that McDonough and Kinduct are running into interference: the groundbreaking nature of their innovation makes it an object of suspicion in the conservative healthcare field. And who can blame them? When lives are at stake, no one wants to be accused of jumping on a bandwagon without wheels.
Team McDonough’s game plan is to continue testing and refining their work empowering athletes, then cross-pollinate their health product with some of the innovations that have been tried and tested in the performance market. It’s a smart strategy, and one that should see Kinduct crossing the finish line well ahead of any rivals. Like all true innovators, this industry leader is in it to win it.