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19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

Carl Sparkes
President & CEO, Devonian Coast Wineries Ltd.
(Malagash, N.S.)

“Never take yourself too seriously. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have all the answers.”

Low hanging fruit Devonian Coast Wineries is the only winery with vineyards in four Atlantic provinces. It grows, processes, and distributes award-winning wine globally under six brands, says Carl Sparkes. Their annual sales of between $10 million and $20 million exceed all other Atlantic Canadian wineries combined, he says.

Something in the yeast With an MBA from Saint Mary’s, Sparkes’ quickly earned a reputation as a turnaround master. By age 30, after three years with Eastern Bakeries, he was named president and CEO. In his mid-30s, as president of Olivieri Foods, he led a turnaround, and acquisition, quadrupling profits. At Canada Bread, he managed another turnaround and acquisition. In 2003, after integrating Bens Bakery and former Eastern Bakeries, Sparkes was looking for a business investment when he was offered the CEO position with Omstead Foods. His next stop was Bento Nouveau in Toronto where he led a complete transformation. “It was then I decided to move back east and identified Jost Vineyards as a business opportunity.”

The gift of multiplication “Generosity is a personal value I hold dear. It adds a purpose to life that cannot be achieved otherwise,” says Sparkes. “Our responsibility as leaders is to make our world a better place. Giving back holds a lot of power in its multiplier effect. While there are clear benefits for the beneficiary and the benefactor, the greatest impact comes from leading by example.”


Jeff Squires
CEO & President, P.E.I. Brewing Company; President, Cavendish Beach Music Festival / Whitecap Entertainment
(Charlottetown, P.E.I.)

“The point of leadership is figuring out where to go from where you are”

Arthur vs. Cavendish BeachWhen Hurricane Arthur touched down in P.E.I, in July 2014, the Cavendish Beach Music Festival was entering its second day. Squires worked with RCMP, the fire marshal’s office and Island EMO to monitor the situation and update attendees. They moved the opening time twice before cancelling the day completely. “Safety was my number one priority,” he says.
To be ready for the next day, Squires and his team had to repair and rebuild anything that was knocked down or destroyed. They even had to rearrange the schedule to ensure fans would get a full day of music and charter a plane so their headliner could get to the island to close out the show.
“Customers were appreciative and respectful of the decisions that were made,” he says.

On a national level While the Cavendish Beach Music Festival is one of Canada’s largest country music festivals (attracting 70,000+ visitors annually), Festival founder Jeff Squires says it’s actually a tourism development tool. “Past artists don’t sell tickets. The atmosphere sells tickets and P.E.I. has the best vacation atmosphere in the world!”

Success on tap When he’s not being P.E.I.’s pied piper of tourism, Squires, and business partner Kevin Murphy, can be found at the brewing company they founded in 2012. Four short years later, PEI Brewing Company was the most awarded brewery at the 2016 Canadian Brewing awards and their products are available in six provinces.


Mike Timani
President & CEO, Fancy Pokket Corporation (Moncton, N.B.)

“To make us more self-sufficient, governments should supply appropriate incentives to attract manufacturers with export-ready products.”

The right ingredients Hard work, determination, good negotiation skills, a grasp of financials and a capacity for calculated risks: these Mike Timani says are critical business skills. He ought to know. In 1989, with just $22,000 in his “pokket,” he launched Fancy Pokket restaurant and bakery. After a relocation and several expansions, the bakery has grown from its 1,000 square-foot beginning to a 46,000 square-foot facility (he says it’s the largest producer of pita bread, bagels, flatbread and tortilla wraps in Atlantic Canada) worth $15 million. This year he will open Fancy Pokket USA, a $20-million gluten-free bakery in South Carolina.

Better support for R&D “It’s never been more important, in this ever-changing market, for companies to develop innovative products. Yet the increasingly stringent process to claim R&D tax credits is restricting growth,” he says.

Open to the world Timani’s an advocate for active immigration. Emigrating from Lebanon to Canada at 21 years of age, he trained and worked in the hospitality industry before launching his businesses. In Atlantic Canada with an aging population of 2.2 million, “It’s more important than ever for us to grow our population. We’re in desperate need of skilled and unskilled laborers,” he says. “The only way we can replace the retirees in the workplace is by bringing in new Canadians.” He sees streamlined immigration as part of the solution and pointed out that Fancy Pokket employs Canadians from 16 countries.


Patsy Tremblett-Di Nillo
President & CEO, Prima Information Solutions Inc.
(St. John’s, N.L.)

“It’s important to be part of the bigger picture and not be so insular that you’re not recognized in your community of practice.”

On customer service Since its start-up in 1995, providing IT support for SMEs, Prima has evolved into a leading national expert in the field of records and information management in Canada and boasts clients from St. John’s to Victoria.
While they have diversified their services and client base since their founding days, Patsy Tremblett-Di Nillo says Prima’s growth has been anchored by stellar customer service. “Prima’s client retention rate of 95 per cent-plus is indicative of this,” she says. Within the first decade of operation, Tremblett-Di Nillo bought out her two partners and expanded the company portfolio. “We look for the latest and greatest in software that can complement our offerings and provide value to our clients,” she says and cited their new partnership with IQ Integrity as an example of this expansion.

Cover story She’s received accolades and recognition from a variety of organizations for her business successes and philanthropic work. “Perhaps the most prized was being named to Chatelaine and Profit magazines’ 2014 list of Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs in Canada,” says Tremblett-Di Nillo.

On the moneyEven as she increased revenues, says Tremblett-Di Nillo, Prima has increased client satisfaction and engagement and gained contracts for software and services. “The user community for Hewlett Packard Enterprise Content Manager turns to Prima as the thought leader for software implementation,” she says. “U.S. partners, even Hewlett Packard itself, have turned to us for assistance and advice with projects.”


Andy A. Turnbull
CEO, Nunacor Development Corporation
(Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.)

“One of my personal mantras has always been, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough’.”

Resourceful An advocate for Indigenous participation in business in Labrador, Andy Turnbull is generating sustainable dividends for the NunatuKavut Community Council through business development. That includes a combination of for-profit and non-profit subsidiary companies in real estate, mining, fishing, safety training, and hospitality. “I negotiated joint venture arrangements with six industry-leading companies for work focused on servicing mining industry projects in Labrador,” he says.

Leap of confidence The organization took a calculated risk hiring him. “I’m young, with great work experience but not in leadership roles,” he admitted. “There were very experienced applicants, but I outlined to the Board my ideas and plans of how I would grow the organization, and create a thriving group of Indigenous companies,” says Turnbull. Their confidence motivated him to show progress and results. “As the CEO… I strive every day to be an example for our community, especially our youth.”

Certified winner Although total annual revenue is less than five million dollars, consolidated three-year revenue growth from all companies combined is 123 per cent over three years with 20 full-time employees and 72 seasonal positions. In March 2015, Nunacor and its subsidiaries received ISO 9001 quality-management certification. A year later they obtained OHSAS 18001 certification. “This set us apart from other local Indigenous groups,” Turnbull says. “And it reassured others that they could have confidence in our businesses.”


Sarah Young
Managing Partner, Atlantic Canada, NATIONAL Public Relations
(Halifax, N.S.)

“It’s not enough to be entrepreneurial, we must be innovative—and we must be driven to serve world markets…”

Row, row, row In the early 2000s, Sarah Young and two partners bought a boutique agency. “Hard work and bold thinking helped us rise to the challenge,” says Young, who’s been named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. She and her partners sold a minority stake to NATIONAL, which eventually acquired them. “We had to navigate a significant transition… into a national firm,” she says. “But a strong internal culture allowed us to define our own path.” Today NATIONAL’s international network recognizes the Halifax office for innovation and leadership. “The best part is we’re still growing and we’re helping clients grow the region.”

Pat a cake “Curiosity is baked into our DNA. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team that’s hungry to learn, and try new things,” says Young. “What’s next?” and “What if?” are their favorite questions. “It’s a very entrepreneurial spirit.”

When you wish upon a star Given the ability to change regional public policy, Young would engineer an attitudinal and cultural shift so people would enable change instead of saying “can’t.” She admits that’s not something that can be legislated, “but that switch in attitude would create an environment where positive legislation and policy could take place.” What if that ignited positive discussion? “What if we became Canada’s innovation leader? What if we made it easier for young entrepreneurs to build businesses here? What if we stopped reheating old… rivalries and started talking about common goals?” What if, indeed.

About the awards: Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO awards recognize corporate leadership excellence. Winners are bold, savvy and entrepreneurial in spirit. They are proud community supporters and active volunteers. They are dedicated to advancing their industry, increasing their organization’s financial well-being and improving the quality of life in Atlantic Canada. The first step in the Top 50 CEO selection process is a public call for nominations. Eligible nominees must lead a company or organization whose head office is in Atlantic Canada, or who is in charge of a provincial/regional head office that has significant decision-making and organizational autonomy. If an individual accepts their nomination, they complete a detailed Nominee Information Form and advance to the judging portion of the selection process. The judging panel is comprised of members of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame.

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