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19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

Peter Crooks
Executive Director, Canada’s Smartest Kitchen;
Founder & CEO, Idea2Market Inc.
(Charlottetown, P.E.I.)

“I don’t believe in problems. I believe in opportunities disguised as challenges.”

Business-class dining In 2012, Peter Crooks got the call to head up Canada’s Smartest Kitchen, a food product development centre headquartered at Holland College’s Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown.

Crooks had spent many years working in different sectors (including biotech, a dotcom startup and investment advising) and made it clear to Holland College’s president that he would only accept the offer if he had autonomy over the organization, and could run it like a business.
It worked out. Since then, he’s done wonders for the organization, which has seen a 182 per cent increase in revenue in the past three years, with the number of employees doubling from only six in 2013 to 13 in 2016.

On the cutting edge Crooks says the biggest problem in the country’s food processing sector is access to product development expertise.

That’s where CSK comes in, with the still-small team working hard to build the “food innovation ecosystem” in the region via strategic partnerships in the Atlantic provinces and other parts of the world. Crooks sees China as one of the top market opportunities, and has received recent inquiries to set up CSKs there, Mexico and elsewhere in Canada.

Outer space In fact, CSK has been so successful that it’s currently running out of physical space, preventing new growth. That’s hoped to be resolved via joint ventures or partnerships to use local facilities, as well as global expansion.


Lisa Drader-Murphy
President/Designer, Lisa Drader-Murphy
(Falmouth, N.S.)

“It is important to be present at all levels of my company to build a positive atmosphere conducive to bettering the company as a whole.”

Rapid expansion Started in 1997 by Lisa Drader-Murphy, her eponymously-named women’s fashion and accessories operation (formerly Turbine Clothing Company) is one of the few Canadian design houses that does everything: design, cutting, production and retail of its unique collections. The strategy, she says, allows her company to quickly react and adapt to market demand.

The wisdom of that fluidity was evidenced in 2013. Sales had plateaued; Drader-Murphy responded with a branding and training project for team members, opened two new stores (one in downtown Halifax, to appeal to international visitors, and another in Toronto) and refurbished a cube van as a mobile boutique. As a result, revenue has increased by 120 per cent and her employee ranks have swelled from eight in 2014 to 24 in 2016.

Keeping it fresh Drader-Murphy is constantly on the hunt for new innovative tools. In 2012, she scored a $4,500 Merrow sewing machine for only $150 at a bankruptcy sale, and has since produced over $250,000 in inventory with it. The company has also started virtual private shopping with a product specialist, and focused more on social media outreach.

Mentoring the next generation Since 2003, the company’s Turbine Fund has donated more than $200,000 to local charities. Drader-Murphy also personally mentors seven emerging designers. Chances are that she’ll be even more in demand as a mentor this year: Drader-Murphy will be hosting her own well-deserved show on The Shopping Channel.


Steven
Drummond

President, Source Atlantic Ltd./ Petro Service Ltd.
(Saint John, N.B.)

“While there may be those who achieve great results on their own, most success—including mine—is supported by a network of people.”

Righting the ship Things were a bit of a mess when Steven Drummond became general manager of Source Atlantic; there were eight individually-run operations with different corporate cultures and most not performing well financially.
Drummond’s first order of business was to overhaul the managerial roster. Within two years, they transformed Source Atlantic from a basic retail distribution company into a supply chain management solutions provider. That innovative mindset has led to a 51 per cent revenue increase and the acquisition of Moore Industrial in October 2016.

“This gives us a footprint outside Atlantic Canada and the ability to take our business model across the country,” he says.

Stay on course In the earliest years of his career, Drummond observed that people often fell into one of two categories: those who complained about why things were the way they were, and those who simply got on with finding ways to change what was.
Drummond made a point of working extra hours and being the first person in the office. He felt that by making a strong work ethic his priority, the money and career advancement would come. “Prove your worth and the rest will follow.”

Full steam ahead Drummond lists a very clear set of goals for the next five years, including growing revenue from $137 million to $220 million, ensuring an average of 50 hours in annual training for employees and reducing operation costs by two per cent on sales.


Sean FitzGerald
President & CEO, Vocational Rehabilitation Assessments, Inc. / Vocational Rehabilitation Assessments (U.K.) Division
(St. John’s, N.L.)
“A leader of a team is only one spoke on the wheel. They need to balance financial growth and stability while ensuring the company has a moral compass.”
Team effort When a lawyer from South Africa asked lawyers in Toronto who to hire for a medical vocational rehab team, he was advised to retain “the firm from Newfoundland.”

That firm was Vocational Rehabilitation Assessments, led by Sean FitzGerald. The company prepared a future loss of income and work expectancy report for a senior executive from Ontario who had sustained a brain injury in South Africa. To ensure the report was as effective as they wanted it to be, FitzGerald hired a South African consultant to ensure it reflected the nuances and norms of their system. The result? The second-highest settlement in the country’s history for a personal injury claim. FitzGerald credits the win to the exemplary efforts of his “dedicated, hard-working, loyal team.”

Establishing the college The profession of vocational rehab and assessors has existed since World War II. But it wasn’t until 2010 that Canada received its own professional college to ensure standards of practice, code of conduct and competency exams.
In 2016, FitzGerald volunteered over 480 hours—as well as covering his flights to attend meetings—in order to help with college-related activities, including spearheading the development of the Canadian certification for vocational evaluation.

Money matters Vocational Rehabilitation Assessments has run a surplus each year of operation since it started nine years ago. Over half the revenue comes from outside Atlantic Canada. That only looks to continue, with a goal of six per cent growth per year and expansion into the U.K.


Lilia Fraser
Owner/Treasurer, Pump House Brewery Ltd. /
Pioneer Mountain Estates / Stonefire Distillery
(Moncton, N.B.)

“People are more engaged when they know what they are working towards”

Secret cop to beer guru Going from Kazakhstan Secret Police captain to nationally-renowned brewpub owner might not exactly be the most common career path for CEOs on this list. But it’s worked out marvellously for Lilia Fraser. Pump House Brewery, founded with her husband in 1999 in downtown Moncton, has seen huge success in recent years, undergoing an expansion in 2002 and picking up Canada’s “Brewery of the Year” award in 2005.

“I attribute my success to my disciplined upbringing that focused on the importance of education and self-betterment,” she says.

Staying ahead of the six-pack Fraser says the brewery is constantly pushing to create new products, while also educating consumers about the deep and complex world of beer. As a result of such innovations, Pump House is the first microbrewery to expand into running both a winery and craft distillery, with the products from both endeavours being launched this year.

Building the dream team One potential challenge that Fraser identifies is that it’s difficult to find specialized professionals to employ in the region, something she hopes will change in the near future with population increases, educational opportunities and stronger government supports for small businesses.
However, she’s convinced the company’s five-year plan to have products available in five international markets—including from their full-time winery distillery—will be attained: “We are confident in our team to attack all challenges head on,” she says.

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