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19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

19th Annual Top 50 CEO Awards

Bert Hickman
President & CEO, Hickman Automotive Group
(St. John’s, N.L.)

““A good leader has the creativity and ability to create future leaders.”

Know your business The president and CEO of the Hickman Automotive Group, Bert Hickman is a fourth-generation car dealer with his hands firmly on the steering wheel of 10 new dealerships employing more than 450 people. “I can truly say that I know every job in the place, having worked my way up from cutting the grass and cleaning the washrooms. Every time I started a new position was a highlight—advancement!” Hickman’s grateful, now, that his father had the foresight to ensure that his son had the opportunity “to work side-by-side over the years with many of our current employees.”

A fine balance “Good leaders are passionate about the work they do, communicating a positive attitude and commitment to employees,” says Hickman. To be effective they must be willing to step in and perform the role themselves, yet have the confidence to inspire and empower their employees to get the task done. “That is a fine balance. But when it works the result is the creation of a cooperative atmosphere and a group approach to successful problem solving.

Make room to grow Good employees make mistakes and great leaders allow them to, says Hickman. “Mistakes are not failures. They are valuable lessons we learn from, that ultimately allow us to understand a better way of doing things.” He believes that people who avoid calculated risks in the work environment may also be avoiding career-defining accomplishments.


Roger Howard
Regional President, Atlantic Canada, RBC
(Halifax, N.S.)

““I like to win… that helps me prioritize, focus and stay on the top of my game.”

Model behaviour I learned more from watching and modelling one of my early mentors than from dozens of leadership courses,” says Roger Howard, Atlantic regional president for powerhouse banking institution RBC. “In fact, rarely does a week go by that I am not reminded of one lesson or another my mentors taught me.” But Howard admits mentors sometimes say things that are hard to swallow. One singled him out for an operations role he didn’t want. He declined. Three times. “My mentor played a role in me saying ‘Yes,’ the fourth time I was approached for that position.”

Business acumen Howard invested a significant part of his career in acquiring knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the banking industry. “A deep business acumen is necessary to boost the performance of your teams and to instill confidence in employees and clients.”

Hard work, customers first Those principles were the foundation of his immigrant father’s successful carpet business. “Appreciation for these principles rubbed off on me,” says Howard. He recalls how colleagues thought it odd that he used vacation weeks to study for his investment designation, and that he worked full-time while studying for his MBA from York. Through it all, his focus on customers earned him the bank’s highest sales awards. “It was exactly what my dad would have done if he’d been in my shoes—it’s a focus I carry with me today.”


Terry Hussey
CEO, Vigilant Management
(Paradise, N.L.)

“Strength comes from being honest and open with people, admitting your flaws, and working hard to improve yourself, every day.”

A focus on people Terry Hussey launched Vigilant Management, with two partners in 2012. Their aim? Become Canada’s preferred construction project management firm while always putting people first. “When we say putting people first we mean our clients and our employees,” says Hussey. “We don’t chase profits. We don’t squeeze every dollar out of our people. It’s possible to be aware of the bigger picture and focus on the benefits of treating people right because success flows from that.”

Rock the boat “The construction industry has been doing business the same way since its inception,” says Hussey. The additional, independent project control provided to project proponents by Vigilant is shaking up that model, according to Hussey. “Disrupting an industry model is challenging, but our results and the satisfaction of our clients speaks volumes.”

Risky business “People’s tolerance for failure is a product of their upbringing and their character. It has little to do with how smart you are, how hard you work, or how good your ideas. It is all about being able to risk it all, day in and day out, in pursuit of some purpose that is so important to you that you would rather have nothing than not try to make it a reality. Unless you accept risk and failure as a daily fact of life, you aren’t cut out to be an entrepreneur,” he says.


Blair Hyslop
President, Mrs. Dunster’s (1996) Inc.
(Sussex, N.B.)

“Honesty is the most important quality a leader can have. People can tell if you’re being honest and they value it.”

Brand leverage When Brian Hyslop and wife Roslyn bought Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery in 2014, it was a career pinnacle for him. He’d begun with Eastern Bakeries, managing familiar brands. Later, at Moosehead, he rose to marketing manager for the Maritimes until 1999 when he joined McCain International. As VP marketing, he built the McCain brand with award-winning exports to emerging markets. His next stop was at GE Barbour, where he led the team as VP marketing and sales, leveraging the iconic company brand to exploit opportunities.

Raising the dough In the first year, after the panic of losing 15 per cent of their bakery business within 24 hours of acquiring the company (a significant customer switched to another company), the Hyslops created 40 new jobs, increased sales 20 per cent, absorbed the cost of a new management team, and took operating profits to a five-year high. “Success gave us the confidence to make a second acquisition, Snair’s Bakery, the following year. It continues to fuel growth,” he says.

Anticipating challenges One-third of Mrs. Dunster’s business is in the U.S. so they are impacted by the value of the U.S. dollar and trade barriers. “We may look at U.S. acquisitions to guard against those risks,” says Hyslop. “The rate of growth is a risk as we manage customer expectations. We’ll continue mitigating this risk by investing in systems and processes that facilitate profitable growth and effective management,” he says.


Roger King
President, Supplement King Canada
(Dartmouth, N.S.)

“Knowing what to say and when to say it can empower and motivate the people around you to achieve beyond expectations.”

Muscling up As one of a handful of nationally franchised brands based in Atlantic Canada, Supplement King’s sport nutrition retail stores serve a specialty segment within the larger nutritional health supplement market. With 48 per cent growth over three years, and sales climbing rapidly towards $40 million, they are opening new franchises at a rate of 18 to 20 a year, says president Roger King. “Supplement King has the value proposition and retail profile to be the biggest in our industry, despite our competitors having a 15-to-20-year head start in the market.”

Positivity positively King says he’s been dealt a great hand. “I have my health, a loving family, and supportive colleagues who are all truly invested in our success. With this support, any obstacle can be overcome. If I’d accepted ‘No,’ as an answer, or allowed fear to cloud ambition, my business would never have grown from a tiny mall kiosk to where we are today.”

Letting go King’s most significant milestone of the past 14 months was selling his three original corporate-owned Supplement King retail stores in greater Halifax. “They were my ‘babies,’ physical evidence of what I’d built. They were profitable. But, after some soul searching, I admitted I couldn’t give them the attention they deserved,” says King. “My decision to sell was best for Halifax area customers and staff. I am focused on growing the national franchising business.”

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