To the rest of Canada, the East Coast may seem like a small pond. Maybe even one that’s drying up, arid of opportunity or prosperity. A pond that’s “have not.”
Here at Atlantic Business Magazine, we know better. Our award-winning CEOs are doing business on six continents. The companies and organizations they represent earn annual revenues upwards of $13 billion. They employ more than 30,000 people, their efforts are improving the quality of life throughout the region and they invest $40 million-plus each year to advance community and charitable causes. They are brewers, bakers and transport innovators; ambitious change makers and venerable legacy brands. And they are proof that corporate leadership excellence flows freely throughout Atlantic Canada.
Click the CEO’s name for a quick link to their profile
DR. ANDREW FUREY
DR. ERIK KLEIN
“At every level of the organization, we allow people to test new ideas free from any concern about failure.”
This is Dustin Angelo’s fourth consecutive year as a Top 50 CEO and comes on top of a record-breaking year for Anaconda Mining in both gold production and revenues (up 30.1 per cent over 2016). Since he took over in 2010, Anaconda has built a thriving gold mining operation (one of the longest continuously operating gold producers in the region) and expanded its footprint to three Atlantic provinces.
Angelo arrived in Baie Verte via the scenic route. He studied accounting and international business at Georgetown before completing an MBA at Columbia. A position with boutique investment bank (and M&A experts) Waller Capital Corporation extended his stay in the Big Apple for a further eight years to 2005. From there, he took a side trip to Wilton, Connecticut, headquarters of MHI Energy Partners. He served as VP of this energy-focused private equity fund for a year before finally packing for Canada. Last stop before Baie Verte was West Pender Street, Vancouver—home to Elgin Mining. As Elgin’s CFO from 2006-2010, Angelo helped take that company public. Along the way, he was also licensed as a certified public accountant in Kentucky, and co-founded and directed North American Limestone, a U.S. quarry developer.
What’s next? Dustin Angelo intends to consolidate Anaconda’s position as a global leader in environmentally-friendly and innovative mining. Among the company’s ongoing R&D collaborations with Memorial University is the development of a new technology called Sustainable Mining by Drilling, which will minimize an operation’s environmental footprint and improve safety while making unprofitable deposits more economic to mine.
When it comes to leadership, Angelo says he believes autonomy leads to ownership: “If high performing people feel like they are being challenged, have the ability to carve their own path and are being heard, they will stay motivated to excel and beat expectations.”
“My long-term vision for the company is to continue to stay ahead of ever-changing consumer trends.”
Under the stewardship of CEO Mark Beal, Maritime Pride Eggs Inc. (MPE) is doing so many things right, it is hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with buying local. MPE’s core activity consists of buying eggs from Atlantic Canadian farmers and marketing them in the Maritime provinces. Let’s add fair trade: MPE’s farmers own company shares so they too get a take of marketing profits. Let’s talk about environmental impact: MPE aims to reduce its carbon footprint to zero. Its Amherst plant boasts heat recovery technology for refrigeration units, solar panels and rain water recovery tanks. Some MPE farmers have fully converted to wind power while others employ eco-friendly measures such as drying and selling manure for fertilizer. What about innovation? MPE farms use smartphones to control temperature, feed, water and air quality, ensuring the continuous comfort of animals and warning of problems in real time.
It is, however, in its timely response to the demands of consumers spanning the generational divide from Baby Boomers, to Generation Xers, Millennials, and now Generation Z, that MPE, and Beal’s leadership, have really stood out. The company’s efforts to increase product transparency and humane farming techniques have made it the national leader in animal-friendly housing. MPE consumers can now select conventional housing, enriched housing or free range. They can also choose eggs from MPE farms using non-GMO, locally-sourced feed.
Mark Beal believes transparency in food origin and handling will be vital in maintaining consumer confidence. MPE’s focus on farm-to-plate means customers can trace a product back to the farm of origin, and find further information online regarding housing, feed, animal handling and welfare, and nutritional facts. And guess what? Despite the significant cost of implementing these social and environmental improvements, Beal has increased MPE’s revenues by 51 per cent over the last five years. A top grade CEO indeed.
“I would like to see the Discovery Centre become for science centres what the Smithsonian is for museums.”
Dov Bercovici puts a lot of emphasis on executive presence. The president and CEO of Halifax’s Discovery Centre defines this as a certain je ne sais quoi of demeanor—self-assuredness, a tangible confidence, strength of communication, an air of competence. It is also, he says, apparent in the quality of a person’s network and in their understanding of community. “By hiring people with executive presence, you immediately resolve most customer development and leadership issues by not having these issues at all,” he says.
The CEO credits the Discovery Centre’s success (and make no mistake—it is now one of the most sought-after science centre models in the world) to the leadership team he chose based on this criteria. They include a Portuguese doctor of marine biology, an innovation leader and expert in project-based learning, a marketing guru who “sleeps with a Gantt Chart under her pillow,” a fundraising mastermind, an inclusive educator who delivers programs to remote villages, a financial whiz, an industrial designer who creates world-class experiences and an engineer who builds the physical structures to house the team’s dreams. “This team has transformed the Discovery Centre into a global player in the science centre field and an essential part of the innovation ecosystem in Atlantic Canada,” he says.
In addition to being an internationally acclaimed destination for innovation in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), the Discovery Centre is today the largest privately funded facility of its kind in Canada, Its creative funding model has attracted interest from around the globe, which Bercovici leveraged with the 2017 launch of Discovery Centre International (DCI) to execute projects internationally. “It is our longer term intent to be the leader in design-build-operate services for science centres and museums,” he says. Letters of intent have already been signed for four new science centre projects abroad.
“We built a dream team by simply encouraging our team to dream.”
The president and CEO of St. John’s Fonemed is tackling one of the most pressing challenges of our times—an aging population—by providing the care models that will allow many to spend their golden years at home.
“Population aging is a powerful demographic force. We are only just beginning to comprehend its impacts at the national and global levels. As we prepare for a new demographic, I look for ways to close the gaps,” she says.
Today, there are 2,300 client groups throughout North America, the Caribbean and Latin America using Fonemed’s remote telehealth and biometric monitoring services. This means no less than 12 million patients are already enjoying the direct benefits of Ms. Brophy’s decision to take action.
This CEO has found success through compassion. She used it to seek solutions for a global issue and she uses it to lead her company. As an untrained 17-year-old who dreamed of becoming a nurse, she once held a lowly position washing bedpans in a nursing home when a woman entered her life and changed it forever. That change would later enable Ms. Brophy to build an award-winning company. “Every morning without fail the manager made a point of talking to me as though I were one of the most important members of her team. I felt valued. I was a somebody, who played a role vital to the organization. It is a lesson I have carried with me forever.”
At Fonemed, employees are asked to envision a better tomorrow where their loved ones are cared for, where they receive the personal care they deserve in their own home versus institutions. Brophy listens to their ideas. “Under my leadership everyone has a voice and they are applauded when they use it. The result is an engaged employee who is not afraid to unpeel the layers for fear of reprisal.”
“Leadership is following your intuition and inspiring others to follow you.”
Lydia Bugden has never been able to talk about the most challenging moment of her career. It was a crisis that posed significant institutional risk, but was of such a confidential nature the number of people she could turn to was literally whittled down to one—herself. So she sat down and devised a systematic process to track and eliminate possible scenarios, and gradually arrived at the best possible solution. Apart from realizing that some of her best work would never be known, this experience taught her one of the most important tenets of her leadership philosophy today—trust yourself: “I value my intuition, communication skills and ability to make decisions,” she says.
In August of 2015, Bugden made history by becoming the first woman to take the helm of a major law firm in Atlantic Canada. Stewart McKelvey has existed, in one iteration or another, since the time of Confederation. Climbing up and over those venerable walls, in such a traditional profession, required a strong belief in one’s self. Female role models were few and far between. In many ways, Bugden found herself alone again.
Today, the Halifax law firm’s CEO oversees more than 500 people in six offices across Atlantic Canada, and she uses her voice to share her experience for the benefit of those following in her footsteps. “I speak to the issues of women in the profession (the stats are still woeful as to how many make partner), the challenges for young female lawyers in a male-dominated profession and also the benefits from the perspective of a mother of two active, high performance athletes. I dispel myths and highlight some of the more unknown rewards, such as the personal and professional flexibility that can come with the private practice of law.”
The result is a venerable yet innovative firm that is both a sought-after employer as well as a trusted advisor.
“My vision for NSCC is to offer and provide the necessary leadership, programming and education pathways to prepare our citizens for the economy of tomorrow, while continuing to be accessible for all.”
Don Bureaux is quick and unequivocal when it comes to identifying the highlight of his professional career: since 2011 it has been, and continues to be, his role as president of NSCC.
That self-satisfaction has nothing to do with the thrill of being the ‘boss’ of 13 campuses, 130 programs, 24,000 students and 2,180 employees. It stems, rather, from his passion about education and place—and the perpetual wonder that comes from witnessing, first-hand, the transformative power of education.
He arrives at work each morning freshly committed to what he hopes will be his legacy: strengthening the economic and social prosperity of Nova Scotia, one individual at a time. “From single parents, to new Canadians and mature learners, we help people overcome challenges so they can pursue their dreams—and succeed. That impact has a ripple effect throughout their families, communities and region,” affirms Bureaux.
Enacting that legacy is not without its issues, particularly in this era of warp-speed technological change. Bureaux’s job is to ponder—and respond to—the quantum questions of our time. What will the economy of tomorrow look like? How will the fourth industrial revolution (driven by big data, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence) drive workforce requirements? How can an educational institution train students for yet-to-be-determined job skills? And Bureaux’s biggest big picture problem-to-solve: how can NSCC prepare Atlantic Canadians to seize the potential inherent in this inevitable disruption and use it to economic and social advantage?
Just as the questions are related to the “real world,” so too are Bureaux’s solutions.
He forges deep connections with industry and government as well as respected consortiums and other institutions of higher learning to ensure that NSCC graduates are prepared to be the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.
And he empowers colleagues to fearlessly challenge the status quo while simultaneously fostering a truly collegial atmosphere that values diverse perspectives, experiences and skillsets. Building an environment where people feel encouraged to pursue their passions and play to their strengths “is how you create the conditions for individual and collective successes,” he says.
NSCC’s collective successes are impressive. From international awards of excellence to industry-leading sustainability performance, to leadership on ocean-related research, to graduating generations of community and industry leaders, each day is a testament to the transformative power of education.
Don Bureaux couldn’t be happier.
“Atlantic Canada’s future is premised on the need for powerful leaders who have the courage to step up and enunciate a compelling vision of success and prosperity. I work hard every day to try to be one of those leaders.”
If you’re a leader working to put together a team, Joyce Carter believes the primary question you must ask yourself is, ‘Why should these people follow me?’ “The answer is much deeper than the superficial aspects of having a job. It must reach into the team’s desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, something that provides them with professional and personal fulfillment, and that provides a valuable product or service that matches their values in improving the lives of the people it serves.”
This belief was put to the test in 2014 when Carter took over as president and CEO of Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA). She believed that HIAA should be reorganized to meet the industry challenges she saw headed its way. Change, however, is always uncomfortable—and in this case compounded by the fact that she was making decisions about people who had recently been her peers. Though some of them weren’t initially enthusiastic about the change, Carter chose to stand firm in her convictions.
It was a fortunate choice for Halifax Stanfield. Under her leadership, the airport has achieved passenger growth of 20.4 per cent and cargo growth of 25.2 per cent, serving 4.3 million passengers and processing nearly 40,000 tonnes of cargo annually. It has become one of Atlantic Canada’s most critical pieces of transportation infrastructure, an emerging international gateway complementing hubs in Toronto and Montreal, with a $3 billion annual impact on the provincial economy.
“My leadership philosophy is grounded in visionary leadership. I do so by creating a compelling future to which others are drawn, and in which they envision themselves making a useful and fulfilling contribution, and are able to realize such contributions.”
“I strongly believe that entrepreneurs are going to solve many of the problems
facing Atlantic Canada today.”
When one thinks about Upstreet, the craft brewery co-founded in 2015 by CEO Mitch Cobb, the word ‘purpose’ comes to mind. The company is P.E.I.’s first certified B Corp, and the only certified B Corp manufacturing company in Atlantic Canada. That’s a pretty big deal.
“I started Upstreet with a personal mission to demonstrate to other companies that businesses can be used as a force for good, that we can operate with a higher purpose than profit. We can treat our employees well, create incredible workplaces, and give back to the communities that support us and still be profitable. In fact, we can be more profitable,” says Cobb.
The bottom line is quite convincing: 155 per cent revenue growth over the last three years, plus rapid expansion that included a second brewery in Dartmouth, three restaurants, a line of craft sodas, and product sales in all four Atlantic provinces.
There is also the fact that Upstreet uses 100 per cent green energy, sources close to 50 per cent of its materials locally, creates career opportunities for local underemployed youth, and is a major supporter of the arts through its Do Good fund. Upstreet donates 10 per cent of its Do Gooder beer sales to arts-based initiatives on P.E.I. and sponsors the Do Good Artist residency.
A lesser known fact about Upstreet, however, is just how much fun they are all having. It’s a lot.
An early mentor taught Cobb to be playful with business, to not take it too seriously, to approach it with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and with a mission to do good. The lesson stuck. Every year, the company celebrates its anniversary by taking the day off, and a gathering is held for all former (Upstreet alumni) and current employees. “While everyone works hard, we always find ways to laugh and celebrate together.”
“I have worked for almost my entire life, including jobs when I was as young as 11. When I graduated university, I went to work with the family helicopter company, initially in sales and then operational management roles.”
Mark Dobbin co-founded St. John’s-based Killick Capital in 2004. He’d had a lifetime of business experience by then and had just left his position as CEO of Vector Aerospace. He wanted to be in Newfoundland, and as there weren’t any suitable executive positions available, he had to make one. Killick Capital was born.
A killick is a beautiful thing. It consists of a wooden base upon which sits an elongated stone, held in place by sticks bound together with rough twine. For centuries, this simple construction has been used to anchor boats and secure nets. Killick Capital not only brought stability to Mark Dobbin during a turbulent time, but it has gone on to serve as ballast for an ever-growing number of companies until they too were ready to set sail.
Operating as both a venture capital fund for technology companies in Atlantic Canada and a private equity fund for aerospace companies internationally, Killick Capital has, since 2004, created millions of dollars in value for the companies it has invested in. To date, this includes seven aerospace companies in the United States with revenues in excess of $300 million, and 17 tech firms in Atlantic Canada. As president, Dobbin has been able to lend his considerable business acumen to help these companies reach their full potential.
“At Killick, we believe in developing the ecosystem for the benefit of all ventures. We work with Genesis Centre, the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship and Propel to identify gaps in assistance to entrepreneurs,” says Dobbin.
Last year, Mark Dobbin was inducted into the N.L. Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. Moving forward, he intends to invest more at home. Killick’s Newfoundland and Labrador Fund has already backed Max, a company offering arts, athletics and wellness programs to kids and families in Newfoundland’s Northeast Avalon region.
“It’s important to assemble a team that can share your vision and enthusiasm for any given project, then get out of their way.”
Lilia Fraser’s life reads like a Russian novel—former secret police captain, degrees in economics and engineering, years of relentless hard work in Kazakhstan while raising a baby girl, a move to distant Canada in 1995, becoming an entrepreneur while still mastering the English language, running a business for the first time in a foreign land while still learning how to bank there.
It also reads like a story of determination, incredible smarts and a strong drive to succeed. Fraser says it is a tale of passion—for Shaun, her Canadian partner in love and business, for challenge, for business, for proving herself, for motherhood. She also says a central theme is luck—she has always been able to surround herself with strong people and has been fortunate enough to be able to recognize talent.
Whatever else it may be, it is certainly a success story. The Frasers opened Moncton’s Pump House Brewery in 1999 to astounding success. Strong growth soon led to the addition of a production and packaging plant, national distribution, and a diverse selection of products that pulled in rave reviews from experts and enthusiasts alike.
In the years that followed, both the business and the lady at the helm garnered numerous awards. The Pump House was chosen as Canada’s “Brewery of the Year” in 2005. That same year, Lilia Fraser was the winner of Prix Muriel Fergusson Award. She also made the PROFIT W100 list of Canada’s top female entrepreneurs eight consecutive years. And Pump House Brewery just keeps growing—revenues have increased a further 41 per cent since 2016.
Finally, this is a story that Fraser wants to share. “I want to inspire anyone to passionately pursue their dreams no matter what their background is and what challenges they may face,” she says.
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
DR. ANDREW FUREY (43)
PRESIDENT & CEO, TEAM BROKEN EARTH; CO-FOUNDER, DOLLAR A DAY FOUNDATION; CHIEF OF ORTHOPEDIC SURGERY, EASTERN HEALTH; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR SURGERY, MEMORIAL UNIVERSITY | ST. JOHN’S, N.L.
“If you are able to help one patient, one family, then you have left the place a little better than you found it. And that is a legacy that will live on forever in the smiles of the
patients and their families.”
Have you ever watched a documentary about poverty or mental illness? Heard news reports about people struggling after a natural disaster? Perhaps you’ve shaken your head at the injustice. Why, you wonder, why doesn’t someone do something?
Ask that question of Dr. Andrew Furey and his response will likely be a gentle reminder that you are somebody—and if not you, then who? And as your conversation continues, you’ll be inspired by the idea of working for the greater good… and that idea becomes a desire to reach outside your comfort zone… and before you know it, you are doing something you had never dreamed possible.
That is the humanitarian gift and managerial genius of Andrew Furey. Combining emotional intelligence with the ability to execute, he sees a situation where help is needed, makes a decision to act and invites others to join him on the journey.
His most inspiring journey (to date) was launched in 2010 when a catastrophic earthquake leveled much of Haiti’s capital. Many were horrified by the televised images of leveled buildings, crushed humanity and orphaned children. Despite being busy with his teaching, surgical practice and growing family, Andrew Furey volunteered to provide medical assistance. But even then he knew it wasn’t enough. His vision was to create a multidisciplinary team—doctors and nurses with experience working together who could hit the ground running when they arrived in Haiti. From that idea, Team Broken Earth (TBE) was born.
In nine short years, TBE has grown to more than 1,200 volunteers across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.—each of whom donates their time to the mission and pays their own way to get there. TBE has also expanded beyond emergency care to educating local health professionals. They’ve developed a women’s health course in high risk labour delivery, distributed 5,000 pairs of eye glasses, sent teams to Guatemala, Nicaragua and Bangladesh, and assisted with the refugee crisis on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. And they continue to return to Haiti, even to the extent of raising the money for a new medical building in Port au Prince. They’ve been so successful that other institutions want to replicate their model; Harvard wants to partner with them on an education course.
And they’re not done yet. Dr. Furey’s long-term vision includes expanded TBE operations, increased governance, new funding strategies, long-term patient care and even a reciprocal education fellowship. One thing’s for certain: where Dr. Andrew Furey leads, others are sure to follow.
“One thing I know for sure: whatever I continue to do and start in this world will always center on my values of making a difference, especially for women and children. It is who I am and what I stand for.”
The IWK Foundation may well be the most professionally organized non-profit fundraiser in the country. At the very least, under Jennifer Gillivan’s passionate direction, it’s surely the most entrepreneurial.
By mandate, monies raised through the Foundation’s efforts are used to advance women and children’s health through the IWK Health Centre. Every April, the Foundation starts with zero. They can’t carry over bad debt. They can’t borrow from a bank and they don’t receive government funding. Instead, each fiscal new year presents Jennifer Gillivan and her 31-person team with the same challenge: find ways to generate $14–$20 million.
Miraculously, they do it. All told, in the last six years, they have raised over $100 million and completed the largest private health care campaign in Atlantic Canada. Each year for the past three years, they have raised more than forecasted and kept expenses below what was budgeted. “We are on a mission to provide the best and nothing less because our women and children deserve it,” says Gillivan.
It takes high level strategy to pull off such a bold mission.Gillivan—an Honourary Lieutenant Colonel, 3 Intelligence Company, Canadian Armed Forces—is a commander par excellence. Her master plan? To transform the Foundation from a traditional non-profit to a social entrepreneurial organization. Her secret weapon? An alliance with organizational change agent Symplicity Designs.
The mobilization is already underway: daily huddles in key business areas; Balanced Scorecard management; 30-60-90 day personal personnel plans; rapid deployment improvement projects; one-year and five-year vision statements; a partnership with a national organization to create more innovation that will effect new methods of care and treatment; playing a lead role with Canada’s Children’s Hospital Foundation (which Gillivan was instrumental in founding); and putting a bigger focus on business intelligence and data capability.
And that’s just the first stage of their larger campaign. Their next manoeuvre, if they can pull it off, is to develop a sustainable, reliable revenue stream that doesn’t come from donations. It’s a model that Gillivan notes will be a North American first.
“The work we do to provide world class equipment and fund world class research at the IWK Health Centre relies on the IWK Foundation understanding, more than ever, how to connect with, communicate to, and serve the donor base of Atlantic Canada and Atlantic Canadians around the world,” explains Gillivan. “With our new approach to organizational design, we are disrupting the status quo and it is working!”
“GIT is known globally as the knowledge leaders for reservoir rocks and fluids using magnetic resonance imaging, and much of that success is based on research done in concert with UNB.”
Like many of the CEOs featured on these pages, Jill Green faced an early fork in the business road that defined her. When GIT was still a startup, she was forced to seek additional financing to support the company until it was cash positive. After exploring options, she put a very good deal together with two venture funds. GIT would have the money it needed to ensure its success.
However, the chairman of her board was vehemently opposed to the deal. “He immediately told me he thought I would be making a very big mistake. He felt so strongly about it he said he would resign if I went ahead,” she says.
The dilemma was clear—take the money to ensure the company’s survival or keep her chairman. Green struggled with the decision before choosing her chairman and an uncertain future. “I knew he had forgotten more about business during his career than I would ever know, and I had to trust his counsel,” she says. “I will never forget his advice throughout that process: build a company that is fun to work in because you are going to be doing it for a long time. He was right, and I have. I love going to work every day.”
Fast forward a decade, and GIT is a world leader in magnetic resonance imaging for the global oil and gas sector. The company’s success was built upon Jill Green’s early lesson in the value of strategic partners; innovative partnership frameworks for intellectual property ownership have become a trademark of the Fredericton company. “One of the ways we provide the best of the best technologies is to partner with other companies, innovators and researchers. The more people involved in advancing technology and business, the more opportunities there are for innovation to occur,” she says.
“I often joke the two Ds of leadership are delegate and disappear. The more truthful answer is clarify, inspire, empower and reward.”
Pot is legal. Whether you were a consumer or bystander, 2018 was a year for the history books. Imagine for a moment what it was like to be a leader on the front lines of this development. Brian Harriman knows. He led N.B.’s cannabis legalization team.
“At the outset the team had little knowledge, held mixed opinions on legalization and were struggling to see the opportunity,” says the now former CEO* of Alcool NB Liquor and CannabisNB. So how to get them on board to produce quality work on an extreme timeline?
Harriman employed three tactics: facts, painting a picture, and N.B. pride. He collected data from the U.S. to help his team visualize opportunities and challenges. The more data they were exposed to, the greater their interest in what legalization could mean. Secondly, he emphasized the unique opportunity they had to become part of history, and to have an impact on how legalization played out in the province. This opportunity to influence developments was strongly motivating. Finally, he appealed to their sense of provincial pride: “As we consulted other provinces, it became apparent we were leading Canada. We were doing it faster and better, and we were also the only province aggressively trying to build an eco-system.”
Brian Harriman’s team overcame countless obstacles and an endless sea of bureaucracy to build an award-winning industry with 1,500 employees, licensed producers, testing facilities, chairs in research, cultivation courses and the largest network of retail stores in Canada. It was recognized by the Canadian Cannabis Awards as Most Progressive Jurisdiction 2017 and 2018, and ANBL has been recognized as having the best retail cannabis stores in North America. “The result generated by this group is a testament to what can happen when organizations align around common goals and are empowered to be great,” he says.
*Mr. Harriman left ANBL/CannabisNB on April 5 to join the management team of Alberta-based cannabis producer, Sundial Growers Inc. His Top 50 CEO award recognizes his achievements with ANBL/CannabisNB.
“I have always had better results when being clear with the direction I want the company to go in, but staying out of the way when the time comes to execute.”
Greg Hemmings spends a lot of his time speaking at conferences around North America. He’s not hawking his company—an award-winning, B Corp film production firm focused on positive impact storytelling. No, Greg Hemmings is talking about love in the boardroom.
“If I can be remembered as the CEO that brought the outward expressions of love into the boardrooms of North America, I would feel very proud of that,” he says. Hemmings’ TEDx talk, The Love Economy, has become a movement of its own, inspiring impact-driven CEOs in both the USA and Canada to make caring decisions as they grow their businesses, decisions that will create a shared and sustainable prosperity, and which benefit all stakeholders.
Up there on stage, Hemmings is also talking about authenticity and connection. More precisely, he is explaining how positive impact and sustainable brand companies can connect to customers with aligned values by telling their stories. His audience is growing.
Today, Hemmings is a global thought leader in the area of positive social impact filmmaking. He has won multiple awards internationally including the prestigious Royal Commonwealth Society’s Vision Film Award in the U.K. for Papikatuk, a film about the effects of climate change and cultural transformation in a small community in Nunavik.
Each story it tells helps Hemmings House shift this movement closer to mainstream. Over the past decade, the company has established itself as a premium provider of brand and corporate film storytelling for impact-driven companies. Revenues have risen 38.5 per cent over the last three years alone, and this year, backed by a solid reputation in New York and San Francisco, the film production company will expand its U.S. presence, where the density of these types of companies is greater. Plans include opening a branch in Manhattan.
“Employees both past and present never say they worked for me, they say they worked with me.”
Yes, Bill Hennessey wears a lot of hats these days, but that’s really been a lifelong trend for him. Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, he was involved in the tech startup business, helping several gaming companies grow exponentially (in the case of Spielo Gaming, its value increased from a cool $1 million to an eventual sale price of $150 million USD). As GTech G2’s senior director for North America, Hennessey helped launch the first government-licensed online poker and casino site on the continent. Way back in the ‘80s, he was an auditor, information technology manager and sales manager with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation.
When the demands of a young family put the kibosh on his travelling days, they also became the catalyst for his most recent incarnation as real estate magnate. In 2013, Hennessey launched boutique brokerage Platinum Atlantic, and a few years later was asked to represent Colliers International in N.B. Colliers is now the province’s largest commercial real estate brokerage, and the two companies showed combined revenue growth of 257 per cent last year, on top of 105 per cent in 2016–17. One of the most exciting projects of Bill Hennessey’s career, however, is FiveFive, set to open this spring in Moncton’s downtown core. He is owner and developer of the new, eight-storey multi-use complex, which features 55 condominiums, a 97-room high end hotel, Gahan House Hub City and the first ever Expérience, Alcool NB Liquor’s boutique wine store.
So while it’s true Hennessey has worn many hats in his life and continues to do so, they have all been under one umbrella—entrepreneurship. He agrees he is an entrepreneur at heart: “I never accepted the status quo. What I would like to be known for is that I take great pleasure in blowing shit up. Exponential growth needs to be the norm.”
“My leadership legacy? I’d like to be known as someone who listened, who led with integrity and who supported good decisions and also supported people making mistakes.”
An engineer by training, Tom Hickey has launched not one, not two, but 16 businesses in the last 24 years. Think we’re exaggerating? Here’s the proof…
He founded Frontline Safety in 1995, built it into an international player doing business in the Middle East, Brazil, Mexico and Europe, then sold it to HSE Integrated Ltd. in 2006.
Did he take time off to enjoy the proceeds of the sale? Not likely. In 2007 he accepted a short-term contract with Keltic Petrochemicals Inc.’s LNG Project at Goldboro. His task? To negotiate a $25-million private equity financing and execute all provincial and federal permits (he delivered both—on budget and ahead of schedule, of course).
A quick blink later, and he’s launching five new ventures: Frontline Asphalt (an asphalt manufacturing company); Atlantic Road Construction & Paving Ltd. (he’s now the CEO and chair of the Board); Taylored Safety Services (he sold it to HSE Integrated in 2011), Frontline Gold Ltd. and Nova Paving Ltd.
Just when it seemed like launch-grow-sell would be the recurring theme of Hickey’s corporate story, there was a surprise twist. In 2010, HSE Integrated—the company that had bought Frontline Safety and Taylored Safety—had stalled. Could Hickey restart their engines? Yes he could and did he ever. HSE had a market cap of $14 million when he arrived; 18 months later, it sold for $84 million.
With that, he returned to his serial track. As president and CEO of T. Hickey Enterprises (the umbrella for his many, varied corporate investments), he manages nine operating companies in the construction, finance and investment fields, including Frontline Traffic Ltd., Birrette’s Quarry and a $25 million development in Bridgewater.
Asked to explain his modus operandi (specifically, how he’s able to manage so many enterprises), he told Atlantic Business Magazine in 2017 that he typically joins forces with an operating partner. He invests cash and provides strategic guidance that helps them grow. That, and he depends on strong managers—his preference is operating managers with shared interest in the company. “When they need support, they will contact me and together we come up with solutions.”
What’s next for this Midas-like mogul? When he isn’t fly fishing (his second-favorite hobby, after empire building) or coaching one of his two daughters (both are competitive hockey players), he’ll continue to search for innovative entrepreneurs and partner with them for mutual growth. Perhaps he’ll find a way to combine all three. If anyone can do it, it’s Tom Hickey.
“As an owner, it is important to learn every role and responsibility in the company in order to gain a thorough and keen understanding of what each and every employee must deal with on a day-to-day basis.”
In 2015, Bert Hickman was acknowledged as one of the top performers in the country when he was awarded the Canadian Automotive Dealer Association (CADA) Laureate for Retail Operations in recognition of his contribution to the industry and his community. What does that mean? Let’s check under the hood.
His industry leadership is evidenced by his active membership in both dealer-specific and other industry associations. But also, and perhaps more impressively, through innovative investments that are effectively bringing their showrooms to buyers’ living rooms. Think interactive, consumer-driven websites and laser-focused digital strategies that understand when, how and why to use brand versus retail advertising as well as videos, customer testimonials and social influencers. They are optimizing online search engines, creating new sales programs and updating their marketing approach to focus on consumer priorities such as price and vehicle certification.
As a result, Bert Hickman—who gives full credit to his brother and business partner, Jonathan, as well as the larger Hickman Automotive family—has grown the organization from a collection of five GM dealerships in 2008 to a diverse retail automotive organization representing a dozen domestic and import nameplates operating out of 14 locations across Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
That competitive quest for market share is likely a product of how this fourth-generation dealer became president and CEO of his family’s 100-plus year business. Bert Hickman’s father, Albert Hickman, didn’t just hand him the keys; Bert had to prove he was worthy to get behind the wheel. His first job—his test drive, as it were—was cutting the grass (he was 13). From there he graduated to cleaning the washrooms, steadfastly working his way through the operation, doing the same tasks under the same conditions as other employees. “The highlights of my career are many, but my success can ultimately be attributed to my father who believed in me and gave me the opportunity to learn the business, to earn the business,” he says today.
Other things he learned from his father? That effective leadership supports and inspires. It mentors and nurtures talent, provides tools and training, articulates clear direction and ultimately, it creates the next generation of leaders. It also—circling back to the community portion of the CADA award—never forgets its civic responsibility. Hickman Automotive Group donates more than $150,000 a year to various charities, teams and events (focusing on those that promote the education, safety and health of children).
What does it all mean? Bert Hickman is driving one heck of a high performance machine.
“The best leader I have ever worked with is my wife and business partner, Rosalyn Hyslop. Where I tend to see opportunity in every situation, Rosalyn sees opportunity in every person.”
Never be out of stock, never bring anything back. Deliver 40 different freshly baked products to 800 customers at least twice a week across the three Maritime provinces and the state of Maine. Offer to take back any product that doesn’t sell. Aim to not have to bring anything back. Triple your business in four years. Double it again in 2018 alone. Plan to double that again over the next five years. Find a way to feed 1,000 school kids in impoverished neighbourhoods. Fight generational poverty in southern N.B. Don superhero cape.
This is Blair Hyslop’s to-do list every morning. Fortunately, the CEO of Sussex’s Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery has superpowers: “One of the things I learned from my wife is that we all have superpowers and we have a responsibility to use those superpowers for good.”
At Mrs. Dunster’s, Hyslop has a whole company of superheroes at his disposal. “In this environment, everyone from the plant floor to the sales representative needs to be innovative. We depend on our employees to solve equipment, transportation or people problems to ensure our products get to market on time,” he says.
Blair Hyslop has spent the last 25 years working to build great Atlantic Canadian food brands. From an early job with Saint John’s Eastern Bakeries, he moved on to brand manager for Moosehead, then marketing manager for McCain International. A promotion to marketing VP at age 36 saw him building the McCain brand in more than 100 emerging markets around the globe. Before purchasing Mrs. Dunster’s in 2014, Hyslop served as VP marketing and sales for GE Barbour.
If you’re an aspiring leader, this CEO has some invaluable advice for you: “The legacy of a leader ought to be to develop other leaders. If leadership is one of your superpowers, then you have a responsibility to give back.”
“Work hard and you will achieve great things.”
Lori Kennedy believes in oceans of opportunity. The co-founder and owner of Louisbourg Seafoods in Cape Breton was a single mother with a grade eight education, working in a fish plant to raise her two babies, when the National Sea Products plant she worked in shut down and she lost her job.
She moved back home to live with her parents, and started over.
In 1984, along with her husband Jim, she began a small stevedoring business with seven employees on the wharf in Louisbourg. “It was just a shot in the dark. The first 15 years were the hardest. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that I was not adequately prepared for taking on tasks such as payroll, payables and receivables,” says Kennedy, who says she met her fair share of land sharks (aka dishonest individuals and companies) during those years.
She decided to upgrade her skills, enrolling in an adult education class to obtain her high school diploma. From there, she went to Cape Breton University, graduating with a business degree in 1996. All the while, her stevedoring business grew into Louisbourg Seafoods—and continues to grow.
Today, it is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest privately-held seafood businesses, a multi-million-dollar operation that harvests and processes sustainable seafood and employs more than 600 people. It has four seafood processing plants as well as its own fleet of vessels, and its award-winning products are sold all over the globe.
Kennedy, who has since added an executive program at Harvard Business School to her academic accomplishments, is rightly proud of these achievements, but the one she places at the top of her list is something else: her contribution to the rejuvenation of a rural Cape Breton community that had been forgotten and written off by others. Lori Kennedy’s top priority moving forward? “Working with community, industry, academia and government to create a sustainable ocean.”
“We hired a marketing firm to assist in creating company and department purpose statements. This gave our team a sense of why, purpose, and fit within the organization.”
Rod Kerr describes his father as the best leader he’s ever worked with. “He taught me to lead by example, take risks, seek opportunity where others do not, and quickly shift from problem to solution.” All of those lessons were called into play, at the same time, when the president of Kerr’s operating companies exited the business several years ago. “We had to reorganize quickly and I stepped into the role of president from CEO, assuming both positions,” says Kerr.
It was a stressful time, exacerbated by the fact that he was recovering from the effects of a serious head concussion. Simultaneously, one of the group’s companies experienced a decline in revenue.
“I was required to quickly immerse myself operationally to assess what was required and come up with a strategy to get us back on track. For many months, this meant 14-16 hour days, six days a week, along with significant business travel across the country. I also had to rebuild trust and rapport with a team that I previously did not directly manage.”
He restructured, removed, streamlined, invested and simplified; focused on open and transparent communication, team building and staff development. “All efforts were worth it, as we turned a department with year-over-year losses to a profit. We added new major customers, geographic regions, and established new partnerships with serious industry players. These changes resulted in ending 2017 with the best financial performance in our company’s history,” says Kerr.
His long-term goal? To reach $50 million in annual revenue and expand internationally. He’s already well on his way—since 1997, Rod Kerr has grown his group of companies, comprised of Frontier Technologies and Northern Business Intelligence, which provide fleet telematics, system integration and structured communications, into a North American tour de force, with 10 offices across the country and nearly 150 employees. Thanks, dad.
“I like leaders who value all people involved in transactions and ones who seek to make deals a win for all sides.”
Thirty companies and counting: that’s Kevin King’s legacy, and not only in N.L., but in the property development industry across North America. Since starting Perennial Management in 1992, the executive chairman of St. John’s KMK Capital Group has built a real estate empire that shows no signs of slowing down. Today, KMK is N.L.’s largest vertically integrated real estate consortium, with additional holdings in the U.S., Alberta and Nova Scotia.
But wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
It’s 1997 and a younger Kevin King is not overseeing a massive conglomerate. He is just starting to build it, and is personally involved in designing developments. In particular, he leads something called the seniors care division. KMK has just bought Elizabeth Towers, an eight-storey, 104 unit apartment building. They decide to turn it into a retirement residence, equipping it with a broad range of healthcare, recreation and hotel type services for seniors.
Elizabeth Towers was followed by Tiffany Village, one of the largest retirement residences in Canada, and Kenny’s Pond, a 113-unit senior’s living community, both of which benefited from KMK’s innovative seniors’ services. When it was all said and done, KMK had pioneered a new industry model.
“One of the most important factors for a real estate company is demographic trends. As the population ages across North America, we are seeing an exponential demand increase for retirement residences, ranging from senior care residences to a small apartment combined with a new home in a southern climate. In addition, there is increasing demand for smaller, more efficiently designed accommodations for primary residences and vacation lodgings. KMK is an innovative leader in all three growth areas,” says King.
It’s 2019 and King’s leadership philosophy is as timelessly true now as it was back in the day: “With no exceptions, develop and sell top quality products and services and never cut corners.”
“I have learned that the success of those around me predicates my level of future success.”
Roger King is a thinking man. He thinks about his two daughters, ages two and four: their welfare, their health, but also their minds and their attitudes. He thinks about the example he sets for them, about his personal leadership.
“Although young, I’m hopeful they will quickly learn to respect themselves and those around them, be humble and thankful for the good fortune in our family as we’re blessed with health, happiness and a sturdy roof over our heads,” he says.
Depending on the year, King is president of Atlantic Canada’s fastest-growing company (in 2018, it ranked second). It is a company dedicated to products that strengthen the body, and King has grown it from its infancy, selling health and fitness supplements out of the back of his car in Halifax, to a multi-million-dollar national retail chain.
But when it comes to future growth, the company president is thinking about the mind. He recently commissioned a psychological study to better understand how his competitors’ customers think. “It is a patented platform for generating and applying deep insight into the most powerful influences on people’s judgment and decision making. It can be applied to solving any problem or realizing any opportunity where success pivots on understanding and influencing human judgement, decision making and behaviour,” he says.
Because customer experience is another thing King often thinks about. “We are staying ahead of our competitors by delivering a unique, informative and enjoyable shopping experience that respects the fundamentals of retail and marketing-mix decisions driven by customer data analysis.” This year, Supplement King’s online customers will be served by a new, mind-blowing, omni-channel delivery platform, the first of its kind in the franchising world. Using technology that updates inventory from 50 locations every 10 minutes, it will enable Canadians to receive free, next-day delivery no matter how remote their address.
“By creating systems for new grads to get their clinical skills up rapidly, we are creating a seamless transition from school to practice.”
After his undergraduate degree, Dr. Erik Klein spent a year living in Japan. He noticed Japanese business leaders were future driven, investing heavily in research and development. This contrasted with North American business, which he felt was more about immediate share value and quarterly reports.
After returning to Canada, Dr. Klein continued to read about Asian business culture. It influenced his decision to invest in early career moves such as unpaid work that might not pay off for a long time, if ever. He practiced the long wait.
“I gained an appreciation that the work you perform at one particular moment does not pay your salary, but the relationships you build and the reputation you develop will,” he says.
Fast forward some years, and Dr. Klein is employing this practice again to disrupt Canada’s private healthcare sector with his all-in-one clinics (think rehabilitation and complementary health services under one roof). He has already completed his second franchised clinic, a rarity in the health field, with the first franchise posting growth of 150 per cent. Klein plans to find five more locations this year, before taking his model nationwide in 2020. By 2025, he intends to have over 100 clinics, and lead brand domination in Canada, the U.S., and beyond.
Here’s the long wait. Dr. Klein and his team contact future franchisees at least two years before they graduate. “Most clinics struggle to retain professionals beyond three years because people have aspirations to own their own business. Through franchising, we identify partners and groom them over time so they have the equity stake they are looking for, and get the support of a well-branded network they’ve come to trust,” he says.
Dr. Klein’s overall goal is to be an innovator in the health industry: “It could take multiple generations to make a permanent change. However, the seeds I plant now will grow fruit down the road.”
“It is always my primary objective to help develop my team to the highest possible level so that they, our members and the credit union succeed together.”
“I’m extremely values driven,” says Darrell Kuhn. Values, and value, are the central tenets of Kuhn’s leadership style—making him the ideal custodian for Community Credit Union (CCU).
“I believe that the foundation of extraordinary leadership is premised on integrity,” he says. “Consistently demonstrating respect, honesty and fairness will develop the trust in the relationship with your people. I believe that trust is needed in order to build meaningful relationships with your employees, customers and communities. I believe in the quote that: ‘People will forget what you said, but they will not forget how you made them feel’.”
Relationships are especially important to CCU operations. Unlike most banking institutions, this full-service financial services company is both locally-owned and community-based. But… feelings? Shouldn’t he be more concerned with creating value? In Kuhn’s world, one doesn’t supplant the other: it supports it.
In addition to donating 40 per cent of its profits and $100,000 worth of in-kind contributions to charity in 2018, CCU has grown 200 per cent over the past five years. Kuhn predicts it will double in the next five, making it the fastest-growing credit union in the province. And they’re doing it through those feelings-based relationships he has so carefully cultivated during his 11-year tenure.
Kuhn’s team might be small, but when two dozen people are enthusiastically pulling together, nimbly headed in the same direction, dedicating their brainpower and creativity to a common goal? That’s when greatness happens. In this case, a revolutionary innovation-based first-in-Nova-Scotia credit union business model.
Beginning this year, CCU is investing in a comprehensive training program to refine their human resource capital. They’re swapping traditional teller counters for dynamic service pods offering multiple options for member interaction: chat, email, self-service, phone and face-to-face conversation. They’re also creating an online self-service platform with a helpful chat function for members who want to direct their lending, investment and account activities without having to call or visit the branch. They’re installing CCU boutiques in high-traffic areas to provide members with both self-service and personal interaction capabilities. And, a curiously unique development—something that probably wouldn’t be possible with an entity other than a credit union—they’re creating a medical clinic to support their members, as well as the larger community, in attracting and retaining doctors.
“This investment,” notes Kuhn, “is a testament to the ‘we care’ approach we have in developing sustainable communities.”
Caring has earned Darrell Kuhn a career full of leadership accolades—and induction to Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame.
“We do not have cookie cutters within our organization, though we love cookies.”
How to build a company, according to the example set by Ashwin Kutty, of ad agency WeUsThem:
Start from the ground up; finance your company with personal savings accrued over a decade from multiple employments. Receive no personal return. Build your team, pour more money into your company. Continue to receive no significant return. Realize this isn’t a business for the faint of heart. Listen to horror stories of lack of cash flow, lack of talent, of sales funnels that are nota them. Win awards. Watch your brand crystalize before your eyes. Develop a strong culture based on collaboration and diversity. Tap into this when designing campaigns.
Create a healthy eating app that is accessed by over two million people. Win more awards. Extend your collaborative focus to client engagement. See your return rate rise to 85 per cent. See your referral rate increase to 82 per cent. Sleep six hours a night.
Carry out campaigns in 142 countries on six continents. Rank in the top 20 per cent of all creative work done globally. Land Telus, Kempinski Group, Kaplan International. Do this with 12 full-time employees—from Halifax. Consistently post 35–40 per cent revenue growth. Be recognized by WHO and the World Bank. Become sought after in your industry. Think about the future. Plan to open new offices outside the region. Think about U.S. expansion. Dream of holding companies with global networks. Now go for it.
“A CEO is not able to do it all, and if you feel the need to try, you’re in the wrong job.”
Michael Leonard is bringing the credit union back. Skeptical? Get your calculator out.
A little background: As president and CEO of Atlantic Central and League Savings and Mortgage Company (LSM), Leonard is responsible for 45 credit unions across Atlantic Canada, with combined assets of $6 billion and 300,000 members. In 2014, the CEO helped established a vision for a stronger, unified regional system based on collaboration and consolidation with four major initiatives. It was ambitious, and something that had not happened elsewhere in Canada.
Over the past five years, Michael Leonard has led the development of a regional branding strategy and shared service model. If you haven’t visited your local credit union lately, you will soon. This initiative is improving awareness and understanding of credit unions, subsequently boosting membership, reducing expenses and improving profitability.
Secondly, the CEO oversaw the merger of three cooperative wealth companies into a new national provider, Aviso Wealth, with $57 billion in assets under management. Expected profitability increase is $60 million per year. Then, he co-chaired a national credit card initiative for 200 credit unions across Canada, expected to have 600,000 card holders with receivables of $1 billion.
Finally, he led the creation of a new national direction for LSM. Initially a small regional mortgage originator, LSM has now partnered with Concentra Bank to deliver wholesale financial services to credit unions nationwide. This partnership delivered $6 million in improved profitability to LSM last year.
These initiatives are generating millions of dollars in added revenue for credit unions nationwide. Not surprisingly, Leonard has been asked to speak on his approach in every province in Canada and at the World Credit Union Conference. “As small companies competing against trillion-dollar institutions, we are committed to building scale via collaboration. This model is now under consideration in other credit union systems across the country,” he says.
“The challenges were insurmountable, but with great people, hard work and a desire to succeed, amazing things can happen.”
Vroom, vroom, David Lockhart is in the room.
He’s the big boss of big trucks, and he loves it. “Since 1997, I have been fortunate to be in an industry I am very passionate about—it’s the old adage of choosing a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life,” he says.
As president of Moncton’s East Coast International Trucks (ECI), which provides service, parts and truck sales at four locations throughout Atlantic Canada, Lockhart has overseen a major turnaround in the company over the last five years.
“In June, 2013, I embarked on a journey which challenged everything I knew. The rebuilding of ECI, while the manufacturer, Navistar, was working through its own challenges, has been the largest personal and business challenge I have ever faced,” he says.
Before Lockhart arrived, things were looking grim. ECI was posting losses of $2 million annually with operational issues in all aspects of the business—ageing products and a poor engine strategy, a disengaged staff, low morale and years of negative financial performance.
Lockhart worked closely with Navistar to progressively improve the business: “We began an intense culture change by focusing on the customer, realigning staff and aggressively attacking the market to re-establish our brand.” He took pains to keep his staff informed, and once ECI began turning around, the impact on them was immediate—”there was a constant desire for improvement.”
ECI added new products, reached both old and new customers and started growing. Over the five-year period, its revenues catapulted from $41.9 million to $82 million. “Today, ECI employees have the same pride I do. Enjoying success as a direct result of everyone’s hard work and dedication is as satisfying to each employee as it has been for me. I am very proud of the team here,” he says.
“I think an incredibly important aspect of a leadership role is to inspire, motivate and empower others, and I hope my legacy shows that I did just that.”
Bernard Lord knows a thing or two about leadership.
In light of Mr. Lord’s distinguished career as former premier of New Brunswick, four-time member of the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly, president and CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunication Association, current chair of Ontario Power Generation and CEO of Medavie Blue Cross since 2016—providing strategic leadership to the company and its 6,400 employees as they fulfill their mission to improve the health and wellbeing of Canadians—we felt it judicious to let his words on leadership speak for themselves.
Mr. Lord, you have the floor.
“Start with a purpose. A purpose is what drives an organization. It guides everyone’s actions, every day. It attracts effective leaders who also like quality and results. And, importantly, it inspires employees to contribute to something bigger than the bottom line. To do this, you need to make sure your purpose is understood by everyone. Having a clear vision, mission and values can rally the leadership and all members of the team to support common goals and objectives.
“Define the team you want. Identify what competencies are required within your team to allow your organization to be successful. Just as important as the skills and competencies is the attitude required to develop future leaders. Culture is what we make it. To continue to attract the right talent, your employment brand must be positive and contagious. Be competitive and invest in recruitment efforts and focus on a holistic approach to creating your team.
“Nurture your talent. Encourage and invest in your people, and you’ll both win. They’ll feel valued and will be engaged and empowered to become great performers, ultimately helping your organization achieve its business goals and pursue new opportunities. Everyone will get a sense of belonging, which contributes to building a culture of trust and high-level employee engagement.”
“In addition to leading the team, I work alongside them on a daily basis. You cannot lead from a position of hierarchy.”
As president of Marco Group, Allan MacIntosh has grown his firm’s yearly construction portfolio from $25 million to $250 million, making Marco one of the top 25 construction companies in the country, one that is proudly headquartered in Atlantic Canada.
He built that impressive portfolio by working ‘on’ his company as much as he works ‘in’ it.
Working ‘in’ the company is something he has accomplished organically throughout his career. Though now at the top of the c-suite, he has at times been a draftsman, site clerk, chief estimator, business development manager, project manager and division manager. When all departments report to you, he explains, having a thorough understanding of what each of them does and how they function is an incredibly useful tool.
That personal evolution of rising through the ranks has enforced his belief in the importance of growth (i.e. working ‘on’ the company). Specifically, he believes a company must grow or it will die. Under his leadership, Marco Group isn’t just surviving—it’s thriving.
His basic building block could be summarized as getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. MacIntosh is an avid agent of change, wholly committed to ensuring his organization is an industry leader. With that in mind, he refuses to hire mediocre talent, deliberately hiring people who share his passion for building things in general and Marco Group in particular.
Within the regional construction industry, Marco gets in on the ground floor of emerging technologies—which is why the quality of its work is heralded in the boardroom. “For building owners who want quality facilities constructed with leading-edge energy saving systems and low life cycle maintenance costs, Marco delivers that innovation,” says MacIntosh.
The benefits of MacIntosh’s innovation agenda are evident throughout Marco’s corporate structure and service capacity. Their sustainable construction credentials include LEED AP accreditation for all senior project staff. They use 3D virtual building models to simulate construction, laser scanning for high-accuracy geometric mapping, unmanned aerial systems, vehicles and imaging sensors (otherwise known as drones) to develop site plans. They’ve even embraced “cloud collaboration” via a construction document management platform with “rapid-fire upload and download” so that project teams can share and collaborate through desktop, smart pads and smartphones with real time updates and instantaneous tracking.
A human side effect of this innovation agenda is that Marco is attracting young talent who want to work with a company that embraces technology (thereby avoiding the workforce challenges that plague many of its competitors).
MacIntosh’s long-term vision is to see Marco become a national contractor with offices across Canada. With the solid foundation he has in place, it’s clear that Marco Group has nowhere to go but up.
“My long-term goal is for EfficiencyOne to play a leading role in guiding Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy and helping to further mitigate climate change.”
Although Stephen MacDonald spends his days devising ways to increase energy efficiency, he leaves his own door wide open. “Our business is reliant on the experience and expertise of our staff, and my role as CEO in ensuring our employees continue to be highly-engaged and motivated is key to the organization’s success,” he says.
In order to do this, MacDonald decided a long time ago to keep his door open: “I encourage employees to stop by to see me when needed. I also encourage employees to provide me with specific feedback to help me become a better leader for the organization.”
This CEO welcomes new employees in person and makes sure they know he is approachable and accessible at all times. His employees inform the organization’s strategic plans. They are also consulted at quarterly town hall meetings and monthly employee gatherings. Their ideas are taken seriously. EfficiencyOne has run various pilot programs based on employee input, including its EnerGuide rating system for home sellers, a way for owners to list their homes’ energy efficiency levels. MacDonald even gave up his executive office for a smaller one to be more accessible to employees. That old office is now a quiet workspace for all.
In Stephen MacDonald’s case, an open door has vastly improved efficiency. EfficiencyOne, Canada’s first energy efficiency utility, currently saves Nova Scotians over $165 million in annual energy costs and has helped avoid a million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. This extraordinary performance has been profiled by the International Energy Agency, the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change and the Generation Energy Council Report. Finally, MacDonald’s efforts have not only made EfficiencyOne Canada’s greenest company, but also one of the greatest to work for. Since 2017, it has consistently ranked as a top Atlantic Canadian employer.
“We have built Kenmac Energy and Mel’s Enterprises based on customer service. Our employees are our brand ambassadors and truly appreciate our customers.”
The worst day in Dan MacIsaac’s career occurred on Gold Cup and Saucer Parade Day. That day, in 2015, a tractor trailer full of gasoline overturned at a roundabout in Charlottetown near the Hillsborough River, spilling 30,000 litres of gas. The island was hopping, it was festival day after all, and first responders were forced to close one of the main arteries into the city. There were no casualties, but the environmental threat to the water system was a serious concern. It was in that moment that P.E.I. native Dan MacIsaac embodied the true value of local presence, the same value that has driven his company’s success so far.
MacIsaac was working for Petro-Canada when an opportunity arose in 1986 to buy a majority interest in its P.E.I. operations. Using a successful acquisitions strategy, he has since grown Kenmac from a small oil delivery business in Charlottetown to a group of fuel delivery businesses, gasoline outlets, convenience stores and food service restaurants throughout the Maritimes. “Competitors in the industry were consolidating and moving their services away from the customer while we felt it was important to stay local. These partnerships have allowed us to stay close and help serve them better,” he says.
That day in 2015, Kenmac’s operations staff followed procedure in protecting motorists and containing the spill. For two weeks, they worked with the fire brigade, police, Transport Canada water protection and environmental cleanup companies to restore the area. In the end, there was no permanent damage to the island habitat or Kenmac’s reputation. “We came out as a company that took responsibility for and made a priority of fixing a $1.6-million problem we caused. Although it was the worst day of my business life, it validated what a great staff we had put together,” says MacIsaac.
“Participating in the Wallace McCain Institute’s ELP has provided focus, accountability, support, and business contacts, enabling me to channel my energies to pursue DMC’s growth goals.”
Let’s talk about growth, basements and oil platforms.
Dallas Mercer started her company 17 years ago out of her basement in Mount Pearl, N.L. Leveraging experience gained at NL Employer’s Council in occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation (WC) and at a private Montreal firm representing employers in WC and sick leave, she began helping employers navigate the complex disability management claims process.
Dallas Mercer Consulting (DMC) grew. In 2004, it expanded into safety consulting, and then into industrial hygiene and safety training. In 2013, Mercer launched Innu DMC to provide occupational health and safety services throughout Labrador. Then, just as things were going swimmingly, in April 2017 the Hebron oil platform was towed offshore.
DMC had been the preferred safety and disability management partner at the platform’s construction site. Its closure slashed DMC’s revenues, which led to difficult decisions and downsizing. With DMC’s growth stalled, Mercer decided to accelerate her own. In 2017, she enrolled in the Wallace McCain Institute’s entrepreneur leadership program. Mentorship she received there from the likes of Frank McKenna and David Ganong proved invaluable, she says.
Back home, Mercer brought in consultants. She drew up growth strategies and a new brand platform. She identified Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as growth markets, and opened full-time offices there. In under 12 months, DMC had multiple clients in both markets. The N.B. team tripled in size in a year, outgrowing their own office space.
Last year, DMC had its strongest fiscal year ever. It will continue to grow. DMC’s president and CEO plans to double business in Atlantic Canada by the end of 2020, and ultimately become the national leader of disability services. “We’re well on our way with our plan for Atlantic Canada, and once we establish offices in each province, we’ll have more ability to service the entire country,” she says.
“The idea of a private business being formed to save a community is innovative not just in Atlantic Canada, but in all of North America.”
It takes a village. When John Norman came home after university, he and his wife Leann acquired a few of the vacant and deteriorating heritage homes around with a view to eventually starting a business in heritage real estate. Four years later, John quit his job and Bonavista Living was born. With a few investors on board, he and his partners began acquiring more properties. Within a year they had 25.
But Bonavista is a small town, and like most, change was unsettling for many residents. There were fears the town was being taken over and taxes would rise. Norman was voted out of his council seat in the next municipal election. His family and friends rallied, making a plan to spread his vision through media, public presentations and partnerships with regional non-profits.
It took years, but community support did begin to trickle back in, then pick up speed as residents saw the success of the Bonavista group (Bonavista Living, Bonavista Creative and Bonavista Creative Workshop, a heritage carpentry shop). Other towns began expressing interest in the business model. Norman ran for mayor and won with 70 per cent of the vote. Four years after he started the company in 2014, Mr. Norman had the backing of his home town. He had already won that of the world.
To date, Bonavista Living has been covered by 31 publications and four television shows. John Norman has spoken at conferences throughout North America and Europe. His company receives calls from people all over Canada looking to relocate. Most importantly, there has been a shift in how Bonavista residents feel about their community that has “resulted in greater consumer confidence, increased real estate values, population stabilization and increased employment. Bonavista citizens now see our companies as leaders [creating] new ways to enhance quality of life through business and ‘some old buildings,’” he says.
“Technical industries often hold themselves back by requiring that only technical experts can sit in the CEO’s chair. It’s time for that to change.”
In 2017, Gina Pecore christened a ship. It was the first large vessel launched under Canada’s national shipbuilding strategy, and the CEO of N.L.’s Genoa Design International was given the honour in recognition of her role in transforming a small business into a key partner in the nation’s fleet renewal. Under her watch, the digital ship design company had increased sales from $1.5 million to $15 million, while staff had swelled from 18 employees to 115.
Pecore accepted the “incredible honour” of christening the Sir John Franklin, though she had in the past shied away from award nominations because, “like most women, I feel there are so many other far more deserving candidates.” Despite overseeing 900 per cent growth in the previous six years, as a female CEO, Gina Pecore had worked hard just to feel deserving.
“I struggled within myself, my company and my industry to find the confidence and acceptance to be a non-traditional leader in a traditional industry. As a female with a skillset often considered to be soft in a hard-core technical industry, I consciously undertook several actions to effectively lead,” she says.
Pecore invested in executive and finance education. She worked to gain a deep understanding of shipbuilding. She watched other leaders closely, seeking to emulate strengths and identify gaps. She took a seat at the table and never held back. She built her team carefully. She took notice of where she was making a difference and did more. She sought support from other women leaders. She found safe places where she could show vulnerability. Finally, she taught herself to recognize when it was time to regroup. The result was a thriving company and a legacy.
“I’d like to set a strong example of the value that a female and non-technical business leader can bring to a traditional, technical and male-dominated industry like shipbuilding,” she says.
“You can’t be afraid to fail. From every failure I’ve experienced, there’s always been something that I’ve learned that has made my approach stronger.”
Barry Perry’s first job after getting his chartered accountant designation was as corporate controller at the Come by Chance oil refinery. “I received about 15 years’ worth of experience in the five years I worked there because we were effectively bankrupt the entire time. Having numerous suppliers lined up waiting to be paid was a task in and of itself, and a good early indoctrination on cash flows for sure,” he recalls.
When he was offered a job at Abitibi Consolidated, he happily accepted—only to find the paper industry had its own issues. There was the cost of fibre and energy, a decline in newsprint, exchange rates and more. Ultimately, all of Newfoundland and Labrador’s mills suspended operations.
Barry Perry’s next career move was to Montreal. He continued working for Abitibi, and while there, he picked up some handy knowledge of capital markets. He eventually took this back to N.L. with him when he accepted a position as CFO with Newfoundland Power (NP) in 2000. Three years later, he assumed that same position with NP’s parent company, Fortis. By 2014, he had become Fortis’ president and CEO.
Today, Fortis operates 10 utilities throughout North America, with 8,500 employees and 3.3 million customers. With $50 billion in total assets, it is among the top 15 utility companies on the continent, and it is a source of great pride to the CEO that he has been able to keep the company’s headquarters in St. John’s.
In addition to a commitment to excellence, Perry says his leadership style includes staying grounded and doing what you say you’re going to do. This approach has paid dividends. In fact, in 2018 Fortis marked its 45th year of dividend payment increases to shareholders and announced a nearly 20 per cent increase in its five-year capital plan to $17.3 billion.
“You get the best results not by treating people how you would like to be treated, but by how they would like to be treated.”
St. John’s-based Pennecon epitomizes the value of a local company.
At last count, the company supported no less than 51 local charities. For the last several years, according to executive chairman Larry Puddister, it has maintained an operational mandate to give back 10 per cent of its annual profits to charities and not-for-profit organizations. He says this—not Pennecon’s leading industry position as a provider of integrated solutions in heavy civil, industrial, marine and services and maintenance, nor its 500 per cent growth in revenues under his mandate since 2005—is the legacy he is most proud of.
“I am filled with pride knowing Pennecon will have a positive and long-standing effect on our province,” he says.
There’s more. This year, Pennecon is working towards an employee-owned model. For the first time, the company’s 800 employees will own a piece of the company and have a stake in its future. This move brings to fruition a succession plan inked between Puddister and his late business partner Ches Penney more than a decade ago. It also supports Puddister’s personal leadership philosophy.
“To get the best from an employee, you must give them a reason to care. It’s important to offer positive feedback, freedom of thought and rewards. To this end, I am working toward an employee-ownership model, whereby I will dedicate 30 per cent of company shares,” he says.
It is hardly surprising then that Pennecon has often been recognized as one of Canada’s best places to work and most well managed companies. Last year alone, it ranked among the 53 Employee Recommended Workplaces by The Globe and Mail, won an Industry Excellence Award for Health and Safety by Natural Resources Magazine, and received Deloitte’s Platinum Designation in its Canada’s Best Managed Companies list, a select group of companies that have maintained their Best Managed status for seven years or more.
“I believe East Coasters are the most dynamic human beings in Canada, but they need a successful voice that they trust to lead them out of their comfort zones.”
All hail Mandy Rennehan, Canada’s Most Admired CEO (Waterstone, 2019). Or, if you prefer, Business Leader of the Year (Toronto Board of Trade, 2018) or Female Entrepreneur of the Year (RBC, 2018) or even Innovator of the Year (Growth 500, 2018).
She is the CEO of Freshco, which maintains the retail space of such clients as GAP, Banana Republic, Nike, Apple and Tiffany&Co. She is also CEO of RennDuPrat, a custom heirloom furniture maker with international sales. It is run by residents of Yarmouth, who are trained on site. Since 2016, both companies have grown by over 85 per cent.
Rennehan is known in some industry circles as the Northern Wind, and in others as the Wood Whisperer. She is most often called the Blue Collar CEO (a title she has trademarked). Her story might be familiar—large family from Yarmouth, dad was a lobster fisherman, who struggled to feed them all in between seasons. You may have heard how, at age 10, Rennehan sold bait to fishermen, reinvesting her profits in carpentry tools to start a log cabin business in her teens, how she was driven by the desire to help her parents escape their hardscrabble life. You may even know of that fateful meeting with GAP way back when in San Francisco when she walked in with nada and came out with a $4 million contract.
But did you know of her advocacy for women in trades? More than 60 per cent of Freshco’s employees are female, a far cry from an industry average of 12 per cent. Freshco recently debuted the first exoskeleton suit for the construction sector, which allows users to lift 360 pounds. Physical barriers be gone! Though there are still hurdles to overcome, “stereotypes and pre-conceived notions,” this CEO believes that one strong woman is an army: “Confident women are infectious to business. If they are unleashed and mentored early on, they are unstoppable.”
“With retirement in the not too distant future, I intend to leave ALC with a clear progressive strategy in place, a strong leadership team present and a company-at-large highly engaged in its future.”
As president and CEO of Atlantic Lottery, Brent Scrimshaw leads a strong team dedicated to the commercial transformation of the gaming company. That transformation has seen ALC achieve in excess of $1.2 billion annual revenue as well as industry leadership in innovation fueled by a strategy and culture focused squarely on its customers.
That’s the payout; how they got there was no luck of the draw.
The gaming sector has always been a gamble, but never more so than in recent years with the proliferation of entertainment-based gaming offered by unregulated offshore providers. Even though it holds some of the most powerful brands in the country and reports an annual profit run of $420 million, Atlantic Lottery—a crown corporation mandated to provide safe and entertaining games for Atlantic Canadians while optimizing returns for its four provincial stakeholders—was playing a stacked house.
While lotteries in general are on a losing streak, Brent Scrimshaw’s visionary and collaborative leadership has helped ALC to up its game.
Strategically, he sought to educate and encourage shareholders (i.e. the governments of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador) to embrace the benefits of, and obligation to provide, safe and responsible gaming options. People who enjoy gaming are going to do so, regardless of who provides the entertainment. Offering transparent, publicly-accountable options where profits go back to the jurisdictions where those monies originated? That’s what you call a win.
Scrimshaw, a vocal advocate for embracing change, also prepared the corporation to take on the competition through technology renewal. After $200 million worth of investments, ALC delivered more products, services and enhancements in 2018 than it did over the previous five years combined. As a result it has been recognized as the most innovative lottery in North America.
Because Atlantic Lottery wanted to be a cutting-edge company, not just a company with a cutting-edge technology team, they encouraged all employees to share their ideas for renewal processes. Customer feedback was also sought, sooner and more frequently than before, so that their input was included in the design of new games.
“I want Atlantic Lottery to live its mandate of providing regulated and responsible gaming products—this is its competitive advantage—while at the same time being recognized for its competitive strength and performance in the marketplace. I want this to be the place where the best talent chooses to work,” Scrimshaw says.
Has he succeeded? We’ll take that bet.
“Organizations perform best when they are able to harness the power of the team and the unique skills and strengths that each individual brings.”
There is a lot to be said for management trainee programs. Case in point: East Coast Credit Union (ECCU) president and CEO Ken Shea. In 1989, Shea took a job with Bank of Montreal, which required a move from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland to train as assistant manager. In St. John’s, Shea’s senior manager learned the young man had recently completed a mutual funds and Canadian securities course. As the bank was training staff in this area, he asked Shea to mentor other assistant managers. And he did.
A month passed, and the manager reappeared. An assistant manager position was available, and he felt Shea would be better off working the position rather than training for it. Shea agreed. A year passed, and the manager was transferred to N.B. He offered Shea a position in that province as a branch manager. Another year passed. When an opening appeared at the bank on campus in Fredericton, the manager recommended him for the job.
“That individual saw the skills I had and helped me to contribute to the bank at a higher level more rapidly than I otherwise would have,” says this CEO. “I believe his efforts helped me gain the skills to create a successful career in a business I have thoroughly enjoyed. What I learned from him is that it is important to recognize the potential in people and provide them with the opportunity to grow.”
That career saw Ken Shea grow Heritage Credit Union’s assets by 50 per cent as CEO there from 2004-2011. During that time, Heritage was ranked as one of the Best Places to Work in Atlantic Canada, 2009-2011. As CEO of ECCU since 2011, Mr. Shea has grown that bank’s assets under management 250 per cent. In 2019, ECCU was also a Top Atlantic Employer.
“Being a strong female leader sets a great example for my daughter and her friends, and more importantly, for my son.”
Watch out Halifax, here comes Ray across the Cabot Strait—a whirling dervish of atomic creative energy with the power to set your foundations rocking. Jenny Smith, president of St. John’s Ray Creative Agency, is looking to position her company as THE east coast agency, and this includes expanding into N.S. with a second office.
Jenny Smith is one of the top creatives in Canada (she has twice been asked to represent the nation at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity). After establishing Ray in 2013, it has skyrocketed from a one-woman operation into a full-service, award-winning agency with 225 per cent growth in revenue over the past three years.
Ray’s team has been built for project-based business. They are the navy seals, says Smith, not the army. She starts with her core team and stacks it with talent from around the world if needed. Nowadays, potential recruits are lining up. It certainly does pay to be a winner.
“Passionate people find their way to Ray. They know they will enjoy lots of perks like a stocked fridge, a candy bar, a pet/parent friendly office and flex hours. They can work from home, from a bar or from another country,” says Smith. They are also well-compensated, with lots of opportunity for advancement. There is no ceiling, glass or otherwise, at Ray, she says.
Staff also know they will have a life outside of work. “Culturally, we don’t conform to strict rules. We focus on what our employees accomplish, not where and when,” she says.
“Growing and nurturing my staff is one of the toughest yet most rewarding parts of my job. Creative people are highly sensitive and require more attention. When you help them with a big achievement or motivate them to come up with a better idea, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
“Never be complacent, always be relentless, focused and bring urgency when needed.”
Vivek Sood is responsible for Sobeys in-store pharmacy and the Sobeys, Safeway, FreshCo, Foodland and Thrifty Foods brands. That’s in addition to his oversight duties for Sobeys liquor stores and Lawtons Drugs. Sobeys’ convenience and fuel division, with the Sobeys Express, Needs, Shell, Fast Fuel, IGA Express, Voisin, Boni Soir and Safeway Fuel brands, also fall under his responsibility, as well as Big 8 Beverages and Sobeys Wholesales.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but Sood has been doing a darn good job of it since becoming executive vice president of Sobeys’ related business division in May, 2017. But imagine adding to that list of responsibilities with a mission to transition all these divisions from regionally-focused operations to large national business units—while realizing $500 million in cost savings and continuing to deliver growth. Now you have an idea of the monumental task that Vivek Sood has pulled off in the last two years.
It’s like the Rubik’s Cube of the corporate universe.
Sood credits a tripartite vision for their early success with the complex puzzle. That means ensuring the portfolio of businesses under his wing is: closely aligned with the food retailing strategy; collaborating, coordinating, and communicating with the rest of business (no silos); and that they have a shared vision of what the management team is trying to achieve and how they define success. The result? “We have met or exceeded our objectives and continued to not only achieve the cost savings targets but also grow revenues since beginning this project.”
The “we” is intentional. Sood says “outstanding teammates” are responsible for much of this success. His role, he says, has been to help envision the solution and coordinate the effort to make it happen. “I would like to be known as a leader who was strategic, genuine and achieved results. I think the combination of being a strategic thinker and achieving results in the short and long term is powerful,” he says.
“No matter how big this festival gets, organizers never forget their Prince Edward Island roots and the volunteer spirit that courses through this province.”
Craft beer? Heck, yeah. Craft beer, Canada’s #1 music festival and a sunny summer day on Cavendish Beach…heaven.
We have Jeff Squires to thank for that lovely image in its entirety. He is both president and CEO of the PEI Brewing Company (think Gahan) and Whitecap Entertainment, which produces the award-winning Cavendish Beach Music Festival (CBMF) each year.
Squires partnered with Kevin Murphy in 2011 to found PEI Brewing Company. Since its grand opening in Charlottetown in May of 2013, the craft beer company has never looked back. It was the most awarded brewery at the 2016 Canadian Brewing Awards with four gold medals for four different beers, and it has taken home medals every year since. No surprise then that PEI Brewing is now exporting to seven provinces and grew its revenues a further 32 per cent in 2018 alone.
And yum, there are new beers on the horizon. PEI Brewing recently hired a brewer exclusively dedicated to new product development and opened a pilot brewery where all this magical alchemy will take place. At this rate, you never know which cool, frothy beverage will be enjoyed on that fantasy beach day in the sun. But you do know who you’ll be listening to (this year’s headliners include Carrie Underwood and Eric Church), when (July 5-7, 2019) and where (Cavendish Beach—warmest waters north of the Carolinas!).
In its short little life, CBMF has become a Great Big Deal. Ranked as Canada’s top fair and festival in 2018 by the Canadian Country Music Awards, the festival draws no less than 70,000 people each year. Since 2009, its inaugural year, it has generated more than $65 million in economic impact for PEI and contributed over $2 million to island charities and non-profits. Well done, Mr. Squires—we’ll drink to that (you bring the beer).
“The Canadian electricity industry is at the beginning of unprecedented disruption and NB Power is well out ahead in preparing for it.”
“The February 2017 ice storm will forever be in my memory due to the magnitude of the devastation caused all along New Brunswick’s east coast,” says Gaëtan Thomas, president and CEO of NB Power. On the Acadian peninsula, more than 600 poles went down in that storm. At peak, 130,000 customers were without power.
“I immediately decided to go to the region, which opened my eyes to some extremely difficult conditions faced by customers as the region also deals with high poverty levels,” he says. NB Power recruited hundreds of crews from neighbouring provinces and states, and power was restored within 10 days. The experience was impactful for the CEO: “I am a changed leader who is more committed than ever to customer service. I saw the very best in people under extremely trying conditions.”
Grace under pressure is, in fact, a hallmark of Thomas’ personality and leadership style. The attribute has enabled him to successfully meet many challenges since becoming CEO in 2010. “This has been a period of increasing impacts from climate change. For NB Power, it has meant restoring power after multiple ice storms and Tropical Storm Arthur. It has required spending millions to trim trees away from lines and harden the system in vulnerable coastal areas. Droughts have cost us millions more in lost hydro production. I did not predict this when I became CEO, but dealing with climate change has become one of the defining parts of my tenure.”
That tenure has seen NB Power maintain positive yearly earnings while offering one of the lowest rate regimes in North America. It became an industry leader in innovation, partnering with Siemens in UNB’s Centre of Excellence for SmartGrid, investing in hydrogen production from seawater and advancing potential solutions for nuclear spent fuel to be reused in small modular reactors. Today, New Brunswick also leads North America with electric vehicle charging capabilities.
“I lead by making and keeping commitments. When I say I’m going to do something, I always come through.”
If you flew Air Canada recently, and enjoyed a tasty chicken wrap, you can thank Mike Timani. If you have a gluten intolerance and an incompatible love of Middle Eastern flatbreads, Mike Timani can help you. Lactose intolerant but hooked on Indian food? No problem, Mike Timani has dairy-free Naan. Preservative-shy but really like the occasional pita? Mike Timani is your man. And if bagels are your thing…well, you get the picture.
Mike Timani started his career as a bus boy in Toronto with Hilton Hotels. When Hilton moved east to Saint John, he came along. In 1989, with $22,000 in savings, he decided he was ready to pursue his dream and open his own restaurant in Moncton, a 74-seat Lebanese joint called Fancy Pokket. He also opened a small side bakery to make and sell pita bread. Turned out the hub city loved pita. Within a year, the bakery had grown to four times its original size.
Further expansions followed over the next two decades. By 2013, Fancy Pokket occupied 45,000 square feet, employed 70 people and was Atlantic Canada’s top supplier of pita, tortillas, flatbread, bagels and Naan. That’s when Fancy Pokket’s president and CEO started looking south.
South Carolina, to be exact. Timani opened his $21-million, 58,000-square-foot bakery there last summer, aiming to serve the U.S. market a lot less gluten, and a whole lot more gluten-free bread loaves, rolls, hot dog and hamburger buns, baguettes, muffins, brownies, cookies, banana breads and pound cakes. In fact, the facility is one of the largest gluten-free bakeries in the country.
But is two industrial bakeries really enough? Hardly.
“My goal is to open another in Toronto, which would be a central location for distribution,” he says. “This will make our facilities a triangle and put us in an extremely competitive position. It will take us approximately two years to make this move.”
“Our hard work, dedication, strategic planning and vision have paved the way to growth and recognition, and ultimately sustainability for our operations and communities.”
Todd Russell has been president of NunatuKavut Community Council for over half his life, standing up for the NunatuKavut (Southern Inuit of Labrador ) when many walked away.
“He is an inspiration,” says Turnbull about his mentor. “He has a true passion for his work and taught me to never commit to something if you can’t put your all into it.”
It’s a lesson well learned: since becoming CEO of Nunacor in 2015 (NunatuKavut’s business development entity), Turnbull has been a passionate advocate for Indigenous participation in Labrador business. He directly oversees a group of wholly-owned companies and has forged strategic partnerships in hospitality, real estate, fisheries, mining services and safety training.
Though intensely hands-on with both daily operations and strategic planning, Turnbull is not a one-man operation. Referring to his co-workers as his “dream team”, he says their collective positive attitude and enthusiasm are the “how” Nunacor has achieved aggressive growth. Their immediate and ambitious next step is to grow revenue past the five million dollar mark within a year, expand their marketing and sales initiatives, acquire new businesses, enter new industries and diversify their portfolio.
The bigger goal? To have a profitable group of companies creating employment and generating dividends to invest in NunatuKavut Indigenous communities.
Some might even call it inspirational.
“I believe everyone inherently wants to contribute to success. Maximizing that contribution is key.”
With great power comes great responsibility. Gilles Volpé has, and delivers, both.
“I truly believe that if you’re going to live in New Brunswick, you have a responsibility to make it better,” he says.
For Volpé personally, that includes volunteering for a number of United Way initiatives throughout the year, such as the Greener Village Food Bank where he packs boxes, delivers food and works in the community garden.
For him and his corporate team, that translates as delivering safe, reliable and versatile energy. That, and seizing the opportunity to pivot the economy towards one driven by technology and innovation. Plus aggressively pursuing capital investment in new energy sources. And perhaps most importantly for cost-conscious customers, keeping production costs and natural gas rates low (achieving three concurrent years of reductions in both).
These are all impressive accomplishments but even more so in their proper context. When Volpé took over as general manager of Enbridge Gas N.B. (EGNB) in 2012, the natural gas distribution company was reeling from regulatory changes that had forced a 20 per cent cut in staff and 70 per cent drop in capital. The future looked as promising as an abandoned gas well.
Volpé’s pre-EGNB career proved invaluable. Working with Gerry Pond at NBTel, Volpé learned that every success revolved around the customer. “I thought, this is a public utility. Customer service, safety and developing community partnerships are paramount. This is where I and the leadership team focused our efforts to change EGNB’s trajectory. And we did it.”
Today, they employ almost 100 New Brunswickers, serve 12,000 customers and generate over $82 million in annual revenues. The company signed a 50-year distribution franchise agreement in December 2016; that same year Volpé was given responsibility for St. Lawrence Gas in New York State.
This year, EGNB will become Liberty Utilities and Volpé will have a fresh mandate to expand N.B.’s energy choices.
“A wise man once told me that the key to success is finding the right people to do the right things in the right ways.”
Pat Whalen’s dad was a chemical engineer. His dad’s partner, Jim Cairns, was a microbiologist. Together they worked in a lab at P.J. Whalen & Associates, a consulting engineering firm. Throughout high school and university, the younger Whalen worked alongside them. “I grew up solving complex chemical and biological problems in water and wastewater treatment in the lab,” he says.
After graduating from UNB with a chemical engineering degree in 2003, Whalen headed a startup company called LuminUltra Technologies, established to be the commercialization vehicle for a new test kit he had developed over the previous eight years in the lab with his father and Cairns.
First, he had to learn about business. “Starting with actual production of the product, I worked my way through learning the art of sales and marketing, customer service and support, data interpretation and consulting, and general business operation,” says Whalen.
Since then, his leadership has transformed the Fredericton-based company into a global leader in microbiological testing and control in the water, energy and food sectors, with 60 employees, offices in the U.S., U.K., France and Australia, dozens of research and sales partners, and thousands of customers around the world. Whalen has also co-authored multiple patents.
“Both I and LuminUltra have played major roles in the molecular biology revolution in water and wastewater management. Our products have become a household name in industries such as drinking water provision and oil and gas production. We are now focused on taking the next leap forward through big data management,” he says.
Ultimately, LuminUltra and its ambitious leader want to change the way microbiological control is viewed. “Our big hairy audacious goal is to generate $10 billion in returns to our customers by 2030. In short, we are driving to become the #1 name in the world in microbiological testing in water.”
“I believe too often leaders don’t make their people stretch. They are saddled with preconceived notions of people’s abilities without actually testing their ability to dig deep inside themselves for hidden strengths.”
Michael Whittaker and his business partner Bill Hay have grown their companies into household names in the regional Canadian food industry. Their popular Chris Brothers and Bonte deli meats and sauces and their successful Greco Pizza and Captain Submarine restaurants cover Atlantic Canada.
Digging deeper into the specifics, they’ve had 20-plus per cent revenue growth in the past three years and provide direct employment to 185 employees (another 2,100 work in their franchise system). Each of the Bonte and Grinner’s enterprises have ambitious $100-million goals. At Grinner’s, their vision is to be the largest Atlantic-based foodservice restaurant branded concept company with over $100 million in system sales and over 250 points of distribution (they currently have 150). At Bonte Foods, their strategic plan is to become the largest meat and meal company in Atlantic Canada with over $100 million in food sales.
Whittaker was EY’s 2014 Atlantic Entrepreneur of the Year in the Business to Consumer category, received a President’s Award from the Canadian Franchise Association in 1999 and was named an alumnus of distinction by Durham College in 2010. In 2016, Trucorp earned the Canada’s Best Managed Companies designation from Deloitte (a status they’ve maintained ever since). This year sees him recognized for five years of corporate leadership excellence as an inductee to Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame.
If you’d told a 20-something Michael Whittaker any of that was in his future, he says “I quite frankly wouldn’t have believed it.”
He’s come a long way from 1981. He was 24 years old and Trucorp had hired him as director of marketing for Greco restaurants. Early successes saw him advance quickly up the food chain. He played a key role in rebranding the company from a donair chain to a pizza chain with 30-minute delivery in Grecoville “or the pizza is free”. He also developed the chain’s single phone number system and catchy 310-3030 jingle.
He credits his rapid advancement—only 14 years to climb from director of marketing to general manager to president of Grinner’s to a partnership in Trucorp—to the encouragement of the person who hired him, Bill Hay. “Bill thrived on risk taking and thinking big,” says Whittaker admiringly. “I always seek Bill’s counsel and advice on significant business decisions. His advice is almost always correct.”
Hay’s legacy is one that Michael Whittaker hopes to emulate, particularly in the sense of growing people, not just companies. “I stress to my key executives all the time… stop trying to do everything yourself. Teach people to lead.”
“I want Nutra Holdings to be one of the largest direct-to-consumer supplement companies in the world focusing on health and performance.”
Check your ego at the door, son.
That’s what John Williams’ father taught him about business, along with some other weighty advice: make decisions based on facts and reality as opposed to emotions and ego.
“I believe fact-based decision making is what’s allowed Nutra Holdings to be able to grow as fast as it has. Easier said than done, but the times where I’ve let ego and emotions make the decisions, it’s slowed the growth of my business. Reminding myself of those mistakes when I make decisions now makes it a lot easier to take emotion out of the equation,” says the CEO of St. John’s Nutra Holdings, an online sports nutrition company.
Once bitten, twice shy, right? Williams learned the hard way. “When we launched our primary brand, Jacked Factory, in 2015 it was totally bootstrapped. We were losing money on every product sold and in the first year I lost over $30,000 of my own invested money. I was trying to push to profitability while funding inventory out of pocket and not taking on any investors. I was selling inventory at a loss just to keep it moving and was going to shut the business down because it was failing. We had no staff except for myself and one part-time person helping me,” he recalls.
Instead of shutting down, Williams decided to double down. He did a full rebrand and launched a new strategy that ultimately delivered the results he was looking for. Nutra Holdings turned a 2015 loss into more than $5 million topline revenue with significant profit in 2017. And he did this without taking on investors, loans or outside capital. In 2018, revenue reached eight figures, representing growth of nearly 2,000 per cent over a two-year span, while Nutra Holdings placed ninth on Canada’s Top 50 Fastest Growing Startups list.