Most business awards start with the bottom line: the more money a person or company makes, the higher their pedestal. This is not a typical business award program.
Sure, revenue is a big part of our selection process (solvency being rather essential to an organization’s continued operation), but this is Atlantic Canada and we demand more from our corporate leaders.
Since their launch in 1998, Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO awards have recognized leaders based on three main criteria: corporate growth over time (at least 36 months); personal and corporate commitment to the community through sponsorships and volunteer work; and a demonstrated ability to successfully navigate challenging circumstances. This last point has never been more relevant.
To say 2020 has been a difficult year is a masterful understatement. Some catastrophes were on the other side of the world, some were right here. Some were natural disasters and some were man-made. And then there was COVID-19, the disease that literally shut down the world.
While personal safety has been and must continue to be every sane-thinking individual’s top priority, none of us can afford to ignore fiscal reality. People need jobs. Organizations need revenue. Governments need economic activity. Fortunately for Atlantic Canada, we have leaders like our 2020 Top 50 CEO award winners: people who are determinedly finding creative solutions to keep themselves in operation, their employees working and their communities functioning.
Hall of Fame profiles by Alec Bruce; All other profiles by Stephanie Gough
Click the CEO’s name for a quick link to their profile
JEREMY ANDREWS & ADAM KEATING
Adam Keating and Jeremy Andrews met at Memorial University when they were studying mechanical engineering. They went on to become key members of the 2017 Paradigm Hyperloop team, winning second place in California’s SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, which supports student innovation in the pod transport mode made popular by Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX.
Keating and Andrews started CoLab that same year to develop engineering collaboration tools to support design and manufacturing teams in reviewing designs and tracking issues from concept to production. By 2019, CoLab had became the first Atlantic Canadian company to be accepted into the exclusive Y Combinator. It closed $2.7 million in financing and doubled the size of its team. It also landed a number of industry-leading clients in the automotive, defense and industrial equipment sectors.
CoLab’s founders say their software is setting a new industry standard for how projects are delivered. Their next goal is to build the foundation of a “Digital Twin” and “Collaborative Industry 4.0″ for their customers, a major digitization project that will make the digital twin and next-generation engineering collaboration tools a reality.
“Day-to-day we grow with our team with a massive global vision. Outside the organization, we are all passionate about building a community of believers and driven people because together we can fix the economic challenges in Newfoundland.”
“COVID-19 has proven that building digital, collaborative and globally-connected solutions is critical. CoLab is focused on building the best agile engineering development platform possible to help our customers recover while setting a more efficient standard for how they work.”
Amit Virmani is literally moving on up. When he started Naveco Power in 2015, his staff were “stuffed” in the basement of an office building. Five years later, staff has expanded, revenues have tripled, Naveco is developing a $40-million wind project and the company has taken over the first floor of that office building.
Naveco’s 31-year-old founder and CEO says entrepreneurship is built into his DNA. “My grandfather left India, where he was a school principal, to become a math teacher in Saint John in the ‘60s. Later, he switched to accounting and received his CGA. My father started his computer technology business when he was 17. It’s still operating and entering its 44th year,” he says.
Virmani started his first business in middle school as an AVON salesperson, an experience he says taught him how much effort is needed to make a sale. His first exposure to the energy sector was in high school while interning with NB Power. “I saw how the buying and selling of energy happens, and what was lacking in our province. From there, I had a mission to provide clean, affordable and reliable energy to my province,” he says.
Naveco has scooped up a number of awards, including NB Power’s Rising Star, Finance Monthly’s Game Changer, and Best Community Renewable Energy Project Developers-Canada by Corporate Vision Magazine. In the wake of COVID’s constricted sales funnel, Virmani is working to recession-proof his business (“you either adapt or die”), focusing his attention on securing their next major energy project and simultaneously developing smaller projects.
“I want Naveco to be Atlantic Canada’s next billion-dollar company as a renewable energy utility.”
President of UPEI since 2011, Dr. Abd-El-Aziz has introduced future-focused program development that has seen student numbers increase 16 per cent while expanding UPEI’s reach to three continents. UPEI now has a campus in Cairo and offers programs in Madrid, Strasbourg and Geneva. A fourth destination for program delivery, Dubai, is currently under development.
Academic additions have included a Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering, a School of Mathematical and Computational Sciences, an Applied Communication, Leadership, and Culture program, a Master of Global Affairs, an MBA in Global Leadership, a Bachelor of Applied Climate Change and Adaptation, and a Doctor of Psychology—a first for the region.
The expanded offer was like candy for curious minds. Last year, enrolment was its highest ever, international student enrolment—now representing 29 per cent of the total—was at an all-time high, and the university had the largest workforce in its history.
“I am best known for my ambitious goals, moving at the speed of business, and for challenging people to do things differently to achieve success,” says Dr. Abd-El-Aziz.
The president, who came to Canada as an international student 35 years ago, focused on programs that will allow students to develop their full potential as global citizens. But how has he sold his ‘think global, act local’ approach to Islanders? Through inclusion and consultation, he says.
Stakeholders from across the Island informed his first strategic plan, which helped him to better understand P.E.I.’s history and develop a shared vision with common goals. “I thrive on bringing people together to collaborate on ideas and challenging them to achieve results by envisioning the full potential of our community,” he says.
Laurel Broten says the experience and insight gained from working as a lawyer on Bay Street for a decade, as well as her time as Ontario’s Minister of Environment, Education, Children and Youth Services, Intergovernmental Affairs and Women’s Issues, have been critical to her current role with Nova Scotia Business Inc (NSBI). Her mission there? Helping N.S. businesses scale their operations, increase exports and attract investment.
Since Broten arrived at the economic development agency in 2015, NSBI has attracted over 70 investments, greenlit 10 new programs, increased average export sales by 20 per cent, and approved 190 film funding commitments. It has also worked with 150 businesses of diversity.
“I think of myself as change-maker. Within any team or organization that I lead, I want to create a culture of innovative, creative thinking,” she says.
As a person from away, Broten began her new position by ensuring employees had access to her, by creating safe spaces for debate, by traveling alongside her new team members and by listening to their expertise. “I focused my energies on building a team that would help us achieve our goals. Five years later, the strength of our relationships has allowed us to achieve great things together,” she says.
“Part of driving change is about not being afraid to try new things. Since 2015, I have encouraged our team to think outside the box and execute on new ideas that are researched and tightly aligned with our goal of increasing exports. COVID-19 changed the way we do business—accelerating our digital transformation with remote work, virtual trade missions and capacity building—creating exciting opportunities for how we work today, and into the future.”
When he retired from NB Power this past spring, Gaëtan Thomas had headed the New Brunswick utility for 10 years. Few CEOs in Atlantic Canada have been as directly affected by the variety and significance of social and economic change as Thomas during that decade. Fewer still have had as direct an impact on the direction of the organizations they control as he has had on his. From introducing programs and technologies for a more sustainable electrical grid, to managing megaprojects collectively worth $4 billion, to mitigating the effects of the worst ice storm in the province’s history, he’s been busy.
Asked about the future of NB Power, with corporate revenues above $1 billion a year and one of the lowest rate regimes in North America, he anticipates “new small-scale, customer-owned energy resources moving to disrupt our 100–year old utility business model of larger generating stations supplying the entire province. Customers will be more engaged in the electricity industry of tomorrow than they have been. The solution to future challenges is in helping customers manage demand in a world facing huge climate change-related challenges.”
NB Power is currently building its smart grid capabilities with powerful new tools that could serve as a global model. During his time there, Thomas was overseeing technological solutions—in partnership with electronics and engineering company Siemens Canada—that are making the province’s power grid “smarter” or, as he says, “more adaptable to renewable energy, more efficient and more reliable.”
None of these changes are easy. But “easy” has never really been in Thomas’ job description. With over 37 years of experience at NB Power, he was part of impressive teams that completed the new coal plant at Belledune, the Dalhousie Plant Conversion, the Coleson Cove Refurbishment and the Point Lepreau Nuclear Refurbishment. “I also had great exposure to the Transmission, Distribution and Customer Service divisions from [being] Northern and Eastern regional manager [and] vice president of Distribution and Customer Service,” he says.
What’s more, he adds, during his tenure as president and CEO, his team posted nine consecutive years of positive net earnings, including a record year of $173 million in 2012. Meanwhile, the utility has become a leading purveyor of electric vehicle charging capabilities in North America even as it continues to examine new options for small, modular, nuclear reactors at Point Lepreau. All of which, he says, were designed to “lead to a carbon-free world and save the planet from devastating climate change-related storms.”
That might be achievement enough for anyone, but Thomas says his biggest contribution has more to do with inculcating a culture of readiness. “Yes, there have been projects and costs and technologies and climate change and consultations,” he says. “But it is leading our internal cultural change that I feel [is the] greatest legacy. I hope will have given my company and my co-workers the greatest chance to survive, and thrive in, the energy revolution to come.”
That perspective will undoubtedly come in handy at Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick, which represents the province’s Francophone business community. He stepped into the organization’s top post in May.
Since joining MUN’s Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in 2016, bilingual entrepreneurial innovator Florian Villaumé has grown it from an initial intake of 20 students to more than 300 annually and four MCE-supported startups have raised $500,000 or more in venture capital.
An impact-driven leader, it’s not enough for him to just make a difference: this engineer/scientist (he has a Master degree in both disciplines) insists his impact must be quantifiable. A self-professed data junkie, Villaumé says, “everything our organization is experiencing is an opportunity to collect insights, adjust what we do and increase our impact. For us, opinions are just assumptions until backed up by data.”
In his previous career with Engineers Without Borders Canada, Villaumé co-designed and co-managed five international programs focused on systemic innovation. Three of the entrepreneurs he worked with were recognized as leaders by former U.S. President Barack Obama.
These days, Villaumé is applying his results-oriented philosophy to helping Memorial University become the most entrepreneurial university in the country. In their efforts to increase the number of students working on ideas with market potential, MCE is creating bespoke experiential learning programs. MCE’s ‘problem bank’ sees companies sharing their problems with the Centre while its Entrepreneurial Externship program has students mining workplaces for inefficiencies—both of which are rich sources of startup ideas for students to pursue. Not surprisingly, the MCE team is measuring the impact of those initiatives and refining them accordingly.
According to the data, it’s the right approach: in 2019 MCE was recognized as one of the top five emerging entrepreneurship centres in the world.
“I want people I work with to be obsessed with positively impacting the world.”
In 2014, Halifax’s Discovery Centre (DC) had virtually no excess funds, rents were increasing, its exhibits were ageing and public funding was decreasing. Plans to renew the facility had twice failed in the previous two decades.
Enter Dov Bercovici.
DC’s new CEO developed a blueprint, calculating ideal square footage according to population and tourism, found an abandoned concrete bunker on Water Street known as Block D for the new site, secured a rent-free agreement to minimize costs and created a unique exhibit model featuring local industry and global themes. It became home to what is, just six years later, a $44-million, best-in-class interactive science centre, one known globally for its design, renewal of urban industrial space and sustainable operating model. Since 2017, visitation and fundraising levels have tripled, revenues have increased by 160 per cent, and DC has become an essential player in the innovation, tourism, education, public policy and cultural agendas across the Atlantic region.
“Our ultimate goal is for DC to become the Smithsonian of the North, not in terms of expensive archives and collections, but in direct impact on our young people and in outreach to even the remotest communities of youth, engaging and inspiring them to become the innovators of the future here in Atlantic Canada,” he says.
To fund this ambitious goal, Bercovici launched the Adopt-a-School program, which aims to provide every school in the region with STEAM programs and travelling exhibits, and he established Discovery Centre International (DCI), a for-profit consulting company for science centres and museums. He expects DCI to partner in at least five new science centres globally by 2022.
As CEO of Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA), Joyce Carter has overseen a rise in the airport’s impact on regional tourism, trade, immigration and foreign investment. “The team I’m part of and have had the privilege to lead since 2014 has developed Halifax Stanfield into one of the most critical pieces of transportation infrastructure in Atlantic Canada, currently worth $3.8 billion annually to the provincial economy,” she says.
Until COVID-19 interrupted its flight path, HIAA revenue was growing at a rate of 14 per cent over the past three years. It had also successfully capitalized a $650-million improvement program for airport infrastructure, including construction of the $23-million Halifax Stanfield Air Cargo Logistics Park, and expanded air service.
Last year, they increased seasonal service to Manchester, Dublin, Chicago, Philadelphia and London, Ontario. “We’ve also seen larger aircraft and more flights adding capacity on existing services from large markets like New York. We continue to seek opportunities to add flights to and from markets that are sustainable and make sense,” she says.
In a non-COVID version of the present, Stanfield serves 4.5 million passengers and processes 37,000 metric tonnes of cargo annually. Pandemic circumstances aside, Carter is still working to establish her airport as the East Coast gateway to and from Canada—the runway she’ll need to get there has just gotten longer. “My long-term vision is for Halifax Stanfield to sustain itself as a significant and ever-increasing economic generator for our region.”
“COVID-19 has disrupted our industry like never before. We’re facing a multi-year recovery, with our top priority on the health and safety of our people, passengers and communities.”
Before becoming CEO of Fredericton International Airport Authority (FIAA), Johanne Gallant ran the Greater Moncton International Airport Authority from 2011 to 2015. Under her guidance, both airports saw increases in revenue, passengers, cargo and airline services, including bringing more international, transborder and domestic flights to New Brunswick. “Our growth connects directly to our province’s ability to reach its potential,” she says proudly.
When she took over as head of the FIAA in 2015, the capital’s airport (YFC) was served by a single carrier, Air Canada. Five years later, YFC has three additional airlines and five more destinations. Just before COVID changed everything for everybody, they posted a 22 per cent rise in passenger numbers and a 15 per cent increase in revenues.
Describing herself as a “high-level management leader”—in other words, she doesn’t micromanage—she believes in enabling her team to lead their departments. “I also believe in working closely in partnership with others to maximize our strengths.” Funding for YFC’s ambitious $30-million terminal expansion was only achieved with the strong support of local partners, she says, including the municipality.
“Airports can be powerful economic and social drivers for their communities. I continuously encourage the FIAA team to think creatively, to question decisions with an eye to ensuring we’re not just doing what’s always been done. Is there a better way of doing the job? Can we be more efficient or effective? Our vision of being dynamic, progressive, and growing cannot happen without innovation and creative problem-solving,” says Gallant.
It’s that kind of thinking that will have FIAA ready to takeoff when the skies clear in the challenging months ahead.
Founded by Cheryl Hickman in 2009, Opera on the Avalon has become one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest cultural institutions. In the 11 years since its launch, Hickman has secured donors and developed the resources to present cultural initiatives of national scope, growing Opera on the Avalon by 5,500 per cent.
“As Atlantic Canada’s only professional opera company, Opera on the Avalon is redefining the role of arts and culture in our community, making art accessible for all,” says Hickman. Productions have included Shanawdithit, a work centred on the life of the last surviving member of the Beothuk Nation in N.L., produced in collaboration with Toronto’s Tapestry Opera, and Ours, which tracks the aftermath of the devastating battle of Beaumont-Hamel through Thomas Nangle, chaplain to the Newfoundland Regiment. Opera on the Avalon also brought the Broadway musical Come from Away to the province last year, and proceeds were distributed to charities and communities throughout N.L.
“As a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, always on the forefront of my mind are the needs of our citizens and the need for our cultural institutions to speak to the whole of society,” says Hickman. While performing arts organizations were decimated when COVID-19 put a halt to live performances, Hickman and her team are finding innovative ways to reach diverse audiences through online performances and digital platforms.
“Our new works practice is anchored by a commitment to fostering a new generation of opera creators and telling authentic stories. Whether through the commissioning of original works, lifting the voices of young artists, or forging artistic partnerships that push the genre forward, Opera on the Avalon is authoring the future of opera today.”
Nova Scotian Steve MacDonald deals in impact, and his own over the past five years has been remarkable. As CEO of Canada’s first energy efficiency utility since 2015, he has been instrumental in securing over $400 million in funding for EfficiencyOne’s ground-breaking programs and services. These have saved participants over $1 billion in energy costs, avoided more than a million tonnes of carbon emissions and were recently ranked first in the nation by Efficiency Canada.
EfficiencyOne’s innovative model—which sells saved energy to the electric utility through an agreement similar to a power purchase agreement—and its results reducing energy usage and climate emissions have been profiled by the International Energy Agency and the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. The organization has also been recognized by Energy Efficiency Canada as ranking first in the nation for its range of energy efficiency programs which include initiatives aimed at reducing energy costs for renters and Indigenous communities.
Innovation is a constant at EfficiencyOne. Developments now in the pipeline include new tools for municipalities to leverage local investment into energy efficiency, high-performance house plans, low income solar, electric vehicle charging for multi-unit residential and commercial buildings, and artificial intelligence for virtual home energy audits.
EfficiencyOne Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of EfficiencyOne, provides customized client efficiency strategies. Since its creation in 2016, this has grown rapidly. Last year, annual revenues exceeded $2.2 million, an increase of 37 per cent over 2018, and the company’s client portfolio included governments, utilities and international financial institutions in Canada and the Caribbean.
“I wish to be remembered as a pragmatic leader, who made a meaningful impact on Canada’s transition to a low carbon economy.”
Krista Ross is testament to the fact that passion pays. At age 43, she found herself at a professional and personal crossroads when her current position became available. Determined to land the “dream job,” she contacted board members, past presidents and many chamber members to express her interest in the position, and to determine their vision for the organization. She was asked to a first interview, and then a second. For the latter, she prepared a Powerpoint presentation on the future direction of the Chamber and presented a draft press release announcing her appointment. Just a few weeks later, that press release was published almost verbatim.
That was in 2011. Since then, the CEO of FCC has used this same passion to grow membership numbers, revenues and employees to their highest-ever levels. Revenues increased 55.5 per cent from 2016-2018 and in 2019, FCC passed the 1,000-member threshold for the first time in its history. Additionally, FCC’s innovative programs have been nationally recognized. Its Succession Connect program, which matches newcomer entrepreneurs seeking to purchase turnkey operations with business owners interested in selling, was recommended for national use by the Conference Board of Canada in 2017.
Ross says facilitating these types of connections enables businesses to continue, while preserving jobs and their economic impact. When the COVID-19 wave crashed, for example, the FCC quickly became a go-to source for critical business information. Ross and her team provided daily updates on new regulations, government program criteria, and available PPE. “We also shared with the public a business directory of who was open, operational at what capacity, and offering assistance,” says Ross.
In addition to keeping businesses informed, they were also tireless advocates to all three levels of government, lobbying for programs that would support businesses when and how they needed it most. And they offered those services to members and non-members alike. “We prioritized helping all businesses and not concerning ourselves with membership during the peak of the crisis,” says Ross.
Those efforts speak directly to the passion that drives her: “My long-term goal is to support a diverse business community that welcomes and encourages entrepreneurs of all ages and from around the globe who recognize that Fredericton is the premiere city of its size in which to live and do business.”
As CEO of Knowledge Park and Ignite Fredericton, Larry Shaw has led his team in supporting the creation of 300 companies and increased employment by more than 1,500 jobs over the past five years. If that were not enough, they have also supported workforce expansion in the N.B. capital with the arrival of more than 3,000 newcomers.
Under Shaw, Fredericton’s Knowledge Park, which is focused on knowledge sector clustering, has grown to be the work home for 800 employees in more than 50 companies. Atlantic Canada’s only research park, it has increased assets to $80M and grown revenues to over $5M. Its latest strategic investment, Cyber Center, will be home to Canada’s first privately-owned, level II security building dedicated to cyber security research and commercialization, and the protection of critical infrastructure.
“Knowledge Park has invested heavily in the knowledge sector, in startup infrastructure and programming, and it has been the anchor organization in the cyber security agenda by investing $7 million in Cyber Centre,” says Shaw. “We are putting a stake in the ground and claiming our number one position as the best location for all things cyber.”
Investment like this is key to realizing Shaw’s long-term goal: seeing the region become a destination of choice for immigrants. “We need more people, more entrepreneurs, and more families. We know the quality of life we have here, and we know that we can reach the world from here. We need big dreams, we need big ideas, and we need big investments.”
“The pandemic has challenged us to be creative and to look beyond the direct impacts and focus on the art of the possible.”
Michelle Simms has been working with entrepreneurs most of her adult life. As a recent business graduate from Memorial, she worked with student entrepreneurs in rural Newfoundland. This obliged her to learn coding, and her passion for technology was born. Landing a job at tech hub and accelerator Genesis Group in 2002 was a natural progression, but she never forgot her passion for coding. In 2013, she opened N.L.’s first chapter of Canada Learning Code.
In 2016, Ms. Simms became president and CEO of the Group, and has since realigned Genesis’ operations, implementing a renewed focus on strategic thinking and execution. Her initiatives have tripled both staff and client base, increased revenues by 28 per cent and added four new programs. Last year alone, Genesis launched a new $775,000 microfund, helped submit a successful application to the Ocean Supercluster and opened Genesis Coworking, a co-working space in St. John’s for the entrepreneurial community. The group also won the Top Challenger (North America) award from University Business Incubators Global.
Simms has also focused her efforts on making the technology sector more diverse and inclusive. In 2019, Genesis established new programs for women and immigrant founders, winning the Diversity award from the St. John’s Board of Trade later that year. “I would like to be known for my efforts to increase the number of women working in the technology sector, both at the senior leadership/founder level and at the middle management level. Our technology sector would be twice its current size if women had been participating at the same rate as men from the beginning. That’s a loss of $1.6 billion in value for our province annually,” she says.
At 34, Andy Turnbull has achieved more in his short span in the chief executive’s chair than most people twice his age.
As the CEO of Nunacor, the business development arm of NunatuKavut Community Council (representing the Southern Inuit of Labrador), he leads a group of wholly-owned companies and strategic partnerships in a range of sectors, including hospitality, real estate, fisheries, mining services and safety training.
Having started with Nunacor in 2007 as a business development officer—becoming its general manager in 2012 and CEO in 2015—he’s clearly driven to be a strong advocate for Indigenous participation in business in Labrador. His work includes establishing partnerships to create opportunities for members of the Indigenous community and negotiating joint venture and Community Cooperation Agreements with the mining and energy sectors on behalf of NunatuKavut.
As self-determined and motivated as he is, he also knows just how important teamwork is to his organization’s enduring achievement. “I learned very early in my career that people are your greatest resource,” he says. “If you treat them well, business success will follow.”
It’s safe to say he learned much of this from his mentor Todd Russell, who has been NunatuKavut’s president for over half of his life. Says Turnbull: “He often speaks of developing the organization and our businesses in a way that improves the well-being of our employees and communities. Through his experience as an MP in Ottawa, he has stood up for our people. He is a true inspiration to work hard, have fun, but always put your staff (people) first.”
Turnbull puts these leadership lessons into practice every day, meeting challenges and capitalizing on opportunities with a single-minded purpose of empowering those around him. “One of the biggest challenges facing our group of companies is acquiring the skilled workforce required,” he says. “To attract the best people and retain our great team, we have placed considerable efforts on establishing an attractive benefits package and work culture for our companies.”
Who are the so-called ‘best people’? “Hiring a dream team really comes down to hiring individuals who have a positive attitude and an open mind,” he says. “An employee’s attitude will have a greater effect on their performance than anything else.” That includes the boss. “You must lead by example,” he says. “The actions of the leader will set the tone.”
To this end, Turnbull and his team recently completed detailed marketing and sales strategies for each of their business lines; they’ll now start to implement the action items. That includes looking at additional acquisitions to kickstart growth and the creation of business plans for entering new industries to help diversify their portfolio and generate revenue. They are particularly keen on renewable energy,
“I want our companies to be creating employment, empowering our communities and improving the well-being of our people,” he says. “I also want our communities to view our companies as model businesses, and to be inspired to consider their own business ventures.”
In short, Turnbull’s long-term vision is not only to leave behind a portfolio of successful and profitable companies, but also a culture of possibility. That’s not a bad legacy for future generations to inherit from someone who only just now spanned all of 34 years.
John Atkins, CEO of the digital marketing and advertising agency he founded in 2008, has a problem that some in his industry might find enviable. “Controlling and managing the company’s growth has been the biggest challenge,” he says. “We’ve been blessed with a lot of interest in our company’s services, and it’s been difficult dealing with the response.”
Over the past 12 years, JAC Digital Marketing Agency has garnered 45 international awards for its work for a wide variety of business sectors, including: engineering and architecture; retail; health care; research and development; oil and gas; travel and tourism; destination and resort marketing; and product design and development.
With just 13 employees, JAC is a nimble operation. That hasn’t stopped it, however, from posting a 47 per cent revenue growth in just the past three years. In other words, JAC is in demand.
“When a client works with JAC, they come on board as a partner,” Atkins says. “Clients have the opportunity to voice their opinions and work with the JAC team to help create a product that best serves their organization, their audiences, and their objectives. In 2019, JAC opened a second office at 401 Bay Street, Toronto, O.N. and have secured contracts with Dragons Den, CBC, Canadian Tire, along with other business sectors.”
That focus on teamwork naturally applies to the way Atkins runs his shop. “By showing my team that I am not afraid of difficult challenges, that I am not above them, but with them, and not afraid to delegate authority, anything is possible,” he says. “When you lead by example, you create a picture of what is possible.”
What’s more, he says, “making decisions is not about analyzing every conceivable scenario before taking action. It is about gathering available information, making a decision, and moving forward. Spending time evaluating every unlikely scenario fatigues you and your team.”
Of course, taking the initiative when problems do arise is also part of the game. To resolve the operational challenges of a steep growth curve the company has restructured how it manages multiple projects and timelines. “We designed a six-step design and development process to organize projects and workloads that use a series of benchmarks to mark project progress,” Atkins explains. “We also strengthened the office culture while reinforcing the importance of the new process. As a result, JAC is now more efficient and is back to short turnaround times and improved client relations.”
As for plans, they are numerous and ambitious. The first goal is to see JAC fully established outside the Atlantic region with key offices in Canada, the United States, and Europe. The second is to offer an incentive program that provides financial stability and a more relaxed and comfortable working environment to employees. The third is to create more of its own products, market them, and deliver them to the market.
Says Atkins: “I used to be proud of being called jack-of-all-trades, but soon realized I didn’t need to be involved with every single aspect of my business. I used the excuse that if every time I delegate tasks, something gets messed up and I would have to redo it anyway. I learned to put more trust in the hands of my team, giving them more responsibilities and the outcome has been amazing for both myself and the business.”
When it launched in 2015, Upstreet Craft Brewing became P.E.I.’s first B Corp company and Atlantic Canada’s first B Corp manufacturing company in 2017. It has since established itself as a major player in the regional brewing industry, and a leader in entrepreneurship and community development in Prince Edward Island.
“As the co-founder and CEO of Upstreet, it has been an incredible experience to lead the company through 124 per cent sales growth over the last three years,” says Mitch Cobb.
There must be something in the yeast. Upstreet has expanded to three locations in P.E.I. as well as a brewery/restaurant in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (the latter in partnership with Chef Bill Pratt). Their beer is now available throughout Atlantic Canada, and their craft soda is in three maritime provinces. “Overseeing these expansions has taught me a great deal about business growth and the growing pains that come with it,” says Cobb.
It’s a lesson he continues to learn. This year, Upstreet became one of the first companies in Canada to launch an alcohol-free craft beer. They’re also launching a low-carb craft beer and are reformulating their sodas to appeal to a wider consumer base.
One thing that won’t change is its social responsibility. Upstreet has a staff profit-sharing program, it sources locally first and uses 100 per cent green energy. Its Do Good Fund dedicates 10 per cent of all Do Gooder beer sales to local arts initiatives, and its Do Good Artist Residency brings international artists to Charlottetown each year.
Always an innovative company, Cobb says COVID has made them better prepared to adapt quickly to change and do more with less.
Saeed El-Darahali is the CEO and driving force behind SimplyCast Interactive Marketing, a leading provider of multi-channel, automated marketing services that empower business to create, manage and track their own marketing campaigns.
“Our organization is driven by innovation. We provide marketing automation services, which means we find ways to bolster the marketing strategies of our clients. Also, we primarily focus on a data-driven, inbound marketing approach. Therefore, our business growth depends both on product innovation and marketing innovation,” says the CEO.
Since 2009, SimplyCast has grown to serve clients in over 175 countries. It was awarded the 2017 Consumer Choice Award for Digital Online Marketing, the Game Changer Award for Best Youth Employer and two 2016 Halifax Business Awards in the categories of Business of the Year and Innovative Business of the year.
El-Darahali says he tries to empower a sense of ownership in staff. “I don’t believe in the traditional trickle-down leadership style. Everyone has a stake in an organization. Therefore, everyone is a leader. Through this bottom-up approach, we make sure everyone unleashes their full potential and brings forward innovative ideas.”
This CEO has also long been an advocate for young people, not only at SimplyCast but also through his work with government to curb regional youth unemployment. “My leadership legacy will always be promoting youth and providing them with opportunities. Today’s youth are creative, and they love thinking outside the box. We simply enable them to bring their ideas and assist them in the execution process,” he says.
“Keeping SimplyCast in Nova Scotia is a key goal that I promised myself and the community in 2009.”
Justin Ghosn is young, ambitious, smart—and making significant investments in both the transportation and real estate sectors of Nova Scotia.
His taxi company, Yellow Cab Halifax, has grown into Atlantic Canada’s second-largest fleet and its profits have increased 30 per cent since 2017. His real estate portfolio, which includes affordable housing units in all its upcoming residential developments, is equally fast-growing and set to add another $20 million in assets this year.
“Seeing results motivates me and keeps my company in line with what strategies are working and not working. This mindset, combined with a very ambitious attitude, is what has allowed me to achieve strong business growth at a relatively young age,” he explains.
An essential part of Ghosn’s agenda is ensuring Yellow Cab is an innovation leader. In 2019, it was one of the first taxi companies in Atlantic Canada to have advanced GPS vehicle tracking, customer text message notifications and a cloud-based server system. “Making these advancements directly contributed to us retaining 10 per cent more customers in 2019 over 2018 and increasing our fleet size. Furthermore, parts of our technology profile are set to become industry requirements before the end of 2020,” he says.
This CEO also plans to create a singular platform for Yellow Cab to cater to all of Halifax’s transportation needs, including courier and moving services. As of 2022, he says 33 per cent of all new vehicles added to the fleet with be either hybrid or electric. “Being leaders in this field will be essential in growing a more sustainable transportation industry,” he says.
“I don’t have set business hours; I have daily work goals. When they are complete, that’s when my day ends.”
This year marks Jill Green’s third Top 50 CEO appearance. Her company, Green Imaging Technologies (GIT), is a specialist in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), providing core analysis of reserves for the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Green has overseen GIT’s growth from startup to the globally-exporting enterprise it is today.
A UNB graduate, Green managed large projects for major public and private corporations for over 20 years. She returned to Canada in 2006 to launch GIT as the commercial arm for a technology developed at UNB’s MRI Research Centre. In no time, GIT was also developing its own innovations, while continuing to work with UNB to advance NMR technologies.
Partnership has since become a cornerstone of GIT’s success. “One of our strengths is our ability to focus on what we excel at,” says Green. An example is GIT’s partnership with UK-based Oxford Instruments, leading manufacturers of NMR instruments. “Rather than develop our own hardware and compete with them, we developed a software that incorporated our applications, knowledge and patents. Our innovative software is now the operating system for their instruments, and we jointly market and sell the product,” says Green.
While Green and her team continually strive to grow their product offerings within their existing market, they are also constantly looking for new opportunities both inside and outside of the oil and gas market. The challenge, of course, is that COVID has essentially stopped travel—which severely restricts their ability to identify and pursue new opportunities. Always a problem solver, Green is working to find a solution.
“Rules need to be flexible enough to allow innovation and creativity; you can’t push down the sides of the ‘box’ and get outside of it if you are too focused on making a good box.”
Asif Hasan was born in Bangladesh and moved to India at the age of 11 to study. As a teenager, he worked in NGOs focused on improving the lives of Bangladeshi street children. From these early experiences, he says he learned resilience, determination, creativity and teamwork are what it takes to become a leader and to overcome challenges. This was also when his passion for empowering others to make positive changes in the world was born.
Hasan moved to Canada in January 2012 to study electrical and computer engineering at UNB Saint John. He co-founded SimpTek after graduation, aiming to create a greener, cleaner world through smarter energy decisions. “During my engineering studies, I recognized that it was never about learning the contents of my mixed bag of university courses. It was always about applied critical thinking and problem-solving. This is what prompted me to co-found SimpTek to solve critical problems in the energy sector with the vision of becoming the most trusted provider of products and services that make energy efficiency and sustainability simple for everyone,” he says.
SimpTek’s Building360 smart data platform provides insights into a building’s energy usage, identifying opportunities for cost savings and the best ROI for capital projects. Revenues have grown by 241 per cent since 2017, and SimpTek now works with energy consultants, facilities managers, energy service firms, utilities and technology firms throughout North America and the Middle East. Looking forward, the company intends to increase its square footage under management in order to catalyze capital upgrades within customer pools. “SimpTek is more than just a technology provider. We collaborate closely with our partners to develop joint go-to-market strategies that ensure mutual success,” says Hasan.
In gaming lingo, Bill Hennessey could be described as the ultimate boss. After a career in gaming startups, he brought virtual reality and the 3D experience to the real estate industry—successfully boosting sales and overcoming Moncton’s condo humdrums in the process.
Hennessey launched Platinum Atlantic Realty in 2013, and plans for FiveFive, an 8-story, mixed development, began a year later. “Given my history in the tech industry, I knew that an integral part of the business would be ensuring we use the most innovative resources and technology available,” he says.
Previous attempts at condo development in Moncton had either failed or had limited success. Hennessey and his partners converted FiveFive’s architectural drawings to 3D, subsequently migrating them into Virtual Reality so potential buyers could walk through their future condos. It worked.
Thanks to innovations like these, Moncton’s downtown core is now home to a new, modern 55-condo development featuring Canada’s first Hilton Tapestry Collection Hotel, and Colliers International New Brunswick, which Hennessey took over in 2017, is now the largest commercial real estate brokerage the province. And, in July of this year, they expanded to N.L. and are licensed in P.E.I.
“It is my goal to be bold in introducing disruptive non-traditional technologies into each of the sectors, to continue to build a team of bright, creative, motivated, high achieving individuals, who want not a job but to make a difference, and want to be proud of what they are doing,” says Hennessey.
“Uncertainty creates change. Change creates opportunity. Now more than ever we are working with our clients to identify pockets of opportunity to add value to their business.”
Joe Hickey was hired by Nortel after his engineering studies at Memorial University. He went on to do an MBA at the University of Toronto, and was part of Nortel’s first IP business unit, where he led $700 million in M&As. One of the acquired companies was Shasta Networks, and Hickey shortly found himself on a plane to California. There, he became Nortel’s youngest VP, and grew the business from $10 million to $120 million in one year.
Hickey next became CEO of two venture-funded startups. When they were acquired, he moved to India, where he was VP of customer relations for ACME Telepower. He helped ACME win a $400 million contract with Aircel, then returned to Canada to join Ultra Electronics as VP Business Development. At Ultra, Hickey oversaw a $650 million contract with the U.S. Army and led in the creation of a next generation radio product, now known as Orion. Hickey then joined Christie Walther Communications. By 2015, it had become the first Canadian dealer to win Motorola’s Global Customer Excellence Award.
All this was before Hickey turned his attention to Dartmouth’s ROCK Networks. ROCK has since grown 5,000 per cent, acquiring Nova Communications in 2017 and launching Hickey on yet another new path—this time in rural broadband. “Today in Atlantic Canada, 95 per cent of rural citizens have no access to broadband, as defined by the CRTC. The incumbent telcos say there is no business case to build those networks. Our business case is based on open access community-owned networks, and brings financing assistance, best-in-class technology and operations of the network for the long-term benefit of the community,” says Hickey.
Hans Kristensen says Atlantic Canada has an abundance of good people with strong work ethics who are looking for a company to believe in. Kristensen finds them and recruits them.
“I am continually on the lookout for talented people who are unappreciated in their current role or in jobs that don’t allow them to reach their potential. If you hire talented people and provide them with the resources and the environment to succeed and maximize their potential, you are virtually guaranteed to dominate your industry,” says Kristensen.
A medical equipment sales and service company, specializing in mobility and rehabilitation equipment, Embracor Medical was founded by Kristensen in 2013 with just three employees. Today, it boasts a team of 45 and annual sales of $8,000,000. “Embracor Medical’s success is a perfect example of what a truly committed team of people can do if they share the same vision and pursue it with passion. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your company,” says Kristensen.
In an industry dominated by large players, Embracor Medical has thrived by offering personalized service. It is now working to accelerate equipment delivery times through predictive ordering, an industry game changer. Its “Aging in Place” strategy, which manages accessibility construction projects from concept to completion, is also an industry first. “Our goal is helping people stay in the homes they love and to live longer, safer and more independent lives,” says Kristensen.
“I have been an employee far longer than I have been an employer, and I never forgot how easily a bad leader can ruin a good employee.”
This CEO has grown his Halifax advertising agency nearly 30 per cent annually since 2018 on the back of award-winning campaigns on six continents. Though competing with multinationals 10 times its size, WeUsThem has built a successful global clientele, including Telus, the Kempinski Group, Government of Jamaica and Kaplan International.
Kutty says collaboration is key to his agency’s success, as embodied in the company name: We = Us + Them. Employees are able to wear each other’s hats when needed, and the agency’s focus on collaboration extends to client engagement. “They see us as partners rather than vendors as our approach sees us exploring their issues and concerns as if they were ours,” says the CEO. It is a strategy that has earned WeUsThem an 85 per cent return client rate and 82 per cent referral rate.
WeUsThem also has timely experience in healthcare. The agency has won multiple awards for its healthcare applications and campaigns, including two Gold Daveys and a Health Canada innovation award, and has gained national recognition for its use of marketing, communications and public relations to change the healthcare conversation.
Kutty, who has a background in public healthcare, is a frequent speaker at national healthcare conferences on the importance of marketing for healthcare research. “We have been vociferous voices on how healthcare research needs to be commercialized in a sense that it reaches and impacts those that it is intended for,” he says. Another talk delivered by the CEO, eHealth vs. the eShelf, explains how marketing can be used to help avoid research projects being shelved.
This is Ashwin Kutty’s third Top 50 CEO win and we strongly suspect it won’t be his last.
Dallas Mercer is two years into a three-year strategy to double revenues for her company, Dallas Mercer Consulting (DMC). DMC has provided companies with disability management, safety training and consulting, and industrial hygiene services for 18 years. However, as a Top 50 CEO last year, Mercer spoke of the launch of a new, ambitious growth plan, following a downturn in 2017 and her subsequent participation in the Wallace McCain Institute’s Entrepreneurship Leadership program in 2018.
Fueled by the positive results rolling in, Mercer is not only on track to reach her goal but is already developing her next big growth strategy. In 2019, DMC grew by 64 per cent and posted the highest revenues in its history. Mercer continued to accelerate the company’s expansion in Atlantic Canada and added to DMC’s service offering. The company also won the St. John’s Board of Trade Business Excellence Award.
Mercer’s next three-year strategy will see DMC continue to expand into Ontario using a similar marketing campaign that has proven so successful throughout Atlantic Canada. Her long-term vision for DMC has remained constant—to be the national leader of disability management services. And while building a national profile takes time, her end goal is getting closer.
Across Canada, companies, organizations and governments are turning to Dallas Mercer to better understand employers’ rights, roles and responsibilities to reduce costs. She has presented to industry associations, human resource professionals, task force reviews and Workers’ Compensation Boards across Canada, where many senior executives have sought her aid in better understanding the employer perspective.
“You’ve got to focus on three years at a time—otherwise you lose out on new opportunities.”
CloudKettle’s services are in very high demand. It posted revenue growth of 160 per cent between 2017 and 2019, and CEO Greg Poirier says new clients are turned away every month because he cannot grow his team fast enough, even with help of remote employees.
At the heart of this success is the niche consultancy he has been building since 2015. CloudKettle specializes in the platforms that power sales and marketing, and its services are helping clients close billions in sales and renewals each year. Word is out—over 90 per cent of CloudKettle’s revenues come from referrals, and the impressive number of North American powerhouses on its client list keeps growing.
“CloudKettle’s focus has consistently been the Salesforce and Google ecosystems, where we’ve achieved the status of Salesforce Silver Partner and Google Premiere Partner. Having both those specializations makes us rare and a highly sought-after resource,” says Poirier.
This growth is keeping the five-year-old company on track for the CEO’s seven-year exit plan. International acquisition by 2022 was a goal he established at the outset, along with the annual key performance indicators (KPIs) needed to get there. The company remains on target to not only be acquired, but to also make acquisitions of its own.
“CloudKettle’s long-term plan has always been centered around four main principles: build a company with no debt, that is profitable every year, that can feed and nurture the Halifax tech ecosystem and that is well positioned for acquisition,” Poirier. They have remained true to all four.
“We’re fortunate we had the amazing team, client base and cloud infrastructure that facilitated a fast adaptation to COVID; our business has grown in 2020.”
Sam Sannandeji says Modest Tree was born from the realization that technological innovations could resolve a large gap in enterprise operations and that resolving that gap could significantly benefit companies. He founded the Halifax-based 3D modelling and software development company in 2012, just five years after arriving in Canada as a refugee. “That same month, I was awarded my first contract to develop immersive training for the Canadian Air Force. Thus began the rapid growth of Modest Tree,” he says.
By 2015, Modest Tree had unveiled its first product and signed a contract with Jazz Aviation. By 2016, its software was the platform of choice for National Defence. In 2018, MAN Energy Solutions selected Modest Tree to develop the first virtual reality training solution of its kind in the marine sector for engines aboard the navy’s new Arctic and Offshore Patrol ships. Last year, Modest Tree signed partnerships with FlightPath and RENK AG.
Now a global operation, Modest Tree uses leading-edge technology and game design experience to build advanced simulations for its clients. Its extensive R&D efforts in advanced 3D technologies, mixed reality, virtual and augmented reality, and extended reality have produced award-winning products recognized for their innovation.
“In a few short years, we’ve gone from local startup to global industry leader. We have successfully expanded our product lines, increased market penetration, and reached international markets. We’ve differentiated our offerings to show we are competitive against large companies like Amazon Sumerian and Eon Reality,” says Sannandeji.
Next up are new products in AI, machine learning, and cyber security. “This company’s success in revolutionizing the industries it serves will be my legacy,” says the CEO.
Just seven years old, Ray Creative Agency has already won NLOWE’s Start Up of the Year (2016), MacLean’s and Canadian Business’ PROFIT Top 50 Start Ups in Canada (2017), and St. John’s Board of Trade’s Leader in Growth & Sales (2017 and 2019).
Ray’s president and creative director, Jenny Smith, is a three-time winner of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO award (2018-2020). A seasoned and award-winning veteran of the national advertising and marketing industries, Smith brought 20 years of experience with her when she founded Ray and she has built its success around a cohesive team of other experienced professionals.
“We pride ourselves on our innovative business model. Most locally-owned advertising agencies are big ‘machines’ with big overheads. Enter Ray—a fresh, creative and strategic boutique that uses a different model. Even after six years of substantial growth, we still keep things smart, simple and lean with a highly seasoned core team,” says Smith.
This savviness has paid off in spades. Ray’s revenues have grown 95 per cent since 2017. “At the core of Ray’s philosophy is our belief in our people. Ray is a talent-heavy agency with several industry veterans who bring different skill sets to the table, and we’ve carefully cultivated a culture where they can do their best work. When people feel valued, the drive and determination to succeed is unstoppable,” she says.
Also unstoppable is Ray’s upward trajectory. Smith intends to keep hiring the best people in the business until the agency has firmly established itself as the best in Atlantic Canada and beyond.
“Finding the right people is key. Fit is everything at Ray.”
The hardest part really is getting started, if one is to draw conclusions from Jacqui Winter’s story. And the rest? Easy peasy, or at least she makes it look that way.
Winter thought she was ready to start a business in 2015, but “the thought of doing so was one thing and actually taking the leap and doing it was another,” she says now. The risk felt daunting. There were no clients, no revenue, and the economy was in a downturn. Leaving a secure paycheck and a job with benefits was scary.
Winter’s entrepreneurial dream ultimately prevailed and she founded HR Project Partners (HRPP) that year to offer clients high quality human resources services. But the business was slow getting started. “I questioned many times whether I had made the right decision. I had always worked in roles where I was very successful and during the first year of my business, I did not feel very successful,” she says.
But she continued to reach out to companies, and in 2016, finally HRPP started to grow. It hasn’t stopped growing since. In fact, revenues increased by a whopping 350 per cent between 2017 and 2019, and what started as a two-person team is now a staff of 40. The company has opened a second branch in Labrador City, and has plans to add another 20 new employees and expand into Quebec.
“My long-term vision is to see HRPP become one of the best HR recruitment and consulting companies in Canada. It will be the company with a reputation like no other. The plan to get there has already started,” she says.
This is Winter’s first Top 50 CEO award win.
Mark Beal, though up to his eyes in them, has not a bit of egg on his face. Since becoming CEO of Amherst’s Maritime Pride Eggs in 2009, he has not only transformed a struggling company and increased sales by 279 per cent, but his innovative approach to changing consumer values has also transformed his industry.
Maritime Pride is now a national leader in alternative animal housing, providing customers with a choice of eggs from conventional housing, enriched housing, free run, free range and organic. Though the initial investment was steep, Beal’s forward-thinking strategy has placed Maritime Pride, and its farmers, at the forefront of market trends.
Throughout this journey, Beal has shown an ever-deepening commitment to environmental sustainability. Many of Maritime Pride’s farmers grow their own non-GMO feed, the company has almost completely transitioned away from the use of Styrofoam, and it is working towards zero carbon footprint in its plants, with the aid of solar panels and rainwater recovery tanks.
“My official role as CEO is to oversee operations, develop strategic planning and make acquisitions to grow the company. However, I feel my role has a deeper, more personal element. I strive to reduce our carbon footprint, to make our plants greener and to reduce waste. I want our farmers to be proactive in animal care so that we can proudly sell our products,” he says.
“My long-term goal is to have the majority of the farms that supply us be zero-carbon operations through the use of wind power, for example. This will take time and investment, but global warming is the single biggest challenge of our generation and that of the generations to come.”
What has Charlene Brophy been doing since we last checked in? This four-time Top 50 CEO has been out proving why she continues to be so deserving of the award. The CEO of St. John’s-based Fonemed, which delivers remote health care to 15 million patients throughout North and South America, has not been resting on her laurels.
Fonemed highlights include the design of a software platform with disease-specific algorithms for in-house clinical programs, which will also be leased to other organizations. The multi-lingual platform has already been installed at locations in North America, the Caribbean and Latin America. Fonemed has also added remote monitoring of biometric devices to its list of services, which means patients with chronic diseases can have their oxygen saturation levels, blood pressure and blood glucose, for example, read at home. Additionally, Fonemed has moved its call intake operations to N.L., hiring workers there to manage its 350,000 annual calls. Throughout Newfoundland and coastal Labrador, nurses and call agents are working for Fonemed from their own homes.
“We constantly challenge the status quo. Taking risks may be particularly rewarding in times when the industry is changing, such as healthcare is now. There is a lot of opportunity in turbulent times,” says Brophy. “I have constant awareness of both the external and internal competitive landscape, opportunities for expansion, customer base, markets and new industry developments and standards.”
This vigilance has paid off. Over the past three years, Fonemed has posted 27 per cent revenue growth.
“Fonemed was well positioned to respond to the global health crisis. The overnight adoption of telemedicine resulted in significant and sustaining expansion of our business lines.”
Lilia Fraser had been in Canada just two years when she started planning Moncton’s Pump House Brewery with her husband, Shaun Fraser. Two years later, in 1997, the pair launched the business to astounding success. By 2005, Pump House had scooped up the title of Brewery of the Year from the Canadian Brewing Awards. Over the following decade and a half, strong growth led to the addition of a production facility, national distribution, a new tap room and a fill station. All the while, Pump House continued to expand its line of award-winning products.
“I moved to Canada in 1995 from a socialist culture in the former Soviet Union. My biggest challenge was at the beginning of my new journey: entrepreneurship in a capitalist society with language barriers. Not having any experience in owning a business, let alone a brewpub, managing staff and even dealing with the most common practices of banking and financials were just the tip of the iceberg. These challenges were overcome through hard work and the will to succeed,” says Fraser.
Two decades later, Pump House is again charting a course into unknown territory with the launch of a craft distillery and winery, a first for an Atlantic Canadian microbrewery. “We are constantly striving to create new products that will stand out in our marketplace and abroad with quality and consistency. Quality control is our highest priority, as well as customer service. I believe that it is the quality of our product and the quality of our people that are going to help with the growth of our business as we expand into these new markets,” says Fraser.
Over the past few years, Michael Leonard has led transformation and consolidation within Atlantic Canada’s credit union system while creating a collaborative industry dynamic that is unique in Canada. In his role as CEO of Atlantic Central, which provides strategic leadership and central banking services to 45 members throughout the region, Leonard has also spearheaded a successful campaign to raise awareness of the credit union as a financial institution.
“We have established a vision and strategy for the Atlantic credit union system, where credit unions are well recognized, and provide an exceptional experience for our members and our communities,” says Leonard. Digital transformation, payments modernization and brand awareness initiatives have boosted both membership numbers and profitability for the group, which boasts a combined $6 billion in assets. Additionally, collaboration between the credit unions, including a common technology platform, has increased their weight nationally.
“We have created a regional dynamic that allows us to act as a $6-billion company instead of 45 smaller ones. This has given us significant advantages in dealing with national partners, who see opportunity to access 130 communities and 300,000 Atlantic Canadians,” says Leonard.
The credit union’s steadfast commitment to placing people and communities first, despite significant changes in the banking sector, has served as a constant motivation for this CEO. “Knowing that the organization I lead aligns with my personal values gives me the energy to push for significant change as the banking sector transforms to a new digital business model,” he says.
“I have dedicated my entire career to the credit union system and believe passionately in its message of “people before profits.”
Keith McIntosh finds himself in the unusual situation of leading the largest company he has ever worked in. The CEO of Fredericton’s PQA Testing started the software testing company 20 years ago with one goal in mind—to create jobs in New Brunswick. Today, PQA Testing is an award-winning, multi-million-dollar business with branches across Canada and nearly 200 employees.
McIntosh’s leadership responsibilities have been further compounded with the rapid success of the second company he founded, PLATO Testing. The world’s first Indigenous software testing company, PLATO Testing has injected more than $6 million into the Indigenous economy since its start, while creating a lasting impact in more than 45 Indigenous communities across Canada.
“Among my career highlights was the opportunity to attend the Governor General’s Leadership Conference just as the Truth and Reconciliation Report was being released in 2015. Those two events sparked the idea that eventually became PLATO Testing, and it continues to have an impact on my life as a leader every single day,” says McIntosh.
“Many First Nations, Métis and Inuit people want to stay in their communities, contribute to their local economies and set an example for those around them. PLATO Testing aims to provide the quality jobs to enable them to do that.”
The companies posted combined revenue growth of 36 per cent over the past three years, and the market is still growing. “Our biggest challenge is also our biggest advantage: the software world is evolving rapidly every day, and our potential market is expanding with new and exciting experiences like robotic automation, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence. Each of those require software testing to work well,” he says.
Only 38 years old, Dean Shea has grown eight companies from the ground up. Last year, Shea Group, a diverse conglomerate of commercial construction, real estate rental and leasing and green energy interests, surpassed $20 million in revenues for the first time. It also established a multinational division in the United States.
“I consider myself someone who is energetic and excited about progress, innovation and opportunity. I started my first company, Castone Construction, in 2006 at 24 years of age, and have since successfully founded seven others. Building businesses is a passion, and I’m proud to also have built a solid team within these organizations.”
Shea says the group’s success is due to the full-service package it offers its customers: VEP Mechanical provides ventilation, electrical and plumbing services; the Group has its own roofing division; and its green-energy startups (EcoPilot Canada and EcoPilot USA) use Swedish technology to reduce the energy consumption and total CO2 emissions of buildings.
While this goes far in explaining Shea Group’s success, its president has also distinguished himself from the competition. “It’s important to me to know I’m cultivating business in a fair, ethical and dynamic manner. Shea Group works continuously to embrace positive evolution. We strive to advance the standards of safety, quality of workmanship and customer relationships,” says Shea.
He notes that higher standards of energy efficiency are pillars of the new construction and renovation industry across the continent and around the world. “EcoPilot Canada and EcoPilot US are meeting these market trends and, in most cases, exceeding expectations.”
“Awesome employees are a crucial asset, from your management team down to each trades person, they all count.”
Whoever said there’s nowhere to go but down once you’ve reached the top, clearly hasn’t met Ken Shea. The president and CEO of East Coast Credit Union has a habit of setting new goals, new ‘tops’, for himself and the member-owned full-service financial cooperative he manages.
Since 2011, when East Coast amalgamated with Heritage Credit Union, he has grown assets under management by more than 273 per cent, from $311 million to $850 million. Over the past three years, consolidated revenues at the organization, which employs 152 people full-time and 47 part-time, have grown 17.7 per cent.
His original vision was for East Coast to become the largest provincially-regulated credit union in Atlantic Canada, which they accomplished in 2016. “My vision for our future is continued growth and development as a cooperative financial services business that is recognized as a leader both here in Atlantic Canada but also across the country.”
To some degree, this optimistic determination comes naturally. Shea began his career in financial services in 1989 with Bank of Montreal where he worked until 2004 in various capacities, from assistant manager trainee to senior manager of personal banking. For this reason, perhaps, he believes in the importance of financial literacy and has been contributing to the radio show Money Matters on News 95.7 in Halifax over the past five years.
Shea also believes strongly in community. He has been involved in many organizations’ boards and volunteer activities, as well as several regional and national credit union advisory groups. In 2019, East Coast Credit Union contributed $300,000 in cash and $575,000 in kind to charities.
All of which suggests a virtuous pattern. “My leadership philosophy is to build a strong collaborative team with the skills and talents necessary for successful execution of our plan,” he says. “I believe that organizations perform best when they are able to harness the power of the team and the unique skills and strengths that each individual brings.”
Not surprisingly, then, East Coast Credit Union has been recognized with several awards, including Top Atlantic and Nova Scotia Employer designations in 2019 and 2020. It received the CCUA National Credit Union Award for Sustainability in 2018 and the CCUA National Award for Community Economic Development in 2019. It also received the Atlantic Credit Unions’ Coady award in 2019 for cooperative social responsibility.
That’s not to say it’s been smooth sailing all the way. Says Shea: “One of the most challenging things facing my company is digital disruption. As an industry, financial services is one of the sectors which has not been impacted as significantly by digital disruption due to barriers to entry and regulation. However, with the advent of fintechs and changes in regulations, it is becoming easier for new participants in the market to enter.”
Again, though, Shea prefers to think of hurdles as unexploited opportunities. And that means, of course, goal-setting. “The changing needs of our members and their expectations are forcing us to modernize our processes to become more digitally enabled and customer centric,” he says. “In response we have created our member advice center and are implementing digital on-boarding products for new accounts and lending as well as having live agent supports.”
In other words, Shea’s East Coast Credit Union will continue its happy goal-setting ways for some time to come.
In a normal year, P.E.I.’s tourism industry usually generates annual revenues of $480 million. Jeff Squires prides himself on having lent a helping hand in this achievement. “I have a passion for P.E.I. and promoting all that we have to offer to both visitors and prospective full-time residents.”
Over the past decade, Squires had led the growth of PEI Brewing Company from a small startup to a 70-employee operation with craft beer exports across Canada. Since 2017, it has also led the way in Atlantic Canada in the development of alcoholic beverage products. “In 2017 we created a new brand called Colliding Tides. It hit the market running, and we have since developed both gin- and vodka-based citrus beverages.”
At the same time, as CEO of Whitecap Entertainment, Squires has grown the annual Cavendish Beach Music Festival into Atlantic Canada’s largest outdoor event, attracting some 70,000 people to P.E.I.’s shores each year.
This past year, Squires, a three-time Top 50 CEO winner, launched another project dear to his heart—the P.E.I. Craft Beer Alliance. “We now have nine operational breweries within our province, creating a vibrant industry. Breweries are located from east to west, and job creation continues to grow,” he says. “We look forward to continuing to work with government in growing jobs, expanding the industry, and creating an operational and tax environment for success.”
Like everyone else in Atlantic Canada’s tourism sector, Squires is facing the toughest challenge of his career: the fallout from COVID-19. Squires, however, has a reputation as a big picture thinker with a gift for understanding where things need to go and how to get there. We’re betting he can find his way forward once more. Here’s hoping.
From hotel bus boy to eastern Canada’s prince of pitas, Mike Timani fits the textbook description of “entrepreneur”.
“I started my career in the hospitality industry with Hilton Hotels in Toronto as a bus boy and was then transferred to Hilton Saint John, N.B. to assist in the opening of the hotel and convention center,” he recounts. “During my time with Hilton International, I held 14 positions within the food and beverage department leading up to [my becoming] food and beverage director in charge of 200 employees.”
He made the entrepreneurial leap in 1989. The now-president and CEO of Fancy Pokket Corporation started his business with only $22,000. “I set up a Lebanese-style, 74-seat restaurant named ‘Fancy Pokket’ in Moncton,” he says. “I had three employees manufacturing pita bread.”
These days, his operations in Atlantic Canada and into the United States—producing pita, tortillas, flatbread, bagels, Naan and other baked delectables—earn annual revenues of $5-10 million and boast a three-year consolidated growth rate of 25.5 per cent.
In the process, his flagship Moncton bakery has grown from a 1,000 square-foot space into to a 45,000 square-foot state-of-the-art facility employing 70 people. As if that’s not enough, Timani has opened a 58,000 square-foot facility in South Carolina dedicated to making gluten-free bread, rolls, hot dog and hamburger buns, baguettes, muffins, brownies, cookies, banana breads and pound cakes for hungry and discerning U.S. consumers.
He chose the location of his U.S. facility because it allowed him to “reach half of the population of the U.S. within a 14-hour drive,” he says. “The facility began operation in late summer 2018 with an investment of $28 million.”
Not that everything has always been hot buns and pastries. “Cash flow is our biggest challenge now,” he says. “Our focus currently is to grow our sales. We are well on our way. We have been servicing Sobeys with their private label pita in the Quebec and Atlantic regions for 29 years; just this past year, we managed to gain the account nationwide. Last spring, we hired a broker in the U.S. as well as a sales and marketing firm. We continue to exhibit in trade shows across North America to gain exposure and capture additional sales. We are expecting a 50 per cent increase in sales in 2020 over 2019.”
Timani doesn’t attribute his progress to one quality over any other, but, rather, to many. Like a chef balancing several different ingredients at once, he thinks honesty, confidence, good communications, a positive attitude and compassion go hand-in-hand with focus and dogged determination. “I have faced many challenges,” he says. “But I pushed through all these difficulties with a result in mind.”
This will come in handy in short order. He envisions further automating the Moncton operation, expanding the building to 90,000 square feet, and concentrating on new product lines. “By having access to our U.S. facility and managing to penetrate that market with our Canadian product line, we expect to double our business,” he says.
In 1995, Patsy Tremblett realized her dream of becoming a business owner. That year, she founded Prima Information Solutions with two partners and a mandate to provide IT support for small and medium-sized businesses. By 2004, Tremblett had become Prima’s sole owner, and the company continued to grow steadily, establishing a reputation and a client base throughout North America, and eventually Europe.
In 2017, Tremblett decided to diversify. She purchased Seawatch, a fishery observer management company, and two years later, she purchased another, Javitech. Both companies are contracted by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) to manage fishery observer data in Canada and for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. Seawatch also has a contract with DFO to supply N.L.’s River Guardians, who monitor water levels, temperatures and illegal activities in inland waterways. Today, the Prima Group encompasses multi-million-dollar corporations and employs nearly 200 employees.
But Tremblett isn’t finished yet. Prima has entered a partnership with a UK-based company that will make another of her dreams come true: developing software. “This software will benefit not only Seawatch and Javitech, but potentially all other such companies globally.”
Tremblett’s success as a leader is evident in her low staff turnover rate. “My staff are important to me, and they are important to me as people, not just employees. I think they realize that, and our company is stronger for it,” she says. “My biggest challenge across all three companies is an aging workforce. Many employees have been with us 20 or even 30 years or more!”
“My philosophy has always been to lead by example. I can’t talk the talk if I won’t walk the walk.”
This is Pat Whalen’s third Top 50 CEO appearance, following wins in both 2018 and 2019. It’s not surprising. Whalen’s work in and passion for his field, microbiological testing and control for water, has not only transformed his company into a global leader since 2003, with more than 70 employees, six offices, dozens of research and sales partners and thousands of customers around the world, not to mention a 93 per cent jump in revenues since 2017, but this CEO and his company have both played major roles in the ongoing molecular biology revolution in water and wastewater management.
Over the years, LuminUltra’s flagship products have come to dominate in industries such as drinking water provision and oil and gas production, while Whalen has himself authored hundreds of technical papers on the subject, presented at numerous international conferences and co-authored multiple patents. Now this CEO is focused on taking the next step by using the data generated by LuminUltra’s cloud platform, which enables real-time collaboration between operators, to better understand how to control processes in different sectors and geographies, something that has never been done before.
In the future, Whalen envisions LuminUltra offering a range of industry solutions from basic test kits to remote monitoring and automated testing equipment. “My vision for LuminUltra is that it becomes the ‘North Star’ that the market recognizes as the business that changed an entire industry’s approach to microbiological management. We aim to bring microbiology in the water sector into the 21st century through new, cutting-edge tools that overcome limitations in accuracy, precision, and speed.”
“I have determined that the way I can best effect change is by teaching and inspiring others.”
Leah Boody has no tolerance for the blame game. Tasked with rebooting a bankrupt Atlantic Canadian business with 650 retail and hospitality clients, she found the corporate culture rife with struggle, shaming and lack of transparency. Within 12 months of her arrival, employee surveys were highly positive, teams were collaborating, and fear had settled. The company had also achieved 13 per cent revenue growth.
“My personal leadership philosophy is based on establishing a culture of trust and integrity such that team members feel safe and supported in our shared effort to achieve company goals,” she says.
Today, as president and CEO of Dartmouth’s Pineapple Bytes, a leading Point of Sale system supplier, and COO of Nantes Capital, where she heads mergers and acquisitions, and provides strategic direction for 10 companies, Boody continues to build environments where employees are respected, challenged and feel like part of a team.
“I hope that my leadership is remembered as authentic, passionate, humble and inspiring. I would like to be remembered as having fostered a culture where employees can contribute without the fear of shaming that often comes from insecure leadership,” she says.
Over the past year, Pineapple Bytes has been driving innovation in restaurants throughout Atlantic Canada by upgrading from basic kitchen printers to fully integrated kitchen hardware and software, which increases speed of service and reduces food and paper waste. Boody is also spearheading the national expansion of Pineapple Bytes, which markets US-based NCR’s products in Canada. NCR is a world leader in consumer transaction technologies, and Pineapple Bytes is the only company testing its hospitality software in this country.
“I do not accept excuses or blaming people instead of process.”
Lydia Bugden simultaneously dispels and reaffirms the myth of the immutable profession of law. She is charting a course for her firm that is both proud of its history and forward focused.
Under her leadership, Stewart McKelvey is investing in human capital and innovation at what is a pivotal time in the legal profession. “Our profession is undergoing significant change—what we do, how we do it and who we do it for. This not only disrupts the environment in which we practice, but also makes it challenging to know what is needed to take advantage of future opportunities,” she says.
To address this, Bugden has expanded the reach and depth of the firm’s skills and markets, while carrying on the legacy of what it means to be a Stewart McKelvey lawyer: “Expanding the expertise of our talent will keep us competitive and expanding our markets and the services we provide will keep us successful.”
Stewart McKelvey now has a permanent innovation partner and is investing heavily in technology. Additionally, this year both its Halifax and Fredericton branches will move into new offices designed for efficiency and collaboration. Bugden says her strategy is beginning to pay off, as the firm is in a better position to respond to client demands and pursue new opportunities with confidence.
She says the success of her leadership style is based in her ability to connect with clients and colleagues: “I believe in sharing why I believe a certain direction is best. It is important to communicate the business imperative, and then empower the team with the skills to bring it to fruition.”
“I hope I am remembered for leading with courage and compassion.”
Since purchasing Mrs. Dunster’s, Atlantic Canada’s largest family-owned and operated bakery, in 2014, the Hyslops have expanded distribution and operations, and completed a number of acquisitions. Today, with bakeries in Sussex and Moncton, N.B. and Borden, P.E.I., Mrs. Dunster’s delivers fresh-baked goods to 600 stores and 200 restaurants across the Maritimes and Maine at least twice a week, as well as operating five stores of its own.
The Hyslops became co-CEOs this year, a structure they say has improved how they manage the rapid growth and expansion of the business. Rosalyn is responsible for daily operations and Blair for optimizing growth strategies.
“We start every day with no inventory, we bake fresh product and deliver it to every grocery store and many restaurants in the Maritimes and the state of Maine. It’s crucial for us to have a focus on day-to-day operations, but that daily production focus can make it difficult to focus on synergies, strategy and growth. This new co-CEO structure allows us to do both,” they say.
Their initial business plan called for three per cent annual growth over three years, while their actual growth rate has been closer to 27 per cent a year. They intend to double the size of the company again over the next five years by expanding the distribution of existing products and third-party products, opening more retail store locations, introducing new products, and expanding the geographic reach of Mrs. Dunster’s beyond their current markets.
While food production was one of the few industries not shut down by COVID, the Hyslops haven’t escaped unscathed. Their company may be slightly smaller than before, but they’ve also gained a new appreciation for how much they can accomplish together.
Although Lori Kennedy is a New England Patriots fan, lately she has been rooting for Kansas City. This is because Kennedy, mother of six, grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of five, likes their head coach, Andy Reid. Maybe this is because he, like Kennedy, has seen opportunity in people, places and things that others have simply written off.
“I grew up in Mira, a small community located between Louisbourg and Sydney, on the Mira River. I am one of 12 siblings. We weren’t poor, we just didn’t have any money! I grew up with music in our household. My parents taught me to work hard, be respectful and kind,” she says.
Kennedy is co-founder and owner of Louisbourg Seafoods, a global seafood business in Cape Breton with over 600 employees, four processing plants and its own fleet of vessels. She has succeeded in communities where others have failed. “We are proud of paying dividends to our communities. The four pillars of Louisbourg Seafoods are based on community, industry, academia and government, leading to more prosperous and healthy rural communities,” she says.
But Kennedy is not only concerned with communities in Cape Breton. Louisbourg Seafoods is a strong supporter of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Practicing a sustainable and traceable fishery which respects the marine environment is a priority. “Louisbourg Seafoods is very engaged in the SDGs,” she says. “We put a great deal of energy into sustainable fishing practices, and concentrate on how these practices address illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activity, which compromises emerging countries that depend on the ocean, not only for their livelihoods, but for food.”
“Every opportunity I get, I tell stories about our company, the employees, and the fishermen and women out on the ocean.”
From a student delivery business to mall kiosks to 57 retail stores nationally, Supplement King Canada, the Dartmouth-based retailer of health and fitness supplements, has become the fastest-growing company in its channel with CEO Roger King at the helm.
A four-time Top 50 CEO winner, King has used a blend of online and physical stores to propel the company’s remarkable growth. An omni-channel delivery platform, the first of its kind in the Canadian franchise industry, links physical stores to online sales. Online orders are filled at the closest physical store with available inventory, allowing for free, next day delivery to customers in the remotest regions of Canada. The innovative model earned Atlantic Business Magazine’s Innovator of the Year award for Supplement King last year.
“I want to be thought of as risk taker, as a leader who challenged the large, established competitors in our space, forced them to re-think their business plan, and as a result, improved the nutritional supplement industry for all consumers on a national scale,” says King.
A practical as well as visionary leader, King emphasizes the importance of a careful selection process for new employees. “Complacency isn’t an option in our small, cohesive workplace, so we take a great deal of care before making any hires,” he says.
Much care is given to the onboarding process as well to ensure employees are well supported entering their new role. “We have a high retention rate because we give our people clear goals, authority to execute, accountability and incentives for results. Everyone is well-trained, knows their job, understands and buys into our business plan, and each is empowered to make a large number of decisions autonomously,” says King.
Moncton’s Major Drilling Group International was just beginning to operate internationally when 25-year-old Denis Larocque joined the company. His career trajectory over the following decades grew in parallel with the company’s global expansion. After working in more than 40 countries, he became CEO in 2015.
By the end of 2019, Major Drilling Group was one of the world’s largest drilling services companies, with 3,100 employees. As CEO, Mr. Larocque has employed a strategy of diversification and acquisitions that has seen the company become an industry leader in profitability, despite a downturn in the exploration industry. By bucking trends and ramping up R&D while others were cutting budgets, Major Drilling has also become a leader in innovation, producing new developments in automated rod handling and computerized drill modules, as well as initiatives to reduce water consumption and environmental impact at drill sites.
Giving credit where credit is due, Laroque is grateful for the wisdom shared by the previous CEO. “I learned a lot from my predecessor, Francis McGuire. He taught me to keep an eye on the big picture and have a strategic vision. With more than 20 branches operating, it can be easy to get buried in daily details and lose track of your strategic goals. The key for me is to develop great leaders in each region and steer them in the right direction.”
Laroque has made a point of ensuring Major Drilling Group does not fall prey to “Big Company Syndrome,” bogged down with policies. “I want to make sure that our leaders are focused on being innovative and agile. The key to success is to keep the entrepreneurial spirit and strive to continue to improve,” he says.
Barry Perry does not face the typical decisions most of us face. The decisions he deals with as CEO of N.L.-based energy delivery leader Fortis are, for example, whether or not to issue $1.2 billion in common equity as part of capital funding plans.
Perry leads the company that had the largest treasury offering in the country last year, and in this case, as in many others, his decision was literally on the money (Fortis’ share price recently reached an all-time high on the TSX). It is decisions like these and a willingness to seize opportunity which have allowed Perry to transform Fortis from merely the largest electric and gas Canadian utility to a $53-billion North American powerhouse over the past few years. From 2014-2019, revenues climbed 63 per cent, from $5.4 billion to $8.8 billion. As Perry says with masterful understatement, growth is evident.
“I have a passion for this sector and learned long ago we must lean into opportunity when it presents itself,” he says. As Fortis embarks on a new $18.8 billion, five-year plan, Perry wants two things: to ensure the company remains true to its N.L. roots as it grows and that it values a sustainable, clean energy future.
“It’s one thing to run a business successfully, but it’s another thing to be a leader in your industry. It’s what you do beyond making a good return for shareholders which speaks volumes. What’s more important is a personal commitment to employees, responsibility to community and our collective thrust to make this world a better place,” says Perry.
“Be excited. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, and don’t be afraid to step up to the plate.”
Larry Puddister would be justified in sitting back and admiring all that he has built—a leading industrial service company in Newfoundland and Labrador and, increasingly, beyond, with annual sales in the $100-500 million range and a three-year revenue growth rate of 17.1 per cent.
But his most satisfying moments are also those that account for the 750 people on his payroll. “We are in the process of working towards an employee-owned model,” he says. “For the first time, the people who work at Pennecon will own a piece and have a stake in its future.”
That’s not something you hear every day in the rough-and-tumble world of private enterprise. But it’s perfectly consistent with Puddister’s (and Pennecon’s) particular view of business leadership and success. And it extends far beyond the workplace.
“For several years, we have maintained an operational mandate to give back to a variety of local charities and not-for-profit organizations,” he says. “In 2019 alone, we gave to over 80 organizations, and each year we look to expand and diversify that list.”
Meanwhile, Pennecon continues to grow.
As its executive chairman, Puddister has spearheaded its expansion and financial success as a leading provider of integrated solutions for heavy civil, industrial, services and maintenance and marine sectors. He’s also the majority shareholder and CEO of Newcrete, the leading producer of construction aggregate and supplier of ready-mix concrete, precast concrete, and masonry products to the construction industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. Most recently, he has begun development on Smiling Land Organic Farm, near Witless Bay, which will be the first large-scale operation of its kind in the province.
At both, Pennecon and Newcrete, Puddister pursues growth opportunities not only in his home province but far afield. Pennecon recently constructed the Amherst Island Wind Farm Project near Kingston, Ontario. Projects and partnerships in British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba are also on their radar, as is work in Europe and the Canadian Arctic. “We know from experience how best to win tenders and tackle projects outside of our home province,” Puddister says. “It is our high state of operational readiness that creates a solid foundation for future project success.”
He notes that the ability to forge good partnerships is key: “By forming partnerships with multi-national companies like Barnard Construction, SNC-Lavalin and Dragados, Pennecon has been able to bid on and successfully win world-class mega projects. These partnerships have not only allowed us to tackle projects that would otherwise not fit our financial risk profile, but they have helped us establish an international profile.”
All of which continues to lay the future foundation for the people who make the wheels turn. In 2018, he finalized the buy-out of the remaining shares of Pennecon from the family of his deceased business partner Ches Penney, bringing to fruition a succession plan inked over a decade ago. This completes the first stage in the process to transition Pennecon to employee ownership.
“It’s our commitment to the continuous improvement of our people and processes that keeps our workforce knowledgeable and innovative,” Puddister says. “I have always found that you get the best results not by treating people how you would like to be treated, but by treating them how they would like to be treated.”
As Sobeys’ executive vice-president of Related Business, Vivek Sood oversees a portfolio that includes in-store pharmacy, liquor, Lawton Drugs, convenience and fuel, wholesale, Big 8 Beverages and Pete’s Frootique & Fine Foods. He is also a member of Sobeys’ new innovation steering committee. Long before the pandemic, he was working to bring greater innovation to grocery retail.
“I am pleased to say our company has really intensified its focus on innovation as a key pillar of our strategy. This past year we appointed an SVP, Innovation & Strategy, and we set up an innovation steering committee and an innovation council, which will foster a culture of innovation across the organization,” Sood says.
Sobeys’ new digital approach to shopping has included the rollout of Caper Carts, smart self-checkout carts that instantly detect items in the cart, eliminating the need for customers to remove them to check out. It has also launched Canada’s only automated retail distribution centres, and its Voilà grocery home delivery platform came online this spring, just in time for Ontario shoppers. “We believe it is the most innovative and customer centric e-commerce solution in the world,” he says.
Closer to his Dartmouth base, Mr. Sood hopes to leverage his involvement with CDL-Atlantic, Innovacorp and The David Sobey Centre for Retail and Innovation to fuel this innovation drive. “I also am working to build relationships with the venture capital community and incubators like Volta,” he says. “I have a strong interest in ensuring we have access to innovative projects across the business portfolio that I am responsible for, as well as ensuring we are ingrained in the innovation community in Atlantic Canada.”