When Atlantic Business Magazine founded the Top 50 CEO awards 14 years ago, we had two goals. Our first and obvious objective was to recognize Atlantic Canada’s most accomplished and civic-minded business leaders – individuals who were growing their companies, their industries and their communities. Less apparent was our secondary purpose: by celebrating the region’s best corporate citizens, we hoped to inspire others throughout the region to follow their example.
CEOs are made, after all – not born – and everyone has to start somewhere.
Ironically, few of this year’s award winners had childhood aspirations of owning, operating or managing a business. One dreamed of being a pro golfer, several were would-be Montreal Canadian hockey players (all wanting to be just like number four — Jean Beliveau). There were a couple of wannabe rock stars, a prospective premier, an aspiring prime minister, an astronaut, an Olympic figure skater, even a six-million-dollar man — minus the crash, of course.
They may not have become any of those things, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to dream – and that’s a good thing. Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman runner to win three gold medals at a single Olympics, said that we should never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. “The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”
Each of our 2012 Top 50 CEOs is realizing their potential. The question is, what are you doing with yours?
President & CEO, Pluto Investments Inc.
Overachievers ‘R’ Us You can either be motivated by Paul Antle, or seriously intimated. The one thing you can’t be is underwhelmed. This native Newfoundlander owns a private equity company (Pluto Investments), a ship repair and maintenance business (St. John’s Dockyard Ltd.) and is a majority shareholder in an environmental waste management and remediation firm (West Mountain Capital Corporation). Not impressive enough for you? How about this: he received a World Young Business Achiever Award in ’97; was a member of Canada’s official delegation to the U.N. World Summit on Sustainable Development in ’02; and named a member of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40™ in ’03. In 2007 he graduated from Harvard Business School as co-valedictorian in the OPM Executive Education Program. These days, (in addition to his entrepreneurial activities), he chairs the board for the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. So, what have you done with your life lately?
Cleaning Up In 2010, the Chinese market for environmental technology was worth $450 billion – and it’s just getting started. Despite the distance, language, culture, banking and other challenges, Paul Antle was determined to win some of that business. Today, his company is one of the first foreign operations with joint venture agreements for environmental services in China.
President, Premiere Executive Suites/Atlantic Limited
Room to Grow Buy low, sell high – easier said than done, particularly when you know that buying low means waiting, perhaps months, before being able to realize a return on that investment. That’s precisely the dilemma that faced Suzanne Bachur during the first three quarters of 2011. The recession forced many companies to cut back on corporate travel, a direct hit to Premiere’s Executive Suites’ bottom line (the company’s extended stay, furnished apartments and suites are perfect for business travellers). While squeezing profit margins, the economic downturn also opened up a number of opportunities in the form of properties in prime locations. Bachur seized the day, investing for the future while simultaneously assessing ways to enhance the profitability of existing properties. The result of her proactive approach? A favourable Q4 to end the year.
Model Mentors “I have had, and continue to be supported and mentored by, people whose experience and integrity are first class. Starting very early in my career, my husband Ron introduced me to the importance of relationships and high standards in the workplace. Having had both his influence, and people such as Tim Moore as partners in a number of ventures, set the stage for where I find myself today.”
CEO, Bennett Group of Companies
Supersizing Opportunity Cathy Bennett, the dynamic owner of an eponymously named group of companies based in St. John’s, says 2011 was a year of significant change. Determined to grow her diverse operations – which include restaurants, residential and commercial real estate and recruitment services – she embarked on a comprehensive planning process that should position the Group for future success. Not that she’s complaining about her past. Having come up through the ranks, first as a 16-year-old McDonald’s employee and penultimately as joint venture partner with the fast-food chain, she is one of the province’s most enterprising entrepreneurs. Now, the busy businesswoman, who still manages to find time to serve on half-a-dozen corporate and community boards, insists that “with the prosperity and depth of business savvy in Newfoundland and Labrador, we can seize global opportunities and win. By working hard and smart together, the possibilities are boundless.”
Innovate or Fade Away One thing Ms. Bennett’s several hundred employees know is that she loves being told she can’t do something. She, herself, laughs, “It’s like throwing a red flag in front of a bull.” In fact, she says, “Sometimes, we think too small and create our own glass ceilings.”
President, The Johnson Corporation
East Meets West At various intervals throughout his 20-year career with this national home-auto insurance provider, Ken Bennett has consistently found his attention drawn to western Canada. With lucrative results. Within five years of leading his company’s western expansion, the value of that business grew to $150 million (it’s worth $180 million today and represents 25 per cent of Johnson’s overall business). In 2011, however, the area presented Johnson with one of the most significant challenges it has ever had to deal with: severe wildfires that swept through Slave Lake, Alberta. Bennett says his team responded with speed, determination and compassion, ensuring clients were provided with the information and support they needed during the crisis. Says Bennett proudly: “Our customers were taken care of … our employees went above and beyond. It’s the Johnson way.”
Hail to the Chief Ken Bennett is a big fan of former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier. Why? Because of Hillier’s dedication to putting people first and being a team player, his ability to shape positive change, his belief in lifelong learning and, most importantly, his credibility – all qualities which Bennett aims to emulate (many of his 1,500 staff say he succeeds).
President & CEO, Nova Scotia Power Inc.
A Higher Power Personally, professionally, civically, it’s evident that Rob Bennett’s unofficial motto is to do the “right thing”. He gives generously of his personal time and corporate resources to a number of charitable and voluntary organizations, including Big Brothers/Big Sisters, N.S. Community College, FEED Nova Scotia and Discovery Centre. And he leads his company according to a simple but powerful credo: to operate in a way that creates economic strength and competitive advantages for Nova Scotia. Since 2007 (when he was named Nova Scotia Power’s executive vice-president, revenue and sustainability), Bennett has defined that mandate through investments in renewable power generation. To date, the company has tripled wind generation (with more to come), invested in a biomass co-generation facility (set to come online in 2013) and is working on an undersea cable to import hydroelectric power from Newfoundland and Labrador. “Our plan over the next 10 years will see the most significant shift toward renewable energy production anywhere in North America.”
Plugged in Bennett says he’d like to talk to Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi. “They wanted very little despite achieving so much, and I think there’s a great deal we can all learn from them about how being humble about what you do in life can lead to a bold legacy.”
Dr. Robert Campbell
President & Vice-Chancellor, Mount Allison University
Head of the Class Dr. Robert Campbell’s tenure at the helm of one of Canada’s finest universities is a litany of firsts. As the institution’s 14th president and vice-chancellor, he has helped make it into a bastion of both scholarship and financial probity. It has consistently maintained balanced budgets and offers some of the best scholarship and best bursary programs in the country. Currently debt-free, it recently received the Number One designation, for a record 15th time, from Maclean’s magazine for best undergraduate institution in Canada. Moreover, under his leadership, the university recently decided to update its outmoded Fine and Performing Arts facilities. What’s so special about that? The $30-million project will be realized with no financial support from government. “Two goals are central to our mission,” he says. “We strive to maintain and extend the quality of the Mount Allison experience, and increase and strengthen the financial and physical sustainability of the organization.”
Passing the Test What keeps him going? “It is results that matter. There are many things to do in life, so I choose to do things where I can get results and make a difference. I can see the palpable impact of good management.”