Leader’s Insight

Fire and Ice
Jennifer Mills – a high energy, marathon-running CA, joined Precision BioLogic in 2006 as COO. Stephen Duff, the firm’s quiet, “library guy” Director of Product Strategy and Innovation, has been with the Halifax-based developer of specialized blood coagulation products for more than two decades. In January 2011, they were appointed co-CEOs.
Growth never feels comfortable.

Jennifer: My parents raised me to believe that the only way to grow is to push yourself outside your comfort zone. I didn’t want to take piano lessons. But they encouraged me – pushed me – to try new things. It’s a habit I’ve kept up my entire career. There have been so many situations where I’ve felt I didn’t know what needed to be done, or what I was doing there. They were terribly uncomfortable experiences. But I could also remind myself of other situations I’d been in that later seemed so moderate, but at the time were very uncomfortable.

Natural talent isn’t the be all and end all.

Stephen: My father had to leave school early to look after his family. He never took education for granted. I can remember sitting with him in the living room in Grade 1 and 2 with multiplication table flashcards. I had to sit there with him relentlessly until I could hit those numbers bang on. I learned that success comes down to hard work. In university, I lacked the elegant talent of some of my classmates. I was not the smartest guy in the room. To compensate, I had to roll up my sleeves and put in the time. I got labeled the “library guy.” Being that guy has served me well.

Ignore your passion at your peril.

Jennifer: A former mentor and business leader taught me to always follow my passion. As a leadership technique, being truly passionate about what you are doing gives you that conviction you need to take a leap of faith. Passion is infectious and helps you motivate your team to work together and achieve goals that would seem impossible. I have always found a way to merge my passion with my career. Because to treat your job as just your job makes for a really long and boring career.

Sharing the leadership role works if you do it for the right reasons.

Stephen: The day Jennifer and I were invited to jointly lead Precision BioLogic, I went home and stayed up until 3 a.m. researching the probability of success for co-CEOs. At first, I found that co-CEO arrangements didn’t have a good track record. But as I read further, I discovered that they unravel because of warring egos and power plays. After I read that, I found I was able to sleep much better. I am at a stage in my career where the whole notion of the power grab is long behind me. Jennifer has young children, and wants to grow and develop in such a way that allows her to balance the needs of a busy family life. She is high energy, action-oriented and very knowledgeable in financial aspects of the business. I’m the quiet, analytical techy. We bring diverse skill sets to the role, but we’re approaching it with the same goal – long term growth and sustainability.

We owe a lot to Starbucks.

Jennifer: One of the biggest challenges for any CEO is to separate yourself from the business to work on it rather than in it. We recognized early on that to do this effectively, we’d need to literally distance ourselves from the office. So every Wednesday morning between 8 and 10 we go to Starbucks for the sole purpose of working on the business. That is sacred time – it keeps us aligned with each other, accountable to our leadership responsibilities and focused on the things that really matter.

About Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette

Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette is Atlantic Canada’s leading recruitment and human resource consulting firm.

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