Make no mistake: winning even one of Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO awards is no easy task. Successful nominees must demonstrate how their leadership instincts and managerial skills have withstood a host of industry challenges: global economic upheaval … skilled labour shortages … declining market demand … pressure from international competitors … the list goes on. They must also have proven bottom line results with year-over-year growth, as well as an above-average sense of personal and corporate civic responsibility. They are prolific givers, sharing generously of their time, knowledge and resources for the betterment of the Atlantic Canadian economy. Being a Top 50 CEO is, to put it bluntly, a very big deal.
Little wonder, then, that past award recipients have described winning a Top 50 CEO award as a career highlight. Now, multiply that experience by five. The Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame, established in 2006, recognizes those CEOs who have achieved that pinnacle of success.
A note of caution to the cynics: winning a Top 50 CEO award one year does not guarantee that individual a position in the Top 50 rankings in succeeding years. Nominees must prove themselves each and every time they are nominated. Judges consider each candidate on their worthiness in that given year, not on any previous recognition.
The only downside to being a Hall of Fame inductee, for us and our readers, is that these exceptional leaders are retired from Top 50 CEO eligibility (so you won’t normally find them covered in our annual salute to corporate leadership excellence). However, on this—the 15th anniversary of the Top 50 CEO awards—we thought it appropriate to check in with our Hall of Fame alumni and ask that all important question: what have you been up to lately?
Jamie Baillie earned his spot in the Hall of Fame when the chartered accountant was CEO and president of Credit Union Atlantic, but today’s he’s counting votes, not dollars.
“I started as a CA because I thought it would be a great way to learn how successful organizations work from the inside,” he says. “For me, it wasn’t about the accounting.”
He transferred those skills to politics, serving as chief of staff to Premier John Hamm and he now leads the Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia. “I can’t say all that was planned, but clearly I am open to trying new things,” he jokes.
He runs his party as a business and sees PC candidates as his management team preparing for the next election. That makes Nova Scotians his boss—and he’s hoping for a promotion.
Sheila Brown retired as president of Mount Saint Vincent University in 2006, but she’s barely slowed down. She served as executive director of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs until December 2012 and is now mentoring and coaching a new generation of academic leaders via the Centre for Higher Education Research and Development (University of Manitoba).
She was especially proud to enter the Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame as one of the first four inductees. “The creation of the Hall of Fame was a very well kept secret,” she says.
Throughout her career, Brown dedicated at least one day a week for non-work life. She cautions against letting your career take over your life. “Always make and take time for yourself and your family and friends,” she says.
Dennis Campbell’s been in the tourbus business since he was in high school. “I noticed that little old ladies had a lot of money. I also noticed that they liked giving it to me,” he laughs.
That’s grown into Ambassatours Gray Line and Campbell is still as energized as he was when he started. “I just bought controlling share of our company from my two long-time business partners,” he says. “I am excited to begin a new chapter in the history of this company.”
His Big Pink Sightseeing line is growing in New York, Vancouver and the Maritimes, and he’s launching a family rail tour product called Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine in Saint John, N.B. next year.
Campbell says success comes from taking each mile as it comes—just like his buses.
Frank Coleman was the first Newfoundland and Labrador business leader named Atlantic Canada’s CEO of the Year, an honour that earned him praise as a man of “integrity, dedication and openness to explore innovation” by the provincial government.
The head of Coleman Group of Companies, Humber Valley Paving, and Humber Valley Asphalt and Aggregates says that’s a shared recognition of a great business. “We are always excited about our business, but the notion of expansion has always been the thing that really turns the wheel,” he says.
He started in the family business before going away for an education. He worked with Newfoundland Hydro and opened a consulting business before returning to the family company. He has three pieces of advice for those entering business.
“Think, always be over-prepared and get to action,” he says.
Colin Dodds’s induction into the Hall of Fame was somewhat unusual as he’s not CEO of a company, but president of Saint Mary’s University.
“We face many of the same challenges and opportunities in our institutions as the private sector,” he says. “To be recognized by peers in the business world … is praise indeed that I value.”
Dodds has taken SMU around the world. About one in three students are internationals, one of the highest rates in Canada, and many stay after graduation. “This augurs well for addressing some of the demographic challenges we face in Atlantic Canada, as well as being an export earner,” he says.
SMU’s international development projects in places like Vietnam and Mongolia have further broadened its reach, as does its work partnering as a researcher with the private sector.
Wadih Fares escaped a civil war in Lebanon as a teenager to settle in Nova Scotia in 1976. He learned English, graduated from university and began building a better life. Combining architecture, engineering, construction and property management, he built the WM Fares Group into one of the region’s leading companies.
Fares says one of the best pieces of advice he ever got was from his father. He was a young man at the time and didn’t understand the deep wisdom contained in the seemingly simple mantra until he was much older. “Always tell the truth, because you’ll never forget what you said,” he recalls.
Fares says the best wisdom he would share with young entrepreneurs is to always analyze situations as fully as possible so that you take calculated risks, not blind gambles.
Chris Hickman says his Marco Group has so many opportunities right now that the challenge is deciding which ones to pursue first. The construction company’s offices in Dartmouth and St. John’s were recently joined by a new venture outside of Atlantic Canada when the Calgary office opened.
“We are working on a very exciting project for Grey Eagle Casino and that will enable us to evaluate the larger market and determine if there is a long-term opportunity for us in the west,” the CEO and chairman says.
Growing the business founded by his father, Tom Hickman, has been hard work. “Things are never easy. The more successful you become, the more challenges you face,” he explains. “There are no easy paths to success. Nothing replaces hard work.”
Sid Hynes is the only captain in the Hall of Fame. He started his career at sea before the birth of his son brought him ashore in 1985. With partners, he formed Canship in the mid-1980s and it grew to employ 350 people.
After the collapse of the cod fishery in the 1990s, Hynes initiated a program to retrain Newfoundland fishermen to work on shuttle tankers for Hibernia. In 2000, he became manager of Marine Atlantic. In 2008, he put together a $230-million deal to buy the container shipping firm Oceanex and became its executive chairman.
“Our next generation of business leaders [should] not fear facing challenges head on. Never underestimate the importance of being well organized,” he says. “I have seen some truly talented individuals flounder … because they were simply overwhelmed.”
Bernard Imbeault bought a small take-out restaurant in Shediac, N.B., in 1969, named for its star attraction: Pizza Delight. Under Imbeault’s guidance it spread across Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario and into Alberta.
He also presided over the boards of Mikes Restaurants, Scores Restaurants, Monumental Granite Inc. and others, as well as the Imbeault Family Foundation, which supports post-secondary education.
Now retired, Imbeault says the biggest risk he ever took was relinquishing his role as CEO to an outsider. “Though most of his entourage was convinced that the original Income Trust should be amalgamated with the Operating company to then go public, a few in his inner circle felt he should have stayed a while as an Income Trust,” explains his wife Monique.
Today, he follows the business world through magazines and relaxes by reading poetry.
The leafy campus of Acadia University spills into the surrounding town of Wolfville in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. President Ray Ivany says his institution’s reputation for “living outside our walls” is what draws students from around the world. Enrolment has grown by 21 per cent since 2009.
“This model of the small, residential, undergraduate university is highly prized in the United States, but has become increasingly rare in the Canadian context,” he explains.
Faculty and students learn theory on the close-knit campus and then get their hands dirty with real-world experiences in the Valley’s growing industries, such as tidal energy and wine production.
Ivany pushes his students (and himself) to always work harder. “Frankly, I’ve never seen anything truly significant happening without an extraordinary effort,” he says.
Pierre-Yves Julien doesn’t take his induction into the Hall of Fame personally.
“I believe [it] is the confirmation that for five years in a row, Medavie Blue Cross was worthy of being included and it spoke to its good performance during that time,” he says.
The CEO is now focused on transforming primary care by innovating in emergency ambulance services and making better use of paramedics.
He urges others to follow their passion and improve their world. “Get yourself a degree, as it confirms your ability to learn. Be diligent in what you do,” he advises upand- comers. “Being pleasant to work with is always a good attribute and it does not mean you cannot be tough. Finally, try to make the people around you successful.”
Ken Leblanc swears by the Rule of Eight. Each day, most people sleep eight hours and work eight hours. “The eight hours that are left, and how you put them to use, hold the key to success,” says the president and CEO of the sell-it-yourself real estate company PropertyGuys.com.
He used his extra eight to start PropertyGuys and grow it nationally. “Never stand still, never start to think that [you’ve] ‘made it’. Keeping ahead of the curve is never ending,” he says.
PropertyGuys turns 15 this year and LeBlanc is rethinking it nationally, adding new services and seeking new customers. He says the franchisees are buzzing with energy—and that’s crucial.
“The moment you stand still is when you will get run over,” LeBlanc warns.
For Paul LeBlanc, business success always begs one question. “As I look back at it all, we have certainly been successful, but I ask myself: “How did this help the region?”
His Extreme Group expanded to Toronto in 2007, but stayed headquartered in Halifax to serve clients such as Kraft, P&G and Grand & Toy. “This has added value back to the region,” he says.
The ad agency’s driven CEO is now also the chief entrepreneurial officer of a new Extreme venture, Karma Gaming International. It has 10 staff and is soon growing to 30, with clients in Australia, Mexico and the U.S.
“We’re bringing in net new jobs, revenues and income to the region and the scale potential of this business is global,” LeBlanc says.
His company grows, and the region grows with it.
Stephen Lund says the biggest business risk he ever took was leaving Toronto for Bermuda. He ran a hedge fund administration company—an area in which he had no background.
“It was an amazing experience for both my family and career and it’s great to now play a role in the growth of hedge fund administration companies in Halifax,” says the president of Nova Scotia Business Inc.
KPMG recently recognized Halifax as the fastest growing hedge fund administration centre in Canada.
Lund, a self-confessed news junkie, starts every day scanning newspapers and key blogs around the world, but admits he should spend less time in front of a screen. “Getting in front of international companies and helping our local companies is what drives our economy and it’s what I enjoy doing the most,” he says.
Finding a vocation you love is the key to a rewarding, influential career, says Nancy MacCready-Williams, CEO of Doctors Nova Scotia. “Spend your time doing the kind of work where you can make a difference, where you can be passionate about being part of something greater than yourself,” she says.
For her, that means working with physicians, government and health-care stakeholders to build a better system. “The solutions to complex problems will be found in collaborative, integrative thinking. No one health organization, government, patient advocate or health-care provider can solve the challenges facing the health-care system in isolation,” she says.
MacCready-Williams’s spirit of team work is a strategic decision. “Be kind to people along the way. The world is a small place and there is no room to burn any bridges,” she says.
Colin MacDonald started his business selling lobsters on the side of the Bedford Highway with his brother-in-law, John Risley. “We had nothing other than a lot of piss and vinegar and a stoic determination to survive,” he says. “Each day had its share of obstacles, some relatively minor, some spirit crushing.”
An interest rate hike in the 1980s saw VPs jump ship and margins down to single digits, but MacDonald and Risley stuck it out. A crisis or two marked each decade, but Clearwater Seafoods kept growing into the thriving business it is today.
While work still drives him, MacDonald says he’s most excited about his wife and sons these days. “I would say I am simply working on living the rest of my life. I am trying to spend the years I have left wisely,” he says.
Mickey MacDonald describes himself as a fighter who grew up on Halifax’s rough streets. He dropped out of school in Grade 9 and became homeless. His life changed when he strapped on boxing gloves.
The fighter’s discipline transferred into business when he jumped into the cellphone industry in the late 1980s. He began selling brick-sized phones before buying Downeast, a wireless vendor. He turned its one location into 55. He then knocked out the competition.
“I bought out over 15 different businesses in like a three- or four-year time frame,” he remembers.
Downeast was doing $100 million a year in sales when he sold it in 2004. MacDonald now heads Micco Companies, which consists of the Chickenburger restaurant, an IT firm, and other ventures. Oh, and he also runs Palooka’s Executive Fitness, a high-end boxing gym.
Fred MacGillivray entered the Hall of Fame as president and CEO of Trade Centre Limited. His sometimes controversial run at the helm of the Nova Scotia Crown Corporation ended with his retirement in 2009.
His wife, JoAnne, then introduced him to Chisholm Services for Children, which cares for kids who can’t live at home. MacGillivray helps obtain their temporary houses. “I have been involved in setting up a foundation called the Chisholm Foundation for Children,” he says. “It is extremely rewarding as we watch these children grow and start to prosper under this environment.”
MacGillivray, who previously was president of Bolands/IGA, advises young entrepreneurs to find a good mentor. “Be strategic. Know what you want to do. Know how you are going to get there and be extremely committed and hard working to achieve your goals,” he adds.
Terry Malley credits much of his successful career to ignoring one key piece of advice. “When I was young, I was quite a good portrait artist and I was advised many times that I should go to university and study fine art,” he recalls.
He opted for business and today Malley Industries is a North American leader providing vehicle and component solutions for transporting cargo, equipment and people. In 2010, he built a manufacturing facility three times the size of the old one in the middle of the global financial crisis. It was hard work, but opened new doors around the world.
To relax, he adds his artist’s touch to his love of vehicles by modifying old cars. In 2000, Malley was inducted into the Canadian Street Rodding Hall of Fame.
Almost a year into his retirement as CEO of Sobey’s, Bill McEwan looks back at his career with the national grocery retailer as “a very special and rewarding professional and personal journey.”
It was equally rewarding for the company, which benefited from his wisdom in following a food-focused strategy rather than trail competitors down a split path of food/non-food. He says it was the biggest risk he had ever taken, though “in hindsight, I can say that not doing so would have been the more risky decision.”
Best advice he ever ignored? When it was suggested he might not be capable of doing the Sobey’s CEO job and should withdraw from consideration.
As much as he enjoyed his career, McEwan says his current occupation is even more rewarding. His “spectacular wife, fantastic children,” and community engagement are his greatest source of pride and purpose.
Anne McGuire, president and CEO of the IWK Health Centre, was the first leader of a healthcare organization to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. “Healthcare has struggled to be recognized as a ‘business,’ so this recognition brings awareness to the work we do in leadership of large, complex systems,” she says.
“Although I was personally very honoured, I was also very pleased to represent a sector that had previously been overlooked.”
Nova Scotia is struggling to reform its healthcare system and McGuire is doing her part on behalf of an institution where so many begin their lives.
She’s learned many lessons over her long career and boils it down to a few principles: “Listen well, say thank you often, and be kind,” she says. “Surround yourself with talent greater than your own.”
Before joining Major Drilling, Francis McGuire served as vice-president at MITI Information Technology and held the post of deputy minister in New Brunswick’s Department of Economic Development and Tourism.
McGuire, who is Major’s president and CEO, is blunt when asked to name the biggest business challenge he’s ever faced. “Taking the job with Major Drilling when it was almost broke and had myriad problems,” he says.
His leadership helped stabilize one of the world’s largest drilling service companies, which primarily serves the mining industry. In the decade he’s been at the helm, it has shifted from geographical expansion to a strategy of dominating specialized drilling.
He’s also found time to chair the Wallace McCain Institute, the New Brunswick Business Council and to create the Access to Capital study for FutureNB.
Carole-Ann Miller loves tending her garden at home with her husband and teenage daughters. “I guess that’s the part of me that likes to plant a seed, and then see what happens next,” she says.
She takes the same approach to work. In 2001, she ditched the salaried life to cofound Atlantic Trade Finance. In 2003, the working-capital firm was sold to a larger strategic partner. It became Maple Trade Finance; Miller is its globe-trotting CEO.
“Some people would argue that I operate in a high-risk environment, but I don’t see it that way,” she says. “If you take the time to really understand the risk, carefully consider the potential outcomes, and then mitigate that risk, it becomes a decision.”
Those decisions have helped her gardens, both literal and metaphorical, thrive.
Don Mills is a self-made man; the co-founder and CEO of Corporate Research Associates admits his biggest challenge these days is letting others help.
“I have learned that the delegation of responsibility with the appropriate level of authority is the key to business success, but it has to be done with a focus on the maintenance of high standards,” he explains.
Stepping back lets others step up. “I think it is time for me to transfer some of that responsibility to others in our company. I want to feel free to take more time for myself without feeling guilty doing so,” he says.
He puts that extra time to good use, volunteering on boards, chairing the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame and acting as lead ambassador for the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute.
Jim Mills goes all-in when he takes a business risk. He was father to three (now four) young children when he left a secure job. “I put it all on the line to chase the dream of owning a business,” he says, “all my savings, my house—all of it.”
Eight years later he gambled again by expanding into office equipment. “That turned out to be the best move we ever made,” says the president and CEO of Office Interiors.
He shares advice an early boss gave him—advice he studiously ignored for decades. “If you work very hard every day, you will never accomplish what you set out to do in 12 months. But, if you do that every day, what you accomplish in 10 years will blow your mind.”
The president and CEO of Advocate Printing & Publishing has interesting advice for budding perfectionists: “in order to be truly great, you have to do some things poorly.” He believes it’s more important to excel in those things you do really well and not invest too much of your time or resources in less important areas.
Another pearl of wisdom from the head of the largest independent printer in Atlantic Canada is for every ownership group and senior management team to consider, plan for and revisit succession alternatives. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way following the sudden death of his father (also his mentor and business partner).
A consummate competitor, Murray is looking forward to launching his latest innovation: Project Advolution. It will, he says, position Advocate as leader in visual communications for years to come.
Steve Parker knows the only sure route to the top is climbing every step. He started a one-man communications firm at age 26 and spent 30 years developing a series of related start-ups around Atlantic Canada.
He founded CCL Group, a 600-staff strong company working in strategic marketing and communications. It was a dizzying ascent. “My whole business world has changed. I own an international business, a niche player in the worldwide customer-support industry,” he says. His clients speak six languages across North and South America and in Europe.
“In my youth, I focused on high expectations and using management information to drive manager/supervisor actions,” he says, but he learned his most important job is to hire talented, motivated people.
It’s working. “It becomes increasingly clear we have a winner on our hands,” Parker says.
Ken Rowe finds satisfaction in growing I.M.P. Group International, a company he founded in 1967 (he`s now executive chairman), but he doesn’t allow himself to get too attached.
“Be enthusiastic about business, even passionate, but don’t get emotional about it,” he says from his Halifax office. That stoic approach came in handy after an ill-fated attempt to expand into Russia in the early 1990s. After investing about $50 million in the Aerostar Hotel Moscow, his staff were evicted by armed guards in 2004. “It was stolen from us, criminally,” he says.
Rowe’s famous tenacity didn’t get the hotel back, but he did push the Canadian government to twist the Russian government’s arm until they settled with him. I.M.P. left Russia—but the group says it’d go back if the money is right.
Though he has won the ultimate individual recognition for an Atlantic Canadian business leader (CEO of the Year in 2009), the president and CEO of Lawtons drug stores asserts that accolades should be deflected to those who “actually do the work.” He even sees his Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame induction as a “wonderful recognition of the accomplishments of our teams.”
At the moment, he and said teams are fully engaged with changes to provincial pharmacy funding models. It’s a situation which he says “threatens the very existence of many folks in, and certainly the currently expected services provided by, the pharmacy industry.”
With more than 30 years in the retail industry (he started at 13), bolstered by a multi-generational business pedigree and his own insatiable appetite for knowledge, it’s a safe bet that Sobey has something strategic up his sleeve.
No pressure though, Rob.
Mark Surrette finds inspiration among the global greats. The president and founder of Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette tears through biographies of leaders like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Alan Greenspan.
Those high ambitions helped him create one of the top humanresource consulting businesses in Atlantic Canada. “For the longest time there was a bias towards Toronto-based firms. Thankfully, this has softened somewhat, but not completely,” he says.
Now that his business life is sailing smoothly, he’s casting his eye on the retirement horizon. “For years, I have said that the only reason I work is so that I can sail,” he jokes. “In retirement, I can imagine spending all my time helping young sailors succeed.”
But for now, he’s got his hands firmly on the wheel of Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette.
Robert Zed spends what little free time he has reading biographies of leaders who have stepped out of their comfort zone to take giant risks. “I love to learn of the challenges each has faced, and learn how they solved their problems,” he says.
He could be reading his autobiography.
“I would say the day I tendered my resignation as a vice president of the IWK, I stepped across the threshold of entrepreneurship [and] discovered a new level of risk,” he says.
He started a private health services company called Crothall Services Canada and led it to $30 million in annual revenues before selling the business. Today, he runs Zed Group, a diversified group of companies covering healthcare, hospitality, event production and fundraising.
“The charge of entrepreneurship is embedded in the thrill of the hunt and the rewards with the risk,” he says.
Hall of Fame inductees who were unable to respond to our email survey (listed alphabetically)
Wes Armour (2007)
Tim Banks (2008)
Jerry Byrne (2009)
Charles Cartmill (2010)
Allison Chaytor-Loveys (2010)
Hollis Cole (2009)
Rob Dexter (2007)
Bert Frizzell (2012)
Richard Homburg (2010)
Eleanor Humphries (2007)
Earl Ludlow (2012)
Phil Otto (2010)
Jim Spatz (2010)
Robert Steele (2010)
Ian Wilson (2012)