more tales of leaders who make innovation their business, from tech and finance to mining and real estate
British Columbia is home to a wealth of business talent, but the leaders and innovators you’re about to meet belong to a select group. For the 24th year, Bcbusiness joins forces with Ernst & Young (EY) to celebrate the province’s top entrepreneurs. The Pacific Region judges for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year program have chosen the best and brightest from a wide variety of industries. We’re pleased to honour 38 exceptional women and men, among them the winners in nine categories, the overall Pacific Region winner and the recipients of a special citation for social entrepreneurship. Congratulations to all!
The worst wildfires B.C. has seen in 59 years raged through the province this summer, but Rob Mccurdy was prepared. The CEO of Richmond-based Pinnacle Renewable Energy was an executive for French cement giant Lafarge in New Orleans when he led his team through one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history: 2005’s Hurricane Katrina and its chaotic aftermath. So when fires this July forced the evacuation of workers for Pinnacle’s Williams Lake wood-pellet plant, Mccurdy acted on muscle memory to build communications and logistical plans and put them into motion. “A lot of things that we experienced in Katrina applied very nicely to our employees at Williams Lake,” he says.
Of course, Mccurdy didn’t join Pinnacle in 2012 to lead disaster responses. He’d headed Lafarge’s Indian operations for nearly three years, but his family wanted to return to Canada. Mccurdy saw potential and opportunities to make an impact with Pinnacle, a 27-year-old producer of wood pellets for fuel that employs 250 people in seven B.C. communities. “There were some great building blocks, and there were some big chunks of things that were missing,” he says.
Pinnacle is adding a massive new building block in the form of an $85-million plant outside Entwistle, Alberta, that the company announced this May. The investment puts it closer to Alberta sources of wood fibre and links its products by rail to the port terminal it owns in Prince Rupert. Pinnacle, which exports to Europe, Asia and the U.S., is positioned to expand its reach overseas even if B.C. timber harvests decline.
Inside the company, Mccurdy made improving safety a top priority. “I’d get comments like ‘Fire is normal. It’s part of our business. We only have little fires,’ he recalls. “I knew that had to change. We had to make a change culturally.” Mccurdy knew he needed complete engagement from everyone at Pinnacle to make real, sustainable progress. He pushed his company toward a higher standard with a collaborative, inclusive approach. Benefits spread beyond a reduction in safety incidents. In 2015 and 2016, production and profitability rose to record levels. Pinnacle is planning for continued year-over-year growth of more than 20 per cent. —D.H.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS? There’s the usual one, which is you look at the performance of the company or the unit. I have another one which is less tangible: it’s the excitement and the pride that you see and hear in people’s faces as they describe what they’re doing and what they’re going to do next
``You wouldn’t think that four engineers would be that passionate about furniture, but we think we can really make a difference to people,” says Fraser Hall, who launched Article,
a Vancouver-based online home furnishings retailer, in 2013 with fellow software designers Aamir Baig and twin brothers Sam and Andy Prochazka. The company’s goal is to sell high-quality furniture more efficiently and less expensively than traditional retailers.
Originally from Kelowna, Hall met Baig when the latter invested in the former’s Vancouver smartwear company, Recon Instruments, purchased in 2015 by Intel Corp. Baig and the Prochazkas, all originally from Edmonton, had studied computer engineering together at the University of Alberta.
The idea for Article was sparked by Andy Prochazka’s six-month visit to Beijing in 2005-06. There to learn Mandarin, he also checked out trade shows, where he was amazed by how cheaply high-quality products could be built in China. The markup between manufacturing costs and retail prices was most extreme for designer furniture, doubling or even quadrupling at each step of the supply chain.
“We thought, ‘This is incredibly inefficient,’” Hall remembers. “If we could group orders, we could remove all of those steps in between.” They initially cut costs by shipping items in batches instead of as individual orders, a strategy they call “fill the container.” The company has since boosted efficiency by building software to automate key business processes, from managing orders and stock to distribution and customer feedback.
An internal team plus the occasional outsider design the items (furniture, rugs, lighting and accessories), all exclusive to Article. Materials are sourced worldwide, and assembly takes place at various overseas facilities, mostly in Southeast Asia. The company now has more than 85 employees and has shipped some 50,000 orders to customers across the U.S. and Canada from its warehouses in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Seattle and Elizabeth, New Jersey. “We’re driven to create remarkably better furniture experiences,” Hall says, “and we’re willing to sustain, if we had to, short-term losses in order to create a long-term, lasting brand right here in Vancouver.” —F.S.