Plus 27

more tales of lead­ers who make in­no­va­tion their busi­ness, from tech and fi­nance to min­ing and real es­tate

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ADAM BLASBERG

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.

Fraser Hall


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