CELEBRATING ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR’S 25TH ANNIVERSARY
As the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards for the Pacific Region mark a quarter-century, we offer insights and success stories from EOY winners past and present
It's no secret that British Columbia is home to some of the most ambitious, creative and daring business minds in the country. From billionaire Jim Pattison to fashion mogul Brian Hill, there's something about the Pacific coast that nourishes a particular kind of entrepreneurship—the kind that dreams big, wins big and gives big. For 25 years, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program has recognized the best and brightest B.C. has to offer, honouring nearly 240 winners to date.
Lui Petrollini, EOY program director for the Pacific Region, says the province's winners do have certain things in common. “They all have a vision. They all give back to their communities, and they tend to be very good people managers,” the EY assurance partner reflects. “They begin with a vision, and they take a lot of risks and sacrifice a lot to get where they are. How many times have I heard stories where, from a financial standpoint, the entrepreneurs have leveraged everything they own, including their homes, to pursue a dream? And the people that we're honouring have been successful in achieving their dreams.”
The winners receive more than recognition; they become members of an elite group, with opportunities to forge new connections among a global network of EOY alumni that extends to 145 cities in some 60 countries. Regional winners compete on the national stage, and national champions vie for the ultimate prize: EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year. With a program of such breadth and scope, says Petrollini, EOY winners past and present have come to represent the best in business and entrepreneurship around the world. “It's become known as the only truly global awards program of its kind, and it's brought the top entrepreneurs forward to share their stories,” he observes. EOY honorees gain access to exclusive events such as the annual EY Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs, California, a five- day November conference featuring renowned figures from business, entertainment and philanthropy. In 2017, speakers included NBA Hall- of-famer Shaquille O'neal; Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis; New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; and 2017 World Entrepreneur Of The Year Murad Al-katib, president and CEO of
Regina-based AGT Food and Ingredients Inc.
What makes the EOY awards unique is not only their global reach but also how winners are selected. Judging is done by independent panels comprising business and community leaders, educators and past award winners. Looking beyond financial performance, the judges also measure success by considering innovation, vision, integrity, leadership and entrepreneurial spirit. Categories vary slightly from year to year, reflecting changes in the business climate, but they span technology, mining, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, agriculture, financial, retail, services and—more recently— social ventures.
Suzanne Siemens, CEO of reusable menstrualpad company Lunapads International Products Ltd. (p.54), says the EOY 2017 special citation category for Social Entrepreneur provided a compelling opportunity to take part. “[The category] spoke more to looking at business from a values perspective and not just a bottom-line, top-line perspective,” she explains. “My own personal goal as a business leader is to inspire other businesses by showing that you can combine business and social impact and create greater good.”
As entrepreneurs who also happen to be women, Siemens and her business partner Madeleine Shaw are part of a group that Petrollini hopes will play a bigger role in EOY. “B.C. is doing a good job of nominating women, but we can always do better,” he notes. “We would love to have more women entrepreneurs in the EOY program, because that ultimately helps support diversity here in our province.”
Being part of the awards can help propel a business to even more success. “The connections that were created [through EOY] were incredible, and some of my colleagues now are a direct result of that award and exposure,” says Renee Merrifield Wasylyk (right), another female entrepreneur and 2015 EOY Pacific region winner in the Real Estate and Construction category. “It took my business, and me as a leader, to a different level.”
Besides a greater female presence, Petrollini anticipates more social ventures coming to the fore. “One of the objectives coming from entrepreneurs in Gen Y and Gen Z is that they want to work in an environment where they feel they're being socially responsible,” he says. “Entrepreneurs aren't only focused on being successful, but also on providing balance in people's lives,” Petrollini adds. “The value systems in each generation are completely different, and you see that reflected in the entrepreneurial environment that we exist in.”
As the Pacific Region EOY awards begin their second quarter-century, one thing is clear: B.C.'S entrepreneurs exist in an increasingly borderless world where digital technology is transforming business. “Thirty years ago, the Internet didn't even exist,” Petrollini points out with a laugh. Join us as we celebrate some of the province's biggest successes, whose stories help inspire the next generation of leaders with global ambitions. •
management and half a year of industry consulting.
Today, her Kelowna-based Troika Management Corp. group of companies is on track to break $100 million in annual revenue. Wasylyk has made power lists including the Women's Executive Network's Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada in 2017, the BDO Top 40 Under 40 in the Okanagan in 2015 and the Canadian Home Builders' Association's Top 20 Most Influential People in Real Estate in 2012. Here, the Troika partner and CEO reflects on what it was like to join the old boys' club—and why we need more women around the boardroom.
When you launched your company, how was the business climate for women entrepreneurs?
Initially, the work I did as a consultant wasn't too surprising for a female: I was mostly doing public presentations and neighbourhood consulting. What
founder and then- of 1-800-Got-junk?, ignores the advice of mentors and plows ahead with a franchise in Seattle. Three countries and 200 franchises later, Scudamore is hauling more cash than junk. His O2E Brands has gone on to launch or purchase three more businesses in the home services space, and total revenue tops US$200 million annually. was out of the box was when I decided that I could do land development.
I started building a business plan, and I interviewed huge developers that didn't see me as a threat. One developer I worked for on a consulting basis told me I would never be as good a developer as he was, because I'm a woman. That turned out to be the greatest blessing, because when I'm told there's something I can't do, I just do it. I returned his blessing by saying that I was going to be a better developer than he was. He said, “How could you say that?” I said, “Because I actually use the kitchens that I'm about to design.”
What challenges did you face as you built your business?
I was one of the first female developers on the Urban Development Institute's Pacific board, and that was
hard. I didn't realize that the boys' club still existed. But the story for me is not just that the boys' club exists; it's that most of the old boys don't want it. They want to be inclusive; they just don't know how. They are good people, and I've met some of the finest individuals in the development community where I work.
There are bad apples, but there are those in every industry. I get strange looks sometimes, and I use my very androgynous name to my advantage.
When I get emails that say, “Dear Mr. Wasylyk,” I don't correct them until I see them in person. I'm not about to undo their bias over an email, but I certainly will undo it with talent and merit. My CFO is about 20 years older than I am and male, so often people look at him and say, “Mr. Wasylyk,” and he'll say, “No, I'm Mr. Klassen. Ms. Wasylyk is right next to me.” I've been called everything from his receptionist to his assistant.
How have things changed for women in business over the past couple of decades?
We've made a lot of strides. In the entrepreneurial world, females outperform males on revenue and profit, and that's better understood. Women tend to be less risky, they take on lower loans, and ultimately, they're better performers. That's not as celebrated because sometimes they're the tortoise and not the hare.
Societally, we are starting to train women to be more courageous. What needs to change now are societal norms. Women still do 85 percent of the workload in the home, regardless of whether they work full-time.
With the rising awareness of sexual harassment and discrimination in Hollywood, are other boardrooms feeling the #Metoo effect?
I don't feel like when I walk into the city I get treated differently. The banking industry has probably one Premier Gordon Campbell's government creates a Crown corporation called Partnerships BC. Its mission: to build infrastructure projects through public-private partnerships, or P3s. Today, the company's legacy in the Lower Mainland includes the Canada Line, the upgraded Sea-to-sky Highway and a twinned Port Mann Bridge. of the best track records in terms of getting females on their boards and in their senior executive positions. That said, I did get turned down for my very first loan from a Big Five bank because I wouldn't have my husband at the time co-sign the loan. I said, “The project is 80-percent leased up. How is this not a completely bankable project?” They said, “We just have some discomfort.”
But we've come a long way. I don't feel like it's the boys smoking cigars, playing golf and telling rude jokes. In fact, I also know a few of my own. •
What was once a staff of 10 is now a workforce numbering more than 1,000, with 13 offices across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and distribution in 25 countries. Stemcell's rapidly expanding product lines offer more than 2,500 tools for life sciences research, from tools for cell-growing media and kits for cell isolation to instruments and reagents for analysis. This year sales are expected to hit $185 million.
Remarkably, while the company has ballooned in size, its pace of innovation hasn't slowed. That's no accident. Contrary to the romantic view of the tech entrepreneur as a convention-busting renegade, Eaves's secret to retaining a foothold on the bleeding edge of his industry comes down to good old-fashioned discipline.
Stemcell rigorously reinvests 15 percent of its revenue in research and development, focusing on projects that respond directly to customers' needs— which is why nearly all of its sales and marketing staff have science backgrounds, 40 percent of them Phds.
“We've got all these salespeople who work with leaders in the field and they tell us what they want,” Eaves explains. “They have to really understand their customers, which they do. Our tagline is `Scientists helping scientists,' and that's very genuine,” he adds. “We basically take the ideas from academics and turn them into robust products and sell them back to them at a profit. But in so doing, we've saved them time, and we've given them the assurance that if they use our products the way we say, they will work.”
To get products to market quickly, Stemcell doesn't make anything for clinical use, circumventing time-intensive regulatory approvals. However, Eaves hints that this may change when the company aggregates its separate research, sales, manufacturing and distribution centres in Metro Vancouver into a campus-type facility in Burnaby. Currently in the planning stages, the campus will be equipped to make clinical-grade products.
The other key to innovation, according to Eaves? Meetings are frequent—and productive. “There's that book called Death by Meeting,” Eaves acknowledges. “But how do you make a really good meeting? You
WORK AFTER WORK
have interesting things to talk about and decisions being made. Every meeting we have has an agenda and action items and due dates. The next meeting starts off with a review.”
Perhaps most important to Stemcell's success has been Eaves's grip on the reins. He's steadfastly opposed to diluting his ownership stake or going public—an option he sees as the death knell of local biotechnology outfits. “Vancouver is full of dead and dying biotech companies,” he declares. “Investors want an exit strategy of three to five years, and, you know, it's too short a time frame. Success [for them] means selling the company to somebody else, ideally an American company, in which case everybody loses their job. I saw that with colleagues getting involved with investors. They kill companies.”
For his part, Eaves isn't going anywhere. “I'm 77, and I plan on living forever,” he quips with a wry smile. “I have no exit strategy.” • Special Citation: Social Entrepreneur winner for the Pacific Region—has struck all the right chords with conscious consumers. Today, it has a devoted and growing customer base of more than 200,000, even as competitors begin to crowd the space.
“We just try to use our voice and try to be as authentic as possible,” says Lunapads CEO Siemens. “That's really our edge. We have been in it the longest, and we have been transparent about how we do business for the longest time,” she explains. “And there have been missteps by some of our competitors in terms of how they've come across in the market. People will figure things out and see through it.”
Rival Thinx is a case in point. The New York– based period underwear startup created a buzz in 2015 with an edgy marketing campaign, only for self-styled “SHE-E-O” Miki Agrawal to step down last year, amid allegations of hostile working conditions and sexual harassment. While that business fights to recover its reputation, Lunapads (which has been selling period underwear for years, Siemens notes) is cementing its status as one of the most socially responsible businesses on the planet.
That's no exaggeration: for the past two years, the company has ranked in the top 10 percent of B Corporations—an independent global certification that is to businesses what Fair Trade is to chocolate. “Being part of this B Corp community has very much helped us improve, in a number of ways, how we are operating as a business,” Siemens says of Lunapads, which has held the certification since 2012. “There's guidelines around how your thirdparty purchasing should be, guidelines around HR and governance. It provides a really good framework for helping us do better.”
Lunapads' considerate and purposeful approach makes it choosy about business partners. Siemens says she and creative director Shaw have turned down wholesale customers who didn't seem like a good fit, and they're careful when it comes to investors. “I'm not seeking your traditional venture capital equity when we're going for our next round
of growth,” she asserts. “I'm very specific about `These aree the kind of investors we're looking for, because they are also trying to create higher value in the world through their investments.'”
Lunapads itself is an inves-tor in Afripads, a Ugandan social enterprise founded in 2010 that manufactures and supplies cloth menstrual pads to individuals and NGOS. . “They've just supplied their two millionth kit to girls and women in the global South— they're a bigger company than we are,” enthuses Siemens, who points out that menstruating girls in developing countries often miss school because they lack access to menstrual hygiene products.
With the rise of period-positive advocacy— National Public Radio dubbed 2015 “the Year of the Period” after a swell of news stories and events that included a “free-bleeding” marathon runner and the lifting of Canada's so-called tampon tax—lunapads is primed to attract a new wave of consumers.
“What's great about our industry is there's always a new generation needing our products,” Siemens observes. “And each new generation is always thinking more progressively about environmental issues and social issues.”
Lunapads, which features real bodies and gendernonconforming menstruators in its visuals, is well attuned to the millennial demand for values-driven, authentic consumer brands. That's why Siemens believes the future is bright, for her company and the planet. “Millennials and Generation Z are way more aware that there are finite resources than the baby boomers and previous generations,” she says. “That keeps me optimistic and happy.”
Burnaby semiconductor maker PMCSierra— whose founder, Gregory Aasen, won the Pacific Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year category in 1999—is acquired by Microsemi Corp. for Us$2.5-billion in cash and stock. PMC had accepted a Us$2-billion cash offer from Skyworks Solutions Inc., but California-based Microsemi swooped in a month later with an offer it couldn't refuse.
Murad Al-katib, and Ingredients Inc., Entrepreneur Of The Year.
Regina-based old, and the business component of it is the monetization of the emotional connection.”
Mcbride, winner of the EOY Media and Entertainment category for the Pacific Region in 2003, is a master at building partnerships. From his decadeslong management relationship with songstress Sarah Mclachlan to his yoga studio acquisitions, Mcbride— whose tendency to speak in rapid-fire cadences can seem at odds with his Zen-like pronouncements—says it comes down to one key element.
“It's all about creating alignment,” he declares. “It's not about one party winning and the other party not. I think with a lot of negotiations and people trying to create deals, that's what their focus is. It's like, `What's in it for me?'”
Where most businesses find alignment through external partnerships, Mcbride has taken a unique approach by co-founding two seemingly disparate companies that have more in common than appears at first glance. It's paid off: Yyoga now has annual founder and CEO of AGT Food is the second Canadian to win EY World In addition to running one of the world's largest suppliers of pulses, grains and other food staples, Al-katib is a philanthropist. His company is a major partner with the United Nations' World Food Programme and the International Red Cross, helping to feed more than 4 million refugee families each year. revenue in the $12-million range and more than 300 staff, while 100-employee Nettwerk's revenue tops $25 million.
Yyoga has grown to 10 locations in Metro Vancouver and Whistler and two in Toronto. Mcbride proudly notes that the company's first two studio acquisitions, both in Yaletown, are still headed by the same team a decade later. “That's no different than how we go about it with artists,” he says. “Nettwerk's average relationship with an artist is 10 to 15 years, which in the music business is like a lifetime.”
Mcbride's 23-year management relationship with Mclachlan was one of his most celebrated, and its rupture made international headlines in 2011. But he believes it's possible to end partnerships amicably, as long as both sides remain honest.
“I think both parties know [when it's time to end things], but both parties are probably afraid to address the subject,” Mcbride says. “Honesty is sometimes the hardest thing,” he adds. “I think your intuition is always right. And if a relationship is going sideways, it's really good to catch it early. Maybe you can save it, but chances are ending it then is much more pleasant and professional than dragging it out for a couple of years, when sentiments have built up and then you're pointing fingers.”
Given his decades in the music business, it's tempting to think that Mcbride has dealt with his share of difficult temperaments. But he insists that's not the case. “The difficult rock star is maybe a persona of 10 to 20 percent of the business, but I could say it's the persona of 10 to 20 percent of any business. It gets 80 percent of the noise, but it's not the business,” he says.
“The most successful businesses are ones that create partnerships that last for a long, long time,” Mcbride adds. “Because not only are you emotionally aligned, but inside the business, you feel like you've treated each other fairly.”