Betting on Annette
Canadian corporate exec shares secrets of her business success.
In a boisterous, jovial talk with students and entrepreneurs at Cape Breton University last Thursday, Annette Verschuren handed out some free, unsolicited advice on how to be a successful businessperson in today’s corporate world.
The former president of The Home Depot Canada and Asia stressed the need to surround yourself with “an amazing team” of smart people that you can get along with.
“I screw up a lot,” said Verschuren, 59, who now heads up energy storage solutions company NRStor Inc. as chair and chief executive officer.
“I’ve never waited on perfection on anything. …I love chaos. I think it’s very healthy. I like conflict. I think it’s very healthy.”
Life is full of risks, she said. Switching into the business program at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish without first telling her father was an example of that, Verschuren added.
Her early goal was to graduate and become an accountant, even though she said it was viewed as a “man’s job” at the time.
Verschuren, originally from North Sydney, cut her teeth as a development officer at the Cape Breton Development Corporation (Devco) before moving on to Toronto at the age of 30.
She started her own company, Verschuren Ventures, which she called her “first big risk” in the business world.
“If you have a great plan but poor execution, it’s hopeless. Try things, mess up. I do and it’s OK.” Annette Verschuren
“I didn’t get paid for the first nine months. It was very nervewracking at the time.”
She partnered with Michael’s craft stores and worked with them in opening 17 stores across Canada over a two-year period. She acted as the company’s coowner and president from 1993 to 1996.
It was in 1995 that she caught the attention of The Home Depot Canada. Verschuren served as president for 15 years. She became president of The Home Depot’s Asian branch in 2006.
Over a 10-year period with the home renovation giant, she grew sales from $600 million a year to $6 billion a year in Canada.
Her central focus at the company was creating competitive pricing, increased selection and offering unparalleled customer service.
She told her audience of young, budding entrepreneurs that while strategy is important, it’s how you execute that matters most.
“If you have a great plan but poor execution, it’s hopeless,” she said. “Try things, mess up. I do and it’s OK.”
Right now, Verschuren’s attention is focused on NRStor, an energy storage solutions company she founded in July 2012.
The privately held company based in Toronto is working to develop the market and finance energy storage projects by capturing wind energy at night through battery, compressed air and other storage technologies to use during daylight hours.
“It is the future. It is where the world is going,” she said.
NRStor is currently working with Tesla Motors Inc. and its innovative in-home battery pack — the Powerwall storage system.
Verschuren’s company has the Canadian distribution rights to market the Tesla storage system in a joint venture with electrical grid software engineering firm Opus One Solutions Energy Corp.
The Tesla Powerwall is expected to provide homeowners with a power supply large enough to keep appliances such as refrigerators, electronics, lights and home heating and cooling systems powered up during storms and other power interruptions.
“I’m going to be offering this as a service to install these powerwalls in people’s homes. That’s what my plan is across Canada,” said Verschuren in an interview following her speech.
Her other big project at the moment is promoting her new book, “Bet On Me,” which hits bookstores in late April.
In it, she lays out her philosophy for succeeding in business in today’s economy.
Much of her advice might seem like common sense.
“It’s not about telling people what to do but asking them,” she said.
“Not to drive change in a negative way. You want people to come to you instead of demanding people to come to you.
“People don’t leave companies, institutions. They leave leaders. The most important asset you have … is the relationships and talent around you. You can have all kinds of money in the world but if you can’t make that piece work, you can’t cause change to happen.”
Annette Verschuren, chair and CEO of energy storage solutions company NRStor Inc., speaks with students at Cape Breton University on Thursday afternoon about what it takes to be successful in the corporate world. Verschuren, originally from North Sydney, is the former president of The Home Depot Canada and Asia.