Bet­ting on An­nette

Cana­dian cor­po­rate exec shares se­crets of her busi­ness suc­cess.

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY CHRIS SHAN­NON cshan­non@cb­post.com

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.”

CHRIS SHAN­NON/CAPE BRE­TON POST

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.

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