These three com­pa­nies re­fused to let fail­ure de­rail their mis­sion

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - CAREERS - BRIAN SCU­D­AMORE Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, in­clud­ing home-service com­pa­nies such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Ex­ec­u­tives, ed­u­ca­tors and hu­man re­sources ex­perts con­trib­ute to the Lead­er­ship Lab se­ries. Find more sto­ries at­reers.

Suc­cess in any in­dus­try de­pends on your abil­ity not only to out-think your com­pe­ti­tion – it de­pends on your abil­ity to out-think your­self. The mo­ment you think you’ve dis­cov­ered the best idea is the mo­ment you stop in­no­vat­ing. And that’s when some­one else will jump ahead with a big­ger and brighter idea than you ever imag­ined.

Com­pa­nies that fail to look to the fu­ture are liv­ing on bor­rowed time. But with grit, per­se­ver­ance and cre­ativ­ity, I be­lieve any­one can come back from even the most cat­a­strophic fail­ures. I call this mind­set WTF – Will­ing To Fail. It means al­ways look­ing at fail­ure as an op­por­tu­nity: to learn, to grow and to be­come bet­ter ev­ery day than the day be­fore.

I’ve failed count­less times and, on more than one oc­ca­sion, have thought my busi­ness might go bust be­cause of it. But with ev­ery mis­step and set­back, we’ve man­aged to come back big­ger and bet­ter, to­gether.

When times are tough, suc­cess de­pends on how you re­act. Here are three com­pa­nies that re­fused to let fail­ure de­fine their legacy and rose up from the ashes.


Just three years ago, Vic­to­ria-based cloth­ing and ad­ven­ture brand Sitka Surf­board Corp. was on the verge of col­lapse. The com­pany had out­sourced its man­u­fac­tur­ing over­seas as part of their ex­pan­sion strat­egy. But for a brand built in the im­age of its sus­tain­ably minded, West Coast roots, this didn’t sit well with em­ploy­ees or cus­tomers alike.

Prof­its were down, they were be­hind on loan pay­ments to the tune of $3.5-million and the fu­ture of the com­pany looked bleak.

In a three-day lock­down, founder Rene Gau­thier and his team dis­cov­ered the ma­jor snag in the fab­ric of Sitka’s cul­ture: The prod­uct they were pro­duc­ing was no longer aligned with their val­ues. Un­less they made a change – fast – the com­pany was go­ing to go un­der.

They needed to bring man­u­fac­tur­ing back to Canadian soil.

They needed to make prod­ucts they could stand be­hind with pride. The only prob­lem was that, in order to do all that, it was go­ing to cost a lot – fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally.

Mr. Gau­thier did it any­way, down­siz­ing and re­think­ing his strat­egy for long-term sus­tain­abil­ity. It’s been a long road to re­cov­ery and Sitka still isn’t out of the woods yet. But they can now hon­estly say they’re a brand that lives and breathes their mis­sion to leave the earth (and in­dus­try and com­mu­nity) bet­ter than when they found it.

Over my 30 years in busi­ness, we’ve had to re­cal­i­brate our vi­sion for our com­pany many times. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our com­mit­ment to achiev­ing it. Stay­ing true to your vi­sion and be­ing able to pivot in chal­leng­ing times is the only way to guar­an­tee your path to suc­cess.

Stay­ing true to your vi­sion and be­ing able to pivot in chal­leng­ing times is the only way to guar­an­tee your path to suc­cess.


It was the mid-2000s and Re­search in Mo­tion was at the height of its Black­Berry smart­phone power. Af­ter pi­o­neer­ing the in­dus­try as the go-to de­vice for busi­ness peo­ple, the com­pany had suc­cess­fully dom­i­nated the mass mar­ket. Ev­ery­one – from high school­ers to Barack Obama, soon to be pres­i­dent of the United States – was ad­dicted to their Black­Berry.

Head­ing into 2007, the Canadian com­pany had the world at its feet. But the year also sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of the end: Ap­ple en­tered the scene. Now, the once-revered Black­Berry is an an­cient relic of tech­nolo­gies past.

Or is it? Last year, the re­named com­pany re-emerged with a new-and-im­proved strat­egy for rein­ven­tion: In­stead of try­ing to com­pete to cre­ate new hard­ware, Black­Berry shifted fo­cus and is now sell­ing its soft­ware. And chief ex­ec­u­tive John Chen doesn’t just have his eyes set on the smart­phone mar­ket – he’s got plans to make Black­Berry the go-to soft­ware provider for in­dus­tries from au­to­mo­biles to time­pieces.

I re­mem­ber back in 2009 when I thought I was about to lose my com­pany. The re­ces­sion didn’t spare us and our rev­enue num­bers were rapidly de­clin­ing. I knew we had to change our strat­egy if we wanted to get back in the black. We took a long, hard look at how we were run­ning the busi­ness. It was clear we needed to make crit­i­cal changes to our lead­er­ship style – so we did. Our shift in fo­cus has paid off: Our num­bers are now higher than ever.

It’s go­ing well over at Black­Berry, too: In March, the com­pany re­ported record rev­enue from its soft­ware and service streams. Black­Berry has proved that it re­ally isn’t over till it’s over.


Kodak’s fall from pho­to­graphic fame is a cau­tion­ary tale of what can hap­pen when you fail to in­no­vate your busi­ness. Af­ter 75 years of be­ing the num­ber one choice for pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers, the com­pany ne­glected to pre­dict the next big thing: dig­i­tal.

As the masses flocked to the lat­est and great­est in point-and-shoot tech­nol­ogy, sales of the com­pany’s most-loved films plum­meted – so much so that they had to do away with their pro­fes­sional prod­ucts.

But that’s all chang­ing: A decade af­ter dig­i­tal nearly wiped out ana­log photography for good, de­mand for Kodak’s iconic Ek­tachrome and Ko­dachrome film jumped up by 5 per cent be­tween 2013 and 2015. Kodak Alaris de­cided to give the peo­ple what they wanted and brought back their fa­mous prod­ucts – and they’ll con­tinue to do so through 2018.

We like to keep things pretty old school at our com­pany, too. Even though we’ve in­no­vated with new tech­nol­ogy to give our cus­tomers the most pre­mium service pos­si­ble, at the end of the day we’re just a good ol’-fash­ioned junk-re­moval com­pany.

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