Jack Nicholson
CEO, Otter Farm and Home Co-operative
(Winner)

OtterAdam Blasberg

Jack Nicholson’s first job in the co-operative business was frying doughnuts at the Drumheller Co-op in 1990. He became a certified baker and took advantage of educational opportunities provided to him by the co-op system. Today, Nicholson is CEO of Otter Farm and Home Co-operative, the seventh largest co-op in Canada, managing more than $200 million in annual sales and leading a team of 400 employees spread across 18 locations in the Lower Mainland and the Interior.

Transformation has been a constant thread in the Langley-based co-op’s 97-year history; diversification, a way forward. While some co-ops stick with one industry—like food or fuel—Otter has always sought to expand into new ventures to increase its resiliency to market changes.

“We want to be diverse and make sure that if we have a bad economy in one particular area of our company…another area can pick up where it left off,” Ontario-raised Nicholson says, citing the example of fluctuating gas prices.

Under Nicholson, Otter recently expanded into liquor and real estate, although petroleum still accounts for 67 percent of revenue. New developments in the gas division are on the horizon—for example, a new gas bar and convenience store in Cache Creek and a cardlock for bulk fuel in Lake Country.

Also, green fuel—E85 flex fuel, which releases fewer carbon emissions and consists of 85-percent renewable ethanol gas—will make its Otter debut at a Langley gas bar currently being reconstructed. “The government’s mandated that E85 fuel will be 30 cents a litre cheaper than regular gasoline,” Nicholson says. “Not only is it going to be cheaper for our consumers, but it’s also a great win because it’s using renewable resources.”

As a profit-sharing company, Otter has about 35,000 active members who spend at least $100 a year at the co-op. Putting much of the profits back into the community keeps stakeholders top of mind, Nicholson says. “We’re here because we want to support our members and try to look ahead and see what other services our communities are going to need.”

Supporting the growth of employees is also important to Nicholson, particularly because he knows what it’s like to start near the bottom and work your way up. Promoting staff from within is one of the things he’s proudest of at Otter. “I just love coming to work and seeing the growth of people who started with pumping
gas.”

What was your first summer job?

Other than delivering newspapers door to door for 200 customers, my first real job was at McDonalds.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?
I believe they are made, by the company they keep, the mentors they surround themselves with, and the drive in which they wish to succeed and make their community a better place.

What is your definition of success?

Being excited to go to work every day, being happy with the life you have and the friends and community you surround yourself with, and being satisfied you are doing your best for those around you. 

What other career might you have had?

I originally thought I would be a child therapist or psychologist; I always wanted to help folks do better in their lives

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Overall, I am a very shy person!

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Drive and determination to better the world around them, because if you take care of your community, I truly believe your community will take care of you

What businessperson do you most admire? 

Locally, I see Phil Jackman, who is extremely humble and behind the scenes, but always gives back to his community. On a greater level, someone like Richard Branson, thinking outside the box and always looking for new opportunities for diversification. 

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Hike, go sailing, get out on the water with friends.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Collaborative, willing to work alongside and encourage team members, coach them and provide opportunities to better themselves and take on bigger responsibilities. 

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Earphones for the airplane! And my iPad or a good book for the hotel room.

Amin Shivji
CEO, 123Dentist
(Runner-up)

ShivjiAdam Blasberg 

Cautioned by his university professors that dentist jobs were limited in the Lower Mainland, Dr. Amin Shivji bought a practice with two classmates before he graduated from dentistry school at UBC in the 1990s. Shivji kept acquiring clinics and now runs the second-largest dental service organization (DSO) in Canada, with 62 practices in four provinces. By the end of 2019, he expects to be approaching 100.

Shivji was born in Tanzania and immigrated to Canada at age seven, following brief stays in Pakistan and Kenya. He attributes his success to relationships. “Relationships with my partners, with the banks, with suppliers,” he says. “My philosophy is pure and simple: it’s inclusiveness. Make sure everyone has an opportunity.”

His Coquitlam-based company is set up differently from other DSOs, he notes, as dentists he partners with retain control at the clinical level, while 123Dentist provides the non-clinical support–payroll, accounting, human resources and real estate.

What was your first summer job?

Cutting grass for neighbours.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I believe it’s actually a bit of both. You have to be born with the drive, then you have to make it happen.

What is your definition of success?

Everybody wins, and we all do extremely well together. 

What other career might you have had?

Early on I considered becoming a commercial pilot or an architect.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I can be quite sensitive at times. For example, in certain emotional situations at the movies I can get teary-eyed.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Drive and determination, because failure is not an option. Have to think outside the box.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Unfortunately, I don’t admire any businesspeople. 

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I like to play soccer or watch it on TV, and surf the Internet for cool cars and news.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Very inclusive, team-oriented, always focused on the big picture. I do not micro-manage, period.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

I travel so much I don’t forget anything, and whatever I need I buy. In Toronto we have an apartment with everything there.

Vern Milani
President, Milani Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning
(Runner-up)

MilanieAdam Blasberg 

Vern Milani was eight years old when he began helping his father, an Italian immigrant, with the family drainage business founded in 1956. His payment? A bottle of Coke and a hot dog on the weekend.

As a teenager, Milani learned the inner workings of the Burnaby-based company, everything from digging ditches to his dad’s leadership style. He eventually became a plumber and bought the company in 1986, adding heating and air conditioning services. When he acquired Milani Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, it had two vehicles and a handful of employees; he now oversees 130 people and a fleet of 100 vehicles.

“I’m always looking at better ways to do things–better processes, the latest technology, the latest tools–to make life for our staff and customers easier,” Milani says, explaining that he opened a 25,000-square-foot warehouse so clients didn’t have to wait for replacement parts. “We like to feel that our customers are like our family.”

What was your first summer job?

My first job was working for my dad when I was eight. I used to join him on holidays, weekends and in the summertime.

Is an entrepreneur born or made? 

I think it is a combination of both. You need to have a vision and the capability to act on it depending on your circumstances.

What is your definition of success?

Being able to work and enjoy what you do and the people you do it with. In the end, it’s not about the money but about feeling fulfilled in what you do. That creates happiness and success.

What other career might you have had?

I used to play in a band and I love to sing, so perhaps I would be an entertainer in a rock band.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

Probably that I was once in a rock band!

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Latitude. To make sure to work with society to help create more jobs and opportunities in the community. It’s important to always help society and others as much as possible.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Definitely my dad. He was the most admirable man I knew. He always had compassion for others. He was a poet and would often sing or write poetry for his customers.

What do you do to relax/unwind? 

Who relaxes anymore? I enjoy reading through my emails in the middle of the night and getting back to people without any interruption.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Allowing people to excel and see the results of their own creation, with my guidance when it is required.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

One of those resistance bands so I can get some exercise even when travelling.

Caitlin Dunne, Jon Havelock, Jeff Roberts + Ken Seethram, Co-directors, Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine
(Runners-up)

ReproductiveAdam Blasberg

The Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine wants women to have it all: education, career and family. Operating four clinics in B.C. and one in Edmonton, co-owners Drs. Caitlin Dunne, Jon Havelock, Jeff Roberts and Ken Seethram recognize that women face a lot of pressure to achieve their professional and personal goals in a short time.

“Women today are savvy,” explains Dunne, who grew up in Toronto and completed her medical degree at the University of Western Ontario. “They’re interested in their fertility, and what we’ve tried to do is educate them with the best possible information…and come up with a plan that is perfectly suited to their fertility goals.”

This approach has helped PCRM become the fertility clinic with the most locations in Western Canada, as well as the only one with two full-service embryology laboratories. The company employs 120 people, 85 percent of them female, including some in key leadership positions.

“We put our care of people and of our team first,” Dunne says, noting that the team is committed to supporting women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). “We’re businesspeople second. That’s true by our training, but it’s also true by our fundamentals, and it’s served us well.”

Caitlin Dunne

What was your first summer job?

Lifeguard.

Is an entrepreneur born or made? 

Entrepreneurs are made when one finds the right team and the right opportunity at the right time. 

What is your definition of success?

My success is intimately tied to my patients’ success. When they are happy, I am happy. 

What other career might you have had?

I was in the psychology program at McGill before medical school. 

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I want to learn to speak Mandarin.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Prominent women role models in executive leadership. 

What businessperson do you most admire?

My husband [Finning International president and CEO Scott Thomson], for his commitment to increasing diversity in the workplace. 

What do you do to relax/unwind? 

Running is relaxation for me. I am not good at sitting still.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Lead by example, and treat others as you’d want to be treated. Character is defined by what you do when nobody is looking.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing. 

Headphones.

 

Jon Havelock

What was your first summer job?

McDonalds.

Is an entrepreneur born or made? 

Both, but birth/natural talent/genetics is more important overall. This relates to the quote “hard work beats talent until talent decides to work hard.” A successful entrepreneur requires much hard work, but the most successful require the inherent gifts and traits to reach the pinnacle of success.

What is your definition of success?

Happiness.

What other career might you have had?

Mathematician or chemist.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Passionate individuals willing to work with them toward a common goal in order to be successful.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Bill Gates, for his decision to allocate the majority of his wealth to reduce poverty and improve health in less-developed nations and to donate the vast majority of his wealth to charities.

What do you do to relax/unwind? 

Mountain biking.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Inclusive.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing. 

Business cards.

  

Jeff Roberts

What was your first summer job?

Gas-station attendant at Shell. 

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I believe most are made from hard work.

What is your definition of success?

Balance of financial security and happy family.

What other career might you have had?

I originally wanted to be a veterinarian. 

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m an avid urban farmer.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Courage to take the personal and financial risks necessary to be successful.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Jim Pattison.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Fishing and exercise.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Except when it comes to making more urgent medical decisions, of course, I consider myself democratic, and I respect the opinion of all levels of employees whenever possible.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

A book for leisure reading.

Ken Seethram

What was your first summer job?

I worked for Hood Manufacturing, selling peat moss and operating a dry dump for $5 per hour. 

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

Made. People are born with risk tolerance—those with a high tolerance for risk and adverse outcomes take high risks, and that drives performance. Performance drives entrepreneurism. 

What is your definition of success?

The end point of the time when you gave your best. 

What other career might you have had?

Gelato barista.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m one of the few amateur East Indian banjo players in the city.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”
Compassion.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Anna Rosling Rönnlund, co-author of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Run North Shore trails.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Controlled chaos, like the weather: generally cloudy, with occasional gusts of intelligence and compassion.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Business cards! But I don’t regret their absence because it forces a conversation instead of a passive transfer of knowledge.