Kamal Sanghera  + Suki Sanghera 
CEO + President, San Group
(Winners)

SanAdam Blasberg

B.C.’s forestry industry is fighting for survival. Keystone sawmills are closing in communities like Fort St. James, Quesnel and Vavenby this year, while dozens more across the province are reducing shifts. But in Port Alberni, Langley-based San Group is racing to expand operations so it can keep growing its exports worldwide.

The family-run company, founded in 1979 and led by brothers Kamal and Suki Sanghera, bought a sawmill just outside the city from Coulson Forest Products in 2017. The facility processes high-value logs like Western red cedar. San started
construction of a new $70-million mill on the same site this spring, building it to process smaller, lower-grade timber. Next, it plans to build a remanufacturing plant near the city’s waterfront, where it will turn different grades of wood into finished engineered building products, like banisters, siding and flooring.

San Group developed  its vertically integrated approach, which it calls Harvest to Home, over decades of growth and innovation. The company adds value at every step as its products travel from B.C. forests to homebuilders in 25 countries. For decades, the rest of the industry has cut processing plants and jobs while increasing raw log exports. The Sangheras always blazed a separate path, to which they owe their success.

“We are always going against the grain,” says Kamal, the elder brother by two years. “Right now, the market is going down. We are growing. Everybody is curtailing. We are adding extra shifts.”

That contrarian attitude began in childhood. The brothers worked in their father’s remanufacturing business as teenagers and took over running it in the 1980s, while most kids their age played sports or hung out with friends after school. They employed a crew of 10 at the beginning, but that number grew as they added more remanufacturing plants, sawmills to feed them and sales teams to stoke global demand. Today, the Sangheras’ team includes 1,100 employees and subcontractors in B.C. and internationally.

“We are growing 100 percent this year,” Kamal says. “And we are growing 100 percent next year.”

Kamal Sanghera

What was your first summer job?

Working in the remanufacturing facility. I was 14 years old. I was cleaning up. In six months, I was running the night shift. In a year, I was running the plant.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

Not born. They’re made. What you learn every day, that’s life. That’s what makes you a good entrepreneur. If you don’t learn from life, then you cannot be an entrepreneur.

What is your definition of success?

What are you going to return to your community? What kind of value are you adding back?

And what are you achieving for future generations? That’s what my success is. If I can leave something behind, and I can achieve something different than everybody else, and I can make things happen, that’s what my success is.

What other career might you have had?

I don’t think there’s anything else.

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

Everything. How we think, how we do things. Everything. Everybody is surprised. They cannot figure out how we do things.

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

Learning from their mistakes.

What businessperson do you most admire?

My mentor, Ron Hughes. That’s where I learned my business, business ethics and everything. He was a lumber guy in the ’80s and ’90s. He was an Irishman, a real tough guy in manufacturing. My father is my first mentor. The second was him. I learned the business from him.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Work. Come into the plant, do something different. Plan for something new. That’s what relaxes me.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Work with everybody, communicate with everyone, listen to everyone, and make my own decisions.

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

A lot of times in life, you make mistakes, you learn from those mistakes.

Todd Nicklin
President and CEO, Enex Energy Corp.
(Runner-up)

NicklinAdam Blasberg

Todd Nicklin never figured he’d have any part in the fuel-and-lubrication distribution company his father started in the 1970s. “I joke with my friends and family that I did everything I could to not be involved in this business,” he says with a laugh. Nicklin earned his UVic economics degree in 1986, became an accountant, and worked in real estate and then software. Now he leads Enex Energy Corp., which he grew from the four-person predecessor he and his brother bought from their dad in 2003. 

Today, Burnaby-based Enex employs 125 people to serve 5,000 customers throughout Western Canada, including Air Canada and WestJet Airlines. The company grew organically and through five acquisitions and three mergers. Nicklin says Enex’s people set it apart in an industry where demand is inelastic and competitors sell a similar commodity. “Diesel is diesel,” he explains. “The thing that defines us is how we service our customers.”

What was your first summer job?

I was a student placement officer for the Canada Employment Centre in Port Alberni. I was 17. I was hired to find summer jobs for other students.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

Both. Every entrepreneur is born, but I think people evolve. You have to be interested in entrepreneurship to take the risks that might be required. But you certainly develop, learn and evolve over time.

What is your definition of success?

That definition has changed over time. Right now, my definition of success is enabling others in our organization to be as good as they can be. I am working with a team of young people that are involved in our organization, and I’m developing and coaching them to be our next group of leaders.

What other career might you have had?

I suppose I would have stayed in the software business. It was a financial and human resource software system. I was their sales manager for Canada. So I’m an accountant, but I love sales. So I straddle the fence.

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

That I am an accountant who loves sales.

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

Compassion and empathy. My focus is my co-workers and these young folks I am working with to enable them to become our next group of leaders.

People don’t respond well to sticks and carrots—sticks particularly. We absolutely have to compensate people properly, but once you’ve met that threshold, there’s so much you need do to encourage people to work well, work with each other and align with the company.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Warren Buffett stands out. Not because he’s rich, but because he’s an investor in people. He invests in businesses that are well managed and uphold the values that they espouse.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I love to travel, I fish, and I spend an awful amount of time with my friends and family. I’ve been to Mexico three times in the last year. I was in Banff last weekend. I’m trying to get to Spain in September. And I fish up and down the West Coast through the summer.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am shy about this award and the recognition that comes with it because it’s not just about me. It’s about everybody else. So my leadership style is really about developing everybody else on our leadership team. If everybody is strong and able, then we will be a far more successful company as a result.

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

Toothbrush has probably been the most typical item that I’ve forgot. Every hotel has got a disposable toothbrush that they’ll give you, but they are horrible things and they generally collapse or disintegrate in your mouth. Or I make a frantic run to a drugstore nearby.

Steven Dean +  Maryse Belanger
Chair and CEO + President and COO, Atlantic Gold Corp.
(Runners-up)

Belanger + DeanMedia One

Atlantic Gold Corp. co-founder, chair and CEO Steven Dean accomplished more while on sabbatical than most people do in their careers. The Perth, Australia, transplant retired from leading Teck Resources as its president in 2002 and started his break by co-founding Vancouver-based copper miner Amerigo Resources–which earned his first EOY nomination in 2003.

In 2014, with gold prices plummeting and the industry starved of funding, Dean ended his 12-year semi-retirement to co-found Atlantic. Maryse Belanger–a geological engineering graduate of Université du Québec à Chicoutimi and former senior VP at Goldcorp–joined him as president and COO. The publicly traded mining firm started with $30 million to buy, consolidate and develop four sites in Nova Scotia. This summer, it was acquired by Australia’s St Barbara for $800 million, after producing $128 million in net revenue in 2018.

By mining standards, that’s a spectacular, speedy return on minimal investment. “Our approach is develop it in three or four years and drill off its potential with cash flow, rather than with seed capital at the beginning,” Dean says. “It’s novel here in the industry.” Atlantic plans to add 500 staff to its 280 in Vancouver and Nova Scotia.

Steven Dean

What was your first summer job?

Working for my father in his factory stacking timber when I was 12. It was hot, sweaty, hard work, outdoors, shirt off, but it paid well for a 12-year-old.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I think it’s both, to be frank. It’s probably related to your DNA in terms of preparedness to take risks.

Learning and cultivating a passion for it is made—in my case in a family circumstance, as a kid being exposed to my father’s business. But also being trained on the job. I was trained by one of the best, at Normandy Mining. My chairman was a guy by the name of Robert Champion de Crespigny, and he was a true entrepreneur and a very good one. I learned a lot from him in my 20s and 30s.

What is your definition of success?

I think it’s the creation of value for multiple stakeholders—whether that be monetary value in the form of shareholder value accretion, or whether that be career development and learning exercises for the management and team, or whether it be creating jobs.

That’s what we did in Nova Scotia: 280 jobs in area where there were no jobs. 

What other career might you have had?

I always wanted to be a rock star. My father counselled me otherwise. I love music. I was in a band when I was in high school and university. I played guitar and rock and roll.

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

That I practise yoga every morning. I’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s part of my morning routine.

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

Celebration. We need to celebrate entrepreneurs more in this country.

What businessperson do you most admire?

There are lots of people in business I admire, but I’ll stick to my business, my industry. One of the guys I have a lot of respect for is Sean Boyd at Agnico-Eagle Mines.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Spend time on my boat. I have a 62-foot Ocean Alexander, which is a power yacht. It’s great to get out on the water. I’m most at peace when I’m on the water. I’ve never lived in a place not on the water, and I can’t envision ever doing so.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Open and determined. Open to ideas, having curiosity and being good to people. But business success doesn’t always come easily, and it requires perseverance and determination to achieve one’s vision.

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

Nothing. I’m at good at packing always, and I’ve done it all my life. And my wife would attest to that.