Dr. Allen Eaves, President and CEO, Stemcell Technologies Inc.
(Pacific Region overall winner)
For Dr. Allen Eaves, it took mandatory retirement to kick-start the growth of his company, Stemcell Technologies, into one of Canada’s largest biotechnology companies. Formerly the founding director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Terry Fox Laboratory and head of clinical hematology, Eaves was required under B.C. law to step down at the age of 65. “I wasn’t really interested in retiring, so I just moved down the street,” says Eaves, now 76.
Stemcell makes a “cement-like ready-mix” for media and culture—the ingredients for stem cells—to be used in research hospitals, universities, laboratories and corporate campuses around the world. In total, the company makes around 2,000 different types of tissue culture media, used in health-care research for diseases from cancer to Parkinson’s. While his products are not directly used on patients—thereby avoiding the “big regulatory cost of producing them” borne by most pharmaceutical companies—they save researchers the time and money it would take to produce quality cell cultures.
For Eaves, science runs in the family. His father, a botanist, pioneered controlled-atmosphere research that is used to store apples today. But it was the experience of growing up in 1950s Nova Scotia and watching a neighbour die of cancer that spurred Eaves toward cancer research. After completing his MD at the University of Toronto, and a decade of cancer research, he relocated to British Columbia where he founded the Terry Fox Laboratory in 1981. Then, in 1993, Eaves was asked by the administration if he would be interested in spinning off the 10-employee lab into a business.
Seeing an opportunity to launch a successful side business—Eaves would remain at his research position full-time for another 13 years—he took out a second mortgage on his house. Eaves would spend another decade at the head of the institution, playing a hands-off role in Stemcell’s affairs—at least until his retirement, at which point he shifted the bulk of his attention to the fledgling company. Stemcell hit its stride by 2007, growing 20 to 30 per cent a year, as Eaves came on board full-time and as breakthroughs in stem cell research put his products in high demand. Today, Stemcell has 850 employees in Vancouver, 150 of them with post-doctoral degrees, and in 2015 had revenues of $150 million.
Despite all the recent financial success, Eaves remains a researcher at heart—and his goals for Stemcell reflect that. “I really have no desire to make money. I just want to make really great products that help cancer researchers do their jobs better,” he says, before adding with a laugh: “Except maybe world domination.”
Bhawnesh Mathur + Geoff Reed, CEO + Chair, Creation Technologies
When Geoff Reed set about searching for a new CEO for his company Creation Technologies–which manufactures complex, high-end parts for devices as diverse as airport X-ray machines and hospital CT scanners–he wanted someone with experience in the sector but who could bring an outsider’s perspective. That candidate came in Bhawnesh Mathur, a former executive at IBM who, over the course of his career, worked for a supplier of Creation, a customer of Creation and at two different competitors. “He knew the market and the customer very, very well,” says Reed, who now chairs Creation. “Companies go through different phases,” says Mathur. “Geoff brought it through the years of early growth where, every day, you’re either viable or you’re not.” In the two years since Mathur came on board in 2014, revenues have increased 10 per cent, to US$566 million, while the company has doubled its sales force in the last year (around one sixth of its 2,800 employees are based at its Burnaby HQ). Creation is set to grow again as it shifts from manufacturing components to playing a larger role in designing them.
Geoff Chutter, CEO and President, WhiteWater West Industries Ltd.
In 1980, Geoff Chutter left his job at KPMG to open a water park in the Okanagan. A partner at the firm wished him luck: “He said, ‘If this little slide thing doesn’t work out, you know you’ve got a home back here,’” recalls Chutter. Three decades later, the 64-year-old Chutter has built WhiteWater into the world’s largest designer of water parks, with $200 million in revenue last year and 600 employees in 21 offices around the world. The son of a manager at multinational concrete-maker Lafarge, Vancouver-born Chutter spent his high school years in Paris. He credits that experience with opening his eyes early to markets outside of North America—introducing and adapting the concept of the water park wherever they went: Japan in 1985; the Middle East in 1987; South Africa in 1991; and, seven years ago, China. Why does the water park prove so successful? At its core, it’s about a lot more than slides, says Chutter. “Where else can you bring your three-year-old, your 11-year-old, your teenager, and grandma and grandpa?”