Larrie York

President, Frontier Power Products Ltd.

Larrie York doesn’t see himself as a risk taker. The president of Frontier Power Products Ltd. says the business he co-founded more than 30 years ago has been a success because of a drive to “take the norm and jack it up a notch.” Delta-based Frontier, which distributes engines and manufactures electricity generation equipment for resource companies in Western Canada, has grown from two employees when it was founded in 1983 to 125 today with branches in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba that provide service, parts and manufacturing. “Our business has evolved, step by step, over many years, in an effort to provide ever greater levels of reliability and improved response times,” says York. “We rely on our clients to tell us what they want.” —Brenda Bouw


Carlos Villavicencio

CEO, Natural Trade Ltd.

Carlos Villavicencio was an architect in Mexico before moving to Canada in 1999 looking for a better life for his family. He first started Natural Trade in 2000, with the goal of operating a lumber trading company that involved Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. After a couple of years and what he calls a “very expensive learning curve,” Villavicencio closed down the company. Still, he wasn’t deterred (“I’m pretty firm in my objectives,” he says). Villavicencio got a job as a wholesale lumber trader and, in 2008, used the extra experience to reopen Natural Trade; he also set up a company in Mexico City, Global Forest, to help distribute lumber inside Mexico. Today, North Vancouver-based Natural Trade is North America’s largest exporter of lumber products to industrial and commercial clients in Mexico (such as pallet manufacturers), with annual sales growth of between 40 and 60 per cent, according to Villavicencio. —B.B.

I knew my business was a success when…

Villavicencio: A large mill in the U.S. told us, “We used to do a lot of business with other wholesalers in the Mexican business, but now you guys killed everyone and we do everything with you.”

I get my best ideas when…

Rokstad: I’m listening to music, or when I exercise—I’m able to take snippets of information I’ve filed away in my mind and incorporate them into the bigger picture.

People tell me the phrase I most overuse is…

Villavicencio: “The better we know our customers’ needs, the better we can fulfill their expectations and become real partners—not only another supplier!”

The most underrated trait of an entrepreneur is…

York: Patience. Even though you want things to happen quickly, others have their own schedules and priorities.

If I weren’t doing this I’d be…

Rokstad: I might be an aspiring CrossFit competitor.

The person I learned the most from was…

York: My ex-partner, Terry Sumner, had faith in my ability to “sell”—and that was something I didn’t see in myself.

Aaron Rokstad

CEO, Rokstad Power Corp.

Aaron Rokstad picked a bad time to start his own powerline construction business. It was October 2008, just as the global financial crisis was unfolding, when Rokstad took a $100,000 home equity loan and decided to branch out on his own. He left his job at Quanta Services, the largest electric power services contractor in North America, which in 2001 bought a company his father had started, Allteck Line Contractors. Rokstad spent six years at Quanta until deciding, as his father had, that he wanted to build something of his own. Launching a business during the worst credit crunch in generations turned out to be a crash course in financing for Rokstad and his team. “It taught us how to get by without it,” he says.

His startup company, Empirica Energy Inc., focused on both civil works and erecting power lines for utilities. Rokstad started it with a partner, but after three years they decided to part ways. As a result of that restructuring in October 2011, the focus was solely on power line work and Rokstad Power Corp. was formed.

Today, Rokstad Power’s clients include major utilities such as BC Hydro and AltaLink and private companies such as SNC Lavalin, Rogers and Imperial Metals. The company employs more than 600 people and is expected to generate close to $200 million in revenues this year, driven by an aggressive expansion into new markets across Western Canada and parts of the U.S.

Rokstad’s diversification strategy turned out to be a good one, especially after the B.C. government decided to audit BC Hydro, which Rokstad said put a halt on new work and “decimated” the overall line construction industry. Rokstad believes the secret to being a successful entrepreneur is to be flexible and never satisfied with the status quo. “You can’t change what your customers are doing,” he says. “You have to adapt.” —B.B.