2011 B.C. Entrepreneur of the Year: Robert Little

Congratulations to Robert Little, CEO of FPI Fireplace Products ?International, the 2011 B.C. Pacific Region Entrepreneur of the Year (in Manufacturing).

Robert Little, FPI Fireplace Products International | BCBusiness
Return to: B.C. Entrepreneur of the Year 2011

Congratulations to Robert Little, CEO of FPI Fireplace Products 
International, the 2011 B.C. Pacific Region Entrepreneur of the Year (in Manufacturing).

“Everybody thinks there’s some kind of a master plan. There isn’t,” Robert Little says as he walks through the cavernous 200,000-square-foot facility in Delta that houses the fireplace manufacturer that the 59-year-old founded in 1980. He laughs as he shouts over the noisy warehouse machinery. “I’m a typical entrepreneur,” he says: “No education, totally disorganized, somewhat dysfunctional.”

There’s method to his madness, though. Little’s sense of humour and improvisational approach to work is underscored by a keen business acumen guided by gut instincts and strong ethical principles. Little’s father instilled the importance of honest work in his son from a young age. But after the family emigrated from the U.K. to Edmonton when he was 17, Little found himself at odds with conventional paths to employment. 

Four Questions:

What was your first
 real job?

I worked on fishing boats in England when I was 11.

What was your first big break in your current business?

To develop our own distribution, develop our own dedicated sales force. Without that, I think we would be a marginal, struggling business.

What’s the secret 
to success?

To be quite honest, we’ve never thought about it. I just do what I do. I think it’s certainly about having fun.

If you were a 
TV or movie 
character, who would you be? 

Richard Branson. The [staff] girls 
submitted that!

“I went to college for a while unsuccessfully, and then the first two jobs I had out of college, I got fired,” he says. “I determined very early that it was not really possible for me to be successful working for anybody. But somehow I had to find some way of making a living.”

Necessity pushed Little into starting his own shelving business at age 23 with $3,500. “I sold it for $35,000,” he recalls. Then, at 27, he started Regency Fireplace Products in Richmond with $15,000, one employee, a welding machine and a hand-operated grinder. 

The company made a profit each year. Its steady expansion saw Regency outgrow each of its six headquarters before settling in the current Delta location 12 years ago, where a loyal core of long-time staff rounds out the company’s 380 employees. The facility carries $15 million in inventory and produces at least 200 fireplace units a day. 

Trial and error has been a longstanding theme in Little’s life, and a key to his success. He embraces experimentation and encourages his staff to do the same.

“We allow people to make mistakes. I’m a great believer that if you’re not fucking something up, you’re not trying hard enough,” he says. “People really respond when you empower them, when you say, ‘Just do what you think is right.’ That just fires people up.”

THE JUDGES SAY: A consistent track record of innovation, success, profitability and growing brand strength; a legend in the business.