Entrepreneur of the Year 2015: Turnaround Entrepreneur finalists

Neil Woodyer (WINNER)
CEO, Endeavour Mining Corp.

Neil Woodyer isn’t your typical accountant. Instead of sitting behind a desk crunching numbers, Woodyer decided to take his finance skills into the field, as far away as Africa, with Endeavour Mining Corp., a Vancouver-based gold producer. Woodyer was first bitten by the gold bug in the 1970s while working at the Amalgamated Metal Corp., an international metals broker. His job took him to mines, smelters and ports across South America where he learned first-hand how a mine is run and its ores turned into a valuable commodity. He moved up the ranks and eventually landed in New York, where he got involved in the aluminum trade and developed a knack for turning losses into wins. After a stint at Lloyds International Trading Inc., where he oversaw commodities trading, Woodyer moved to Vancouver and decided to set up a merchant bank for miners, Endeavour Financial—his first entrepreneurial venture. When the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Endeavour (named after the Captain Cook ship that explored uncharted waters in the Pacific Ocean) changed course: Woodyer began buying mines in Africa and created Endeavour Mining, a gold producer that today owns four gold mines producing 500,000 ounces per year in Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. Mining is obviously a risky business, with the price of gold down by about 40 per cent from its record high above US$1,900 per ounce in 2011, but Woodyer remains confident that better days lie ahead. And although 71, he says he isn’t planning to retire anytime soon: “I’m having too much fun.”

Judi Hess (FINALIST)

CEO, Copperleaf Technologies Inc.

It was her successful history of turning around troubled projects at companies such as MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates and Creo that landed Judi Hess the job of CEO at Burnaby-based Copperleaf Technologies Inc. Hess came to the computer software company in late 2009 with a mission to change it from a consultancy to a company that develops and sells enterprise software solutions to large utility companies (BC Hydro, Manitoba Hydro and Hydro Quebec, among others) needing help managing their aging assets. Since Hess took the helm at Copperleaf, annual revenue has grown by more than 300 per cent. Today, Copperleaf’s solution is the most widely adopted in energy utilities, managing more than $150 billion in asset investments around the world. Hess was so sure of success that she invested her own money early on in the project (the company eventually raised $7.2 million from outside investors). “I have always believed the best investment you can make is investing in the company where you work. The company where you work is the company you know best.”

Ryan Benn (FINALIST)
President and Publisher, Alive Publishing Group

Ryan Benn was 27 years old when he got a call out of the blue to run the Alive Publishing Group. It was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the owner was looking for an energetic young marketing mind to not only revive the brand but also make it a leading global natural health publisher. That said, Benn’s educational background was in science and marketing—not an obvious fit. “I think that was the gift—being able to look at it with some naivety,” Benn says, looking back at the proposition 10 years ago. Since he took the helm, Richmond-based Alive Publishing has introduced numerous new products and services including corporate wellness programs for companies across North America, distance education and custom publishing. The company has also expanded its Alive magazine online, with an audience of over 24 million readers worldwide. The company has gone from being in the red when Benn took over to making about $2.5 million a year now.