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Atlantic Canada Blessed with Talented Innovators

N.B. BUSINESS LEADERS TO WATCH IN 2013
As published in the Telegraph and Journal 12/29/2012

It’s that time of year to look back at the last twelve months and, more importantly, focus on what lies ahead in 2013. I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing over 50 leaders from our region in the last three years. I can say – without any hesitation – that we’re blessed with an abundance of talented leaders in Atlantic Canada. For my last column of 2012, I thought it would be fitting to talk to some exceptional business leaders that we should be watching in 2013. I will have more in-depth interviews with each of these leaders in the New Year.

The first leader to watch has 20 global brands piloting his technology right now. His product will literally change consumer behaviour in the retail sector. The company is ZapTap (zaptap.com) and the leader is Yan Simard, who is the founder and CEO of the Fredericton-based company.

The second leader to watch is a former provincial deputy minister who served under Frank McKenna. Francis McGuire has been the president and chief executive officer of Major Drilling Group International Inc. since August 2000. Major Drilling Group International Inc., (majordrilling.com) is growing and plans to dominate the international market for specialized drilling jobs. McGuire was inducted into the prestigious New Brunswick Business Hall of Fame earlier this year.

The final leaders to watch are business partners Michelle McCutcheon and Cathy Daley of Blossoms Fresh Fruit Arrangements Ltd. (blossomsfruitarrangements. com). They have a great story that needs to be shared. Blossoms moved from a home-based operation into retail space in Saint John and currently has close to 60 locations across North America.

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I asked the leaders five questions to help shed some light on the year that just passed as well as the challenges and opportunities they see in 2013. Here are their unique responses …

What was the most important lesson you learned in 2012?

Yan: That making a real difference is destabilizing for all people involved, be it clients, employees or investors. An old mentor of mine once told me that if it’s not a bit painful, you’re not making any difference.

Francis: 2012 was an interesting year. I found that we were dealing with a lot of uncertainty. What was very important was being very flexible and dealing with information as it presented itself. I found we were reacting to circumstances in the moment. In comparison with other years there was a lot of movement in the market and, as a result, it was important to react quickly as new data became available.

Michelle & Cathy: We had to learn how to let other people contribute to our business. When you are an entrepreneur, you are used to doing everything yourself. As you grow you need to become comfortable with letting go of some of this control and trusting your employees.

Hiring the right people is critical. What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your business in 2013?

Yan: Zaptap has a real shot at becoming the global leader in the Augmented Retail Experience space by the end of the year. Our service is a great solution to a global business need. With proper execution, we can achieve that global leader status.

Francis: If the Americans create a credible solution to deal with the fiscal cliff, we’ll see a very big opportunity to continue to grow our business. I’m watching this situation unfold and am hopeful that we have a stable environment that supports our business growth.

Michelle & Cathy: Our biggest opportunity is to have stores in every major centre across Canada. As we close 2012, we are closer to achieving that goal. It’s critical to begin advertising nationally. National advertising will drive traffic to our website and toll free number, which is our critical on-going revenue stream, and it also has the halo effect of getting people interested in opening new stores.

What do you feel are the top challenges facing leaders in 2013?

Yan: With the shaky economy, it’s really easy to worry a lot about factors outside of our control. In my mind the main challenge for leaders is to stay focused on developing their businesses. The fluctuating economy creates risks but also opportunities. The best leaders know how to take this external data (economy) and turn it into value for their companies.

Francis: The important question in 2013 is ‘As a leader, how do you deal with uncertainty?’ It will be important for leaders to make decisions without complete clarity. If you are a rigid thinker, 2013 will be challenging. I believe 2013 requires flexibility in leadership thinking.

Michelle & Cathy: Social media is such a minefield for us at the moment, and we feel like everyone is just starting to come to terms with it. It touches everything from how you interact with your customers to how you interact with your employees. You used to be able to manage your message through traditional media, even web pages and email blasts. Right now there are more questions than answers when it comes to our social media strategy – sticking your head in the sand never works.

What’s the most important issue you are dealing with as we move into the New Year?

Yan: Building a world-class company requires world-class people. As we are going into a year of aggressive growth for Zaptap, my main concern is making sure that we not only hire good people, but great people. Finding these pearls takes time, energy and a bit of luck. That’s our single biggest challenge for the coming year.

Francis: If I look at things positively, my focus will be on how I expand things on the human resources side of our business, which includes hiring, training and retaining great people. If the economy is having challenges, my focus is on preserving the talented people we currently employ.

Michelle & Cathy: The most important issue we are dealing with as we move into the New Year is managing our growth. We’ve reached the point where we need more people and infrastructure, both requiring significant investments. This is a pretty typical challenge for a startup company and it is the classic “good problem to have” but still a challenge we need to address.

As you look ahead to 2013, what are you most excited about from a business perspective?

Yan: We have a chance to change the way people experience retail on a global scale and grow a company that matters. That kind of opportunity doesn’t happen every day, so there is a lot of excitement, anticipation and, to be honest, a bit of nervousness in the air. The whole Zaptap team is ready to take on this challenge. It couldn’t get much more exciting than this!

Francis: If the U.S. gets over the cliff, we are prepared to continue our expansion. We will continue to follow our current business strategy of being one of the largest specialized operators in the world and leveraging our main competitive advantages – specialized equipment, long standing relationships with the world’s largest mining companies, access to capital and skilled personnel.

Michelle & Cathy: We feel like we are at the tipping point before we expand significantly. We have had pretty steady growth so far and as this year closes we can really feel some momentum right across our business. This includes locally, here in Saint John, with our corporate store as more people choose our Blossoms. It also includes our new cafe and catering business, which is starting to gain traction. On a larger scale, we are continuing to grow across Canada and are very close to breaking into some new markets overseas.

Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter@Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos go to LeadershipUnleashed.ca.

 

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