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Curious personality drives career

As published in the Telegraph and Journal, August 17, 2013

My Style is “Ready, Fire, Aim”

Francis McGuire - Major Drilling

Former deputy minister Francis McGuire is president and CEO of Major Drilling in Moncton. Photo: Telegraph-Journal achive

A former provincial deputy minister and currently the president and CEO of the second-largest drilling company in the world, Francis McGuire has a unique perspective on public policy and private enterprise – how they intersect and the impact this intersection has on our province. He has also proven that he has a clear understanding of the leadership required to build a world-class company.

It’s been almost 14 years since Francis took the reigns of the near-bankrupt Major Drilling. It was a combination of his experience as deputy minister of Economic Development and Tourism as well as his relationship with Frank McKenna, who was chairman, that created the opportunity for Francis to become president and CEO. The fact that he could run the business from Moncton was what ultimately clinched the deal.

I began our interview by asking Francis what has happened with Major Drilling since he began leading the organization.

A: We totally changed the business strategy. When I joined, we were almost bankrupt and we were competing against a lot of mom-and-pop companies around the world. There were very few barriers to entry into the kind of drilling we were doing at the time.

I saw a pattern at Major Drilling. Minerals were getting harder and harder to find, just like what’s happened in the oil patch. So now you have to go deeper, higher in the mountains, and that created barriers to entry for our competitors. So we invented a term called “specialized drilling.” We decided that’s where we were going to be the big leaders and own the biggest part of the market share.

Q: How has this strategy impacted Major Drilling stock?

A: Well, it’s a very cyclical stock, so it was up and down. We had a split at our peak lately at $18 a share – you multiply by three, so it was at $54 a share. We’re down to $7, so we’re down to $21 a share in the old terms. When I joined the company, we were at $2 a share.

Q: How do your shareholders respond to the volatility?

A: We are still the leaders in terms of generating cash and making things happen. Our shareholders know that it’s a tough industry. It goes up and down a lot, but through thick and thin we do better than our peers. We are the benchmark for everybody else. It sounds a little cocky, but that’s exactly what everybody says about us.

Q: What encouraged you to take on a company that was struggling?

A: Well, it was more happenstance. When I left government – I was with Frank McKenna for 10 years – I went to work for a subsidiary of NBTel. Frank became co-chair of Major Drilling. He contacted me when he needed a new CEO.

My options were moving to Montreal – I had a great offer to work with Bombardier – but I didn’t want to leave New Brunswick. So I took the job at Major Drilling.

Q: A big part of your decision was staying in New Brunswick?

A: Yes.

Q: From a business perspective, what has kept you in this province?

A: There’s a friendliness here. There is also a capacity to access resources and people easily. There are examples like the Business Council and the McCain Institute supporting small business. These are things I always found wonderful about New Brunswick. There are some disadvantages to being a small province but some definite advantages. It just suits my style, which is a little bit less formal.

[Tweet “There’s a friendliness here. There is also a capacity to access resources and people easily.”]

Q: Can you tell me about the speed of business in New Brunswick?

A: People who used to work for me said, “Francis was clear: it’s ready, fire, aim.” You get to do it here. You can make a decision, make a deal and away you go. I’m always in a hurry. I walk fast, I like to move fast, and you can do that here.

That’s the appeal of New Brunswick. That’s why you’re seeing entrepreneurs here. This kind of ecosystem is a great asset. I’m a Nova Scotian, and you don’t find this in Nova Scotia. I personally thrive in it.

Q: You chose to stay here and play a leadership role in a variety of ways. How does your political life intersect with being in private enterprise?

A: I’ve been very involved in politics and I’ve always believed that public policy and private enterprise are all part of one ecosystem. You’ve got to understand how the pieces fit and how they can help each other.

Public policy affects business, it affects jobs, it affects people and it affects taxation. So if you can improve both, you get a better dynamic.

Q: What do you believe is a critical component of leadership?

A: People say leadership is good communications and it is partly about communicating a vision to people. It’s also important to listen. I’ve never heard of a good listener that’s not a good communicator and I’ve never known a good communicator who’s not a good listener.

[Tweet “I’ve never heard of a good listener that’s not a good communicator and I’ve never known a good communicator who’s not a good listener.”]

Q: You run a global company. How do you stay on top of things?

A: Each one of our managers has a business plan they submit annually. They also send me a three-month forecast every 15 days. It’s very systematized and it tells me where they’re going and if there’s something that’s unusual, that’s a chance for me to jump in and know what’s happening.

According to Bob Neill from Neill & Gunter, what’s going to happen in the next 30 days is too late. It’s going to happen. Nothing you can do about it. What’s going to happen beyond 90 days, you’re dreaming because it’s probably going to change and you’re just guessing, so don’t bother. So focus on that rolling threemonth vision. That’s how I manage.

Q: What is it that drives you, Francis?

A: I think I’m by nature a curious person. I’m not very good at relaxing. I’m curious about travel and cultures and people. I love public policy because it’s interesting. I do love government. I like the interplay with how it affects the economy and peoples’lives.

Q: How would you finish the following sentence: “A leader’s job is to…?

A: A leader’s job is to get the most out of people. Some people have more gifts than others, but if you can get the maximum out of people, each individual, you’re starting to really make organizations work and make people happy.

Q: Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs in New Brunswick?

A: It’s always the same thing: Put your butt in a plane because this is a small place. Great to live here, but you can’t make a living selling here alone. It’s a big world out there. You’ve got to be part of it.

[Tweet “It’s a big world out there. You’ve got to be part of it.”]

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 www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca.

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