Private Business Growth Award finalists

Gala guests shared stories and celebrated at the gala, held at the at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto and emceed by Canadian business and political journalist Deirdre McMurdy (pictured above centre). IMAGE COMMISSION

Gala guests shared stories and celebrated at the gala, held at the at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto and emceed by Canadian business and political journalist Deirdre McMurdy (pictured above centre). IMAGE COMMISSION

Global Relay

Vancouver, B.C.

Global Relay stores and manages petabytes of communications data in a private cloud that uses proprietary software to support fast retrieval of archived communications. Focusing on the financial industry, it meets the regulatory, surveillance and archiving needs of 20,000 customers in 90 countries, including 22 of the world’s top banks. The company posted revenue this past year of $53.1-million and has been growing at the rate of 30 to 35 per cent a year.  

“One of the biggest reasons for our strong growth is our cloud model. It’s been our service delivery model for 16 years, but it’s only now become mainstream. Data is also growing in volume and complexity. There are so many different communication types – e-mail, text messaging, social media. We not only capture all of these communications, we built proprietary search tools that can search through petabytes of data and pull up a particular message from 15 years ago in a second. No competitor of ours even comes close to this level of performance. With this capability, there’s all sorts of really interesting things we can do to help customers create value out of overwhelming data volumes.”
–Shannon Rogers, president and general counsel

“My number one piece of advice to other Canadian companies seeking to grow is to look at external markets. The United States is just a huge opportunity, and the opportunities in the rest of the world today are just enormous, as well. Market abroad. Leverage the know-how that you have.”  
–Warren Roy, co-founder and CEO

Baby Gourmet
Calgary, Alta.

Started in a farmers market 10 years ago by sisters Jennifer Carlson and Jill Vos, Baby Gourmet is now a multimillion-dollar company with products available in major stores throughout the United States and Canada. Almost a third of Canadian parents are expected to purchase its organic meals and snacks this year for their babies and toddlers. Key selling points are great-tasting, wholesome ingredients, creative recipes and pouch packaging. The company also markets nutritious snacks for school-age kids under the brand name Slammers.  

“In terms of our success factors, Number one was understanding our consumer. We had two great founders who understood what parents’ and children’s needs were, and they went on to create products with high nutritional value and great taste. These products are made with some pretty sophisticated ingredients – a couple years ago you wouldn’t have thought of serving your baby vanilla berry risotto.

“We’ve had explosive growth. So the biggest challenge became funding that accelerated growth. In order to attract investment you need to have predictability in your growth targets, do what you say you’re going to do and do it in a consistent fashion over time. Then people start to believe you. My advice to others is to try your strategies on for size, make sure that they fit, then ruthlessly focus on achieving them. And don’t forget to have some fun along the way.”
–Michael Watt, CEO

Cooke Aquaculture Inc.
Blacks Harbour, N.B.

Founded in 1985, Cooke Aquaculture has grown from one marine cage site and 5,000 salmon to a farmer, processor and seller of salmon, sea bass and sea bream with annual sales approaching $1-billion. The geographically diverse company runs its own hatcheries, farms and processing facilities, as well as the sales and service side of its business.

“In 2004 and 2005, the multinationals that dominated East Coast salmon farming were experiencing serious challenges, and in some cases were prepared to close their businesses. This would have been devastating for local economies, so we made the decision to purchase operations of three major companies. Not only was this dramatic growth a challenge from a business perspective, it also presented a major challenge from a corporate culture perspective. But the decision proved to be the right one, and helped us become the company we are today.
“One recent growth opportunity that reflects our business strategy was the signing of an agreement in 2014 with the world’s largest salmon farmer, Marine Harvest, to purchase their Scottish subsidiary. This deal helped us leverage our global relationships with suppliers and build on Scotland’s market reach into Europe and the United States.”
–Glenn Cooke, co-founder and CEO

Toronto, Ont.

In the last four years, dentalcorp has acquired more than 140 dental locations across Canada, making it the largest provider of dental services in the country. Working with more than 1,700 staff and 300 dentists, it has grown to a $300-million-plus company by bringing business expertise to the practice of dentistry, while allowing practitioners to retain clinical autonomy and professional independence.

“Our raison d’être is to revolutionize the business of dentistry in Canada by combining the art of business with the science of dentistry. The biggest challenge was bringing something brand new to an industry that had existed in its current form for 100-plus years. It took a reasonable amount of time to find the revolutionaries who were willing to take a chance on a new model.
“To succeed you need to surround yourself with the best people you possibly can because it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with.”
–Graham Rosenberg, CEO and

Fiera Foods Company
Toronto, Ont.

Fiera Foods provides baked goods to retailers and food service companies, producing artisan breads, muffins, bagels, croissants and other pastries for Canadian and international markets. Founded in 1987 as a small bakery, the company, including its allied group of companies, has had double-digit growth for the last six years and employs more than 1,400 people. It has just completed a multimillion-dollar expansion and further plans include a new factory to produce its own margarine.  

“We’re a family-oriented company but with our growth we’ve had to augment our team with professional management and processes. We looked at how other family companies have transitioned and learned a lot about management thinking. We asked ourselves where we wanted to be in the next five years, the next 10 years, then attracted the people who fit our strategy. It’s a fine balance to be a large corporation while at the same time keeping the things that have made you so successful.

“My advice to other companies is to not be so concerned with being an overnight success. Work at your strategy, at getting that first client, getting that second client, being efficient in your processes. Learn as much as possible about other companies you would like to emulate and then integrate what you learn into your own style of doing business.”

–Carmela Serebryany-Harris,
president of Upper Crust, a member of the Fiera-allied group of companies and contract manufacturer

Kids & Company
Richmond Hill, Ont.

Kids & Company provides corporate childcare services for employees throughout Canada. By the end of this year, it will have more than 70 centres, including five in the United States. Capitalizing on changing demographics and the increasing trend toward two-earner households, the company has enjoyed double-digit revenue growth each year since it started in 2002.  

“We really innovated in the childcare market, and that has been our key driver for success. We don’t charge late fees and we don’t have waiting lists. We guarantee spaces to our parents for whatever they need, so it takes the pressure off working families.
“A key challenge was that most companies have offices across the country, so we realized we needed a decentralized model. We had to grow really quickly really early to other cities beyond Toronto. It was a gamble because at that point we were losing money. But we had very patient shareholders and that is the key – to have the right support.”
–Victoria Sopik, CEO and co-founder

Medgate Inc.
Toronto, Ont.

Medgate sells data management software to environmental health and safety professionals in large global corporations, particularly in such sectors as oil and gas, mining, chemical manufacturing and utilities. Its goal is to help prevent employee illness and injury. The company has reached revenue in excess of $30-million annually and is growing at a rate of over 30 per cent a year.

“The key to our success is an extraordinary corporate culture based on core values of customer satisfaction, product innovation and respect for employees. We have passionate employees who are absolutely committed to the success of our customers. It’s amazing what happy employees can accomplish.
“Years ago, we launched a strategy to increase our presence in global markets. We talked to existing customers in those markets, invested in making our product suitable for global requirements, opened offices around the world, and made a strategic acquisition of a global competitor. Today, half of our business is in the United States, and an additional 35 per cent is outside of North America. Many of the world’s best-known global brands are our customers.”
–Mark Wallace, president

Nicola Wealth Management
Vancouver, B.C.

Nicola Wealth Management has nearly $4-billion of assets under management. Serving high-net-worth families, the company has seen profit growth of around 25 per cent per year, making it one of Canada’s fastest growing mid-size investment managers. The company, which employs more than 130 people, follows an investment philosophy based on diversified asset classes and income-producing products.  

“One of the biggest factors in our success has been a tiered planning strategy. We have broken the business plan down into various tiers throughout the company – from senior management to individual staff – so that there is clarity around who is responsible for what. Another key to our success is sharing the pie. In the last few years our staff has received profit share that is equal to roughly 25 per cent of their base salaries. This helps align everyone’s interests and fosters a great culture.  
“One of the commonalities among some of the most successful companies is a world-class culture. There have been many studies that have looked at the relationship between the culture of a business – that is, the passion, satisfaction and happiness of those who work there – and the long-term performance of the business. There is no comparison: The performance of companies with amazing cultures is far superior.”
–David Sung, president

Skyline Group of Companies
Guelph, Ont.  

Skyline has been in the business of purchasing, owning, managing and financing income-producing real estate since 1991. Through the years, “the student rental guys,” as they were once known, have a built a fast-growing company that rents apartments, leases commercial real estate and offers private real estate investment trusts to investors. The company manages more than $2.2-billion in real estate assets in three REIT portfolios, has more than 600 staff, 2,000 investors and nearly 300 properties across Canada.

“As we get bigger, there are more opportunities to specialize in unique parts of our business that were simply not there years ago. One challenge was that we had to gain the trust of our investors through our expansion into commercial and retail real estate product offerings, demonstrating that we were capable of growing while staying focused.
“My advice to others is to try to go as far as you can on your own, finding ways to finance your growth yourselves. It might seem more expensive and riskier in the short term, requiring great strength to hold on. But in the end, when you are successful, it will be much more rewarding knowing that you built your business on your own.”
–Jason Castellan, co-founder and CEO Ltd.
London, Ont. manufactures more than 3,000 products that provide connectivity for computers and other digital equipment, such as cables, adapters, splitters and converters. With more than 400 employees, the 30-year-old company has grown between 25 and 30 per cent annually over the last three years and is now selling through major technology distributors in 15 international markets.

“One of our differentiators is that we are a customer-driven company. We focus on solving our customers’ problems, and we do that by making sure we have a deep understanding of their needs and how our business integrates with theirs. We carry a wide variety of products, whereas a lot of our competitors are focused on one area.  Another part of our success is that we specialize in hard-to-find products and make it easy for people to find them.
“International expansion has been a key part of our growth, so we have expanded our customer symposiums into international markets. It is a challenge to get the right customers to come to a symposium when you’re entering into a market. But getting the right people to attend allows us to be very clear about the differences and similarities in new markets.”
–Paul Seed, CEO


Representatives from all 10 finalists for the 2015 Private Business Growth Award joined together in a group photo. IMAGE COMMISSION

Representatives from all 10 finalists for the 2015 Private Business Growth Award joined together in a group photo. IMAGE COMMISSION


Now in its third year, the Private Business Growth Award – presented by Grant Thornton LLP and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce – honours private Canadian businesses focused on creating strategic, sustainable growth.
The award recognizes Canadian-owned, privately held businesses that have been in business a minimum of three years, generate revenues of $5-million or more and demonstrate outstanding strategic growth. Each year, a jury of high-profile business leaders selects 10 finalists and one winner based on demonstrating strength in the following criteria: innovation, market development, people and culture, strategic leadership and improvements in financial measures.

We are also most grateful to our Gala sponsors for their kind and generous
support of our celebration.