The Halifax Chronical Herald
Eight people who help shape Nova Scotia’s financial future
By Our Staff
Sat. Dec 29 – 5:50 AM
Courage. Focus. Co-operation. Commitment. Innovation. Accountability.
Those are the qualities our Eight to Watch in ’08 want to see more of in the coming year if the province is going to move from its position as a good place to live and work to a great place for everyone.
The eight business leaders selected by business department staff are a mixture of familiar and new faces, but they are all passionately committed to the province and are prepared to work hard through their businesses and beyond to build the province.
Good enough is never good enough for them. They always strive for excellence, but they also don’t forget to have fun.
In a year when “Where’s the leadership?” was a recurring refrain at business meetings and social happenings, here’s a look at eight business leaders who may be the role models many are looking for.
DANNY CHEDRAWE Downtown Developer
Danny Chedrawe wants his three children to live in a great city, and he doesn’t want to have to move to make it happen.
The president of Westwood Developments is a proud Halifax booster, but he believes the city has failed to live up to its potential in recent years.
“We’ve lost our way, but if there was just a little more co-operation and fewer lines drawn in the sand, we could easily move from good to great,” he said.
A one-time advocate of development on the fringes, Mr. Chedrawe is now a die-hard supporter of downtown development. He favours mid- to small-scale mixed-use developments and wants to see wide sidewalks and bike-friendly streets. A vital downtown, he says, will boost the economy, make people healthier because they will be walking more and hopefully reduce the tax burden by cutting service costs associated with urban sprawl.
He would support some highrises to get the density required to support a new generation of downtown business but opposes the proposed creation of a financial district for the Cogswell interchange.
“It would be a ghost town at night. I couldn’t support any single-use development,” he said, suggesting there is lots of available space that can be remade to meet office space demand.
“We’re smart about recycling garbage, but not about recycling our city.”
Although many of his colleagues promote large-scale projects, he says big developments haven’t always inspired more growth. He points to the construction of the Maritime Centre, which he says absorbed office-space demand for more than a decade.
“Do we want a couple of mega-projects every 15 years and have parking lots all around them?”
If Mr. Chedrawe talks the talk, he also walks the walk. Gladstone Ridge, his nearly sold-out $70-million multi-phased project, is an example of the kind of mixed-use development he believes can bring more people back to the peninsula.
And one key that he says shouldn’t be overlooked is the affordable housing component to the development.
“We cannot just have seniors and students in the core. It has to be a little bit of everybody.”
Although frustrated with the municipality’s design process this year that has raised expectations without providing a firm final direction, he says throughout 2008 he will doing his bit to make downtown more attractive through the development of a seven-storey boutique hotel and mixed commercial space on Spring Garden Road near Queen Street.
JOHN BRAGG Rural Champion
When it comes to influential or prominent Nova Scotia business people, few can surpass John Bragg, the passionate but low-key owner of EastLink and Oxford Frozen Foods.
Mr. Bragg, named one of Atlantic Canada’s most influential business leaders of all time by Atlantic Business Magazine, continued to prove himself a staunch proponent of innovation and rural businesses when he introduced a series of measures to entice workers to continue to work in rural areas.
The keystone was his offer of interest-free forgivable loans to employees who purchased a house in the small Cumberland County town where his frozen food company is located. The program is available to first-time homebuyers who work full time with Oxford Frozen Foods and wish to own a home within the Oxford school district. The company will provide loans equal to 20 per cent of the value of a property to a maximum of $20,000. The loans will be written off completely over a 10-year period.
The year saw Mr. Bragg’s food-processing and export business hurt by the strong Canadian dollar — “What it really means in our case is that our carrots aren’t economical.”
But his communications company made major inroads into Ontario and across the country.
In May, Bragg Communications, EastLink’s parent, announced it had reached an agreement to purchase Persona Communications Corp. of Ontario, which provides digital TV, high-speed Internet and telecom services to 260,000 residential and commercial customers in non-urban communities throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The transaction made Bragg the largest privately held cable and communications company in Canada, and the only cable provider operating systems in all 10 provinces.
In June, Bragg Communications also closed the $104-million friendly acquisition of Amtelecom, beating out a hostile $95-million bid for the Aylmer, Ont., company by larger rival Bell Aliant.
On the home front, EastLink, which is now Canada’s fifth largest cable company, announced the purchase of RuSh Communications Ltd. from Cape Breton entrepreneur Joe Shannon. RuSh served customers throughout Nova Scotia.
GEORGE ARMOYAN Uber-investor
The 47-year-old Syrian-born entrepreneur does all his wheeling and dealing out of his Halifax investment company.
Earlier this year, the Globe and Mail called Armoyan and his investment team of accountants and analysts the next wave of the future.
So what is his strategy and why is he any different from other investors?
Mr. Armoyan, through Clarke Inc., is known as an “activist” trader; that is, he looks for bargains or out-of-favour elements in the marketplace. He then starts accumulating ownership in the company through Clarke, and he currently has an interest in about a dozen companies.
He has a tremendous profile in the investment community and is closely watched because he is doing something that no one else is really doing.
His investment strategy has caught the attention of Beacon Securities analyst Michael Mills.
Mr. Mills wrote a paper in April entitled The Armoyan Effect — Increasing Shareholder Value, which found that Armoyan purchasing a stake in a company had a positive effect on the company’s stock.
“We believe there is now a community of investors who are mimicking the actions of Mr. Armoyan by making investments in the companies in which he has an interest,” wrote Mr. Mills.
Mr. Armoyan has publicly stated that as the chief executive officer he would like to see Clarke became a $1-billion company before 2010. (As of April the company’s market capitalization was roughly $455 million.)
Mr. Mills believes that goal is not unreasonable.
While Clarke Inc. has had a bumpy year with some successes and some losses, his track record for the first part of the year was impressive, according to Mr. Mills.
As of April 17, investors in Clarke were profiting from Mr. Armoyan’s strategy, with the stock up 58 per cent over last year and 285 per cent in the last five years, Mr. Mills wrote.
BARB STEGEMANN Changing the Culture
A native of Antigonish, Barb Stegemann returned to Nova Scotia last year after spending eight years in British Columbia running her own public relations firm and working with leaders on numerous economic development projects.
She saw how that province expanded its economic capacity through research and investment, as well as opportunities that grew out of the province’s successful bid to host the 2010 Olympics.
Energized, she returned to Nova Scotia to try to apply some of the lessons she learned on the West Coast.
But Nova Scotians haven’t historically been receptive to change, she says. With the pall cast by the Commonwealth Games withdrawal and a nasty reception for a Celine Dion concert on the Commons, she says leaders at all levels seem to have gone into hibernation.
But she remains undaunted. She believes the province will achieve greatness and she speaks with philosophically charged prose at every opportunity about the need for everyone to stand up and pull together in the same direction. She also shares those views in Culture Shift, a monthly column she writes for The Chronicle Herald.
The 38-year-old mother of two is especially interested in bringing empowerment to women in rural parts of the province.
She has just finished writing her first book, an endeavour that has taken her two years, and plans to release The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, on March 8, International Women’s Day.
She hopes this will get women talking and becoming more involved in politics and business.
“It’s all about empowering women in their communities,” she said.
Besides her day job as a communications manager at the World Trade and Convention Centre, she has become actively involved as a founder of a broad-based group known as the Citizens for Halifax, which wants to “rebuild the civic framework” to allow people more say in how government operates.
MALCOLM FRASER More Focus Needed
Nova Scotia cannot be all things to all people and hope to thrive in a global marketplace, says Malcolm Fraser, president of ISL Web Marketing and Development of Halifax.
“With a population of under one million, it’s just not a good business strategy. It scatters resources and doesn’t make us attractive to talent or to investors.”
The curly haired, suit-hating father of two boys says he could live anywhere in the world and operate his web-based marketing business successfully, but he chooses to do it in Nova Scotia because of the superior quality of life and the “unique mix of creativity, government, education and culture.”
“It’s a great place to find people for work. People love it here and love to come back here from out west if they are given the chance,” he says. “But they only come back if they’ve got a cool job to come back to. We need more cool jobs.”
Mr. Fraser knew he was always going to have a cool job after he graduated with a commerce degree in 1994 and got hooked on a “new medium” called the Internet.
He started ISL to offer web training and to help others build websites, but it has grown to a sophisticated 20-person operation that has a satellite office in Vancouver and fingers in everything from market research and web design to instruction on how to use the Internet effectively.
He says the province needs to pick one thing to be good at and become world leaders at it.
“Let’s get young, smart people together and focus on one thing and become the best in the world at it. It might require the reform of our education system, the way we do R&D and changes to our tax structure, but if we become the best in the world, people will want to buy our expertise.”
There are lots of possibilities, but Mr. Fraser says if the province became experts at sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint, people from across the globe would be flocking to our shores, not only to work here, but to invest.
But before that can happen, Mr. Fraser says there has to be reform to the province’s “horrific” education system.
“Why are there so many private schools starting up? It is because there is something lacking in our public school system. What immigrants, what families are going to come to our province if the education system has a bad reputation? Fixing that needs to be a priority.”
JEREMY WELLARD Video Phenom
It isn’t a conventional model for boosting immigration to Nova Scotia, but maybe the province should look into it.
Jeremy Wellard, the British-born president of Lunenburg’s HB Studios, followed his homesick Nova Scotia wife to the province, where he has built a successful business that develops electronic sports games for major clients like EA Sports of California.
Mr. Wellard, whose mother created one of the first-ever video games in 1979, had 12 years’ experience in the design, production and graphics of video games before establishing HB Studio seven years ago.
The company now has about 85 video game professionals working in Lunenburg on games for the popular Sony PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 consoles and the hand-held PSP platform, as well as the Nintendo Wii and hand-held DS system. Games for PCs and for the Xbox 360 are also produced on the Lunenburg site.
While HB remains based in Lunenburg (“The running joke here is the only time you get stuck in traffic is when you are behind a school bus, and that is the way we like it,” says operations manager Melanie Williams), the business recently announced plans to open a satellite location at 1190 Barrington St. in south-end Halifax.
The company hasn’t revealed what projects are planned for the Halifax site, which faces the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel, except to suggest it will involve two significant titles for popular platforms.
“We are at capacity in our Lunenburg HQ, so the creation of this new studio provides us with the necessary space to take on further development opportunities and also gives us access to another recruitment option in the broader region,” says Mr. Wellard.
The company is recruiting game development professionals, including software engineers, assistant producers, graphic artists and animators, to begin work at the 8,500-square-foot Halifax location in January.
About 20 people are expected to begin work there at the beginning of the year, and Ms. Williams says there is room for as many as 60 or 70 more employees.
CHUCK CARTMILL From Amherst to the World
When people around Amherst talk about B.C. and A.C., they are most likely talking about life in their community before and after Chuck Cartmill.
Things haven’t quite been the same in the community since the high-energy entrepreneur saw a business opportunity in a neglected manufacturing plant and launched C-Vision, a one-stop shopping location for businesses with high-tech requirements.
“All they need is an idea. We will design it, we can manufacture the product and in some cases we can actually help market the product and arrange the financing,” the company president said during a recent tour of the operation.
Production levels have moved upward since Mr. Cartmill started the business in January 2002 with Dave Scott, an employee of a company that used to operate at the site.
Clients with links to the military, the air-circulation industry, lighting firms and the energy sector are beating a path to the Nova Scotia location.
About 100 people employed at C-Vision regularly find themselves working on some of the most innovative projects in the high-tech sector in North America.
The company founder saw an opportunity others had missed with the plant in Amherst and even put the family’s life savings on the line to help make his vision a reality.
It turns out that many big businesses have needs for an electronics manufacturing and design service provider like C-Vision.
Mr. Cartmill and his job-creation team at C-Vision knocked another one out of the park this year by securing a multimillion-dollar contract to manufacture communications equipment for the defence industry.
C-Vision is currently ramping up production for the $7.5-million deal with Rockwell Collins Inc., headquartered in Iowa.
Mr. Cartmill says the contract will lead to even more new jobs in the area.
“There’s going to be considerable employment generated,” he says of the project.
The equipment produced in Amherst will allow NATO coalition forces to share information across one network.
It was another in a string of achievements for C-Vision, which recently embarked on a $4.7-million technology expansion program to allow it to meet the rigid requirements of the aerospace and defence, and medical industries.
One of Mr. Cartmill’s ongoing pet projects, for which he has received ACOA support, is the development of an LED street light.
He hopes it will save municipalities and governments millions of dollars in power costs and help them reduce their environmental footprint.
JOE METLEDGE Pushing the Envelope
When he was just 12 years old, Joe Metledge knew he wanted to be a property developer like his father, Andrew.
Now 25 and president of Jono Developments Ltd., he believes Halifax is one of the best places in the world to live, work and play, but it is not reaching its full potential.
“When I go to these cities that are described as being the best of the best . . . Halifax is just as good, if not better.”
The only thing lacking in Halifax, he says, is the inner fortitude of its residents, and especially its political leaders, to make tough decisions.
“You know what? We’ve got to take the chance. We might slip, we might fall and we might get some bumps on the way. We might make some bad investments and some bad decisions, but hopefully we’ll learn from those.”
Right now, it seems the people of Halifax are complacent with the status quo, he says, afraid to take a chance because we might fail. “Economically speaking, you can’t build a city that way.”
Young people are educated in Halifax but are subject to the draw of the “MTV effect,” says Metledge. They are attracted by the big cities of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver and something has to be done about that, says the recent Dalhousie University commerce graduate.
While there is talk of greater density downtown, Metledge says he doesn’t think that plan is going far enough.
“If something costs $100 to build and you have 100 units, it costs you $1 a unit. If you can build 200 units on the same parcel of land it’s going to cost you 50 cents a unit.” Upping the density of a building, he says, means more money goes into the project. It’s not necessarily more profit, it’s just more affordability.
“Ultimately, a developer wants to put up a nice building and sell it or rent it fast. So if he can build it for, let’s say, $100,000 a unit, he’s not going to (try to) sell it at $350,000 a unit and have it sitting for a year or two years vacant. He’s going to sell it for $150,000 (per unit) or whatever he’s going to sell it for, take his profit and then get out of the project and move on to the next one,” says Metledge.
It’s unfortunate to find people in Halifax have difficulty believing developers are not gouging the public. “Honestly, we aren’t a group of people who sit in a dark room and think about world domination.”
He challenges anyone to find developers who will say they want to put up an ugly building.
Metledge says he’s very proud of being a developer, suggesting developers are probably some of the most concerned citizens in the municipality; they not only live here and work here, they’re willing to invest their hard-earned dollars before anybody else does.
“Before anybody else is willing to rent or buy that apartment or condo, that developer has to put in millions of dollars. I think it is a good tribute to the city that you have a development community here that is still local. You don’t have a lot of . . . people from Toronto or New York or wherever, just coming in and building and leaving.”
There’s a social conscience among local developers who want to be proud of what they build, says Metledge. “They want to be able to drive down the street with a smile saying: ‘This is my contribution to my city.’ “