MONCTON – Junior Achievement New Brunswick, part of an international non-profit that develops business education programs for children and youth, inducted three businessmen to its Business Hall of Fame on Thursday night.
The new inductees are Mike Timani, the president and CEO of Moncton bread company Fancy Pokket; the president of Saint John’s Crosby’s Molasses, James M. Crosby, Jr.; and, Gordie Lavoie, the President and General Manager of Miramichi construction firm Sunny Corner Enterprises. Each of them gave Huddle some business tips to share with young entrepreneurs in the region:
1. Take Risks, But Be Sure To Calculate Them
Crosby has led Crosby Molasses since he was 28 years old. Over the years, he said there’s been learning that comes from failures.
“Be prepared to take some risks and don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a great lesson,” he said.
Timani, who arrived as a Lebanese immigrant in Toronto in his early 20s, said he’s a “very high risk-taker.” He started Fancy Pokket in 1989 out of a 1,000 square-foot that now employs around 70 people and is the largest producer of pita bread, bagels, tortilla wraps and flatbread in Atlantic Canada. This summer, Fancy Pokket opened a 50,000-square-foot gluten-free facility in the U.S.
He has spent millions in growing his business over the years because investing is necessary. But when doing so, be sure you’re covered, he said.
“It’s good to be a risk taker because otherwise, you’ll get nowhere in business. But at the same time, you have to calculate or you’ll be in trouble,” he said.
2. Be In The Right Market
Crosby is the fourth generation in his family to lead the nearly 140-year-old family business. The company imports, processes, packages and distributes molasses to customers across Canada and into New England. Crosby Molasses also runs a third party bulk food grade liquid storage facility, handling liquid sweeteners, oils, fats and other products.
“It’s quite unusual in this day and age for a family to run a business that long. I’m quite proud of the fact that we’ve been able to manage that,” Crosby said.
It’s also thanks to their location that the company has been in business that long, he said.
“It’s really the uniqueness of the product that we’ve been able to provide to the market. We’re in the epicentre of the edible molasses business. Molasses is well known in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the state of Maine; not so well known in the rest of North America, for example. That’s probably the reason we’re still in business here,” he said.
3. Diversify and Automate Where You Can
Timani has expanded his business multiple times over the 29 years since he opened the bakery. He said he always keeps an eye on the competition and adjusts his business accordingly. Not only did he diversify his product lines from just pita bread to other kinds of bread; he also believes in using machines to help produce the volume he needs to put out.
In 1995 he put in a sheeting line; in 2001, he upgraded the machinery to make 12,000 bagels an hour. More recently, he upgraded the old sheeting line and increased productivity by 30 per cent. With around 70 employees, Fancy Pokket can produce 140,000 mini pitas in an hour, among other things, he said.
“I always believe in automation,” he said.
4. Focus On Your Vision And Work Hard
Gordie Lavoie has been in business for nearly 39 years, 28 of those are with Sunny Corner Enterprises, an industrial services company that employs hundreds in construction, manufacturing and supply. The company serves the oil and gas, power generation, mining and manufacturing sectors in Canada and abroad from their locations in Miramichi, Saint John and Labrador.
Lavoie said he has always been fascinated by business and knew he wanted to be in business since a young age. But, he said, it takes commitment to be successful.
“Be prepared to put a lot of work into [your business]. You have to be very committed. Don’t be disappointed with difficult times. And always, always keep your eye open for opportunities. Because it’s out there, you just sometimes have to find it.”
For Timani, who came to Canada to escape the civil war in Lebanon with only enough money to survive for a few months, hard work was the only option. The son of middle-class parents, it was hard at first for him to work as a busboy at a Hilton hotel in Toronto.
“I was eating hotdogs and hamburgers every day. I didn’t want to call my parents because, during a civil war, I didn’t want to ask for more money,” he said.
But that job ended up with him managing 200 staff members at the Hilton in Saint John. He especially encourages immigrant entrepreneurs to keep going when things get tough.
“You need to make things happen,” he said. “My message would be, even though they’re moving to a new country, a different culture, the key here is to focus. Look at the vision that they have, put a plan in place, work hard, and you’ll get somewhere.”