Antoine Noujaim: in 100 Entrepreneurs who Built the Province
Alberta Venture, The Century (Collectors’ Edition), pp. 122-123

A tiny vial of yellow liquid stands on Antoine Noujaim’s office sill, glinting in the sunlight. It’s OvaRex, MAb, an ovarian cancer weapon poised to enter clinical trials. “I will show you exactly where this material is going to be manufactured,” Noujaim says, flashing photos like a proud poppa. Where I see a fresh-dug hole in the Maryland landscape, he envisions a $36 million (US) manufacturing plant, a quantum leap forward in his quest to boost the body’s power to fight cancer.

Biomira Inc., launched in 1985 with immunologist Michael Longenecker, stands as a key milestone in that quest. But as 68-year-old Noujaim is quick to point out, the story begins long before—and travels in anything but a straight line. In 39 years, he has founded or co-founded five biotech companies and incubated or inspired dozens more….

© 2005 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Still Going Up: Alberta’s Fastest Growing Companies, 2002
Alberta Venture, January/February 2002, pp. 50-62

“This is a pretty bad downturn. I’m so excited, I can hardly contain myself.” That’s Dave Tonken’s contrary perspective as CEO of Scout Capital Corp., self-described “Liquidation World of public company assets.” Tonken and his minuscule crew earned spot #6 in Alberta Venture’s list of the province’s 30 Fastest Growing Companies by revving up a unique enterprise that snags public firms just before they crash, disposes of the innards (need a low-orbiting satellite?) and sells the shells at a profit. In the year ending July 30, 2001, three-year-old Scout Capital grossed $1.6 million in sales, a full 22,256% above the year before.

“It’s raining shells. I’m running around trying to catch them in my bucket,” Tonken enthuses; what’s more, he adds, some has-been stars are admitting defeat even before burning through their cash. “I didn’t anticipate the market doing me a favour by providing acquisition targets with millions in the bank.” …. Thus the worst of times, with a twist of ingenuity and a hefty shot of customer focus, becomes the best of times—or at least opportunity snatched. And that, in a phrase, describes the attitude keeping many of Alberta’s Fastest Growing Companies above the radar amid post-dot-com, post- 9/11 economics.

© 2002 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Hitting the mark: 15 Benchmarks of Excellence for Small Business
Alberta Venture, October 2000, pp. 37-74

For small businesses across Alberta, success is anything but accidental. Talk to the individuals at the helm of respected small enterprises, as we did in putting this feature together, and you can almost taste the sweat, almost see the midnight monitor burning as the ledger is checked yet again. Yet toil and tallies are far from the only notes needed to make a business sing. The 21st century small business is an orchestra, not a kazoo; success requires a multiplicity of talents, united.

It’s clear the bottom line remains crucial. “There’s no point in going into business unless your business makes money,” notes Pat Elemans, assistant dean of the Faculty of Management at the University of Lethbridge. But, she adds, “to have a positive bottom line, you need to pay attention to excellence.”

What, exactly, makes a small business excellent? The benchmarks may be as diverse as the small businesses who make up the bulk of Alberta’s economy, notes Kate Thrasher, whose KTG Enterprises Inc. won the 2000 Alberta Chamber of Commerce Small Business Award of Distinction for helping nearly 400 entrepreneurs launch new businesses. “For some of our clients, making ‘x’ number of dollars is excellence. Others, if they’re able to be home with a child and still keep a roof above and food on the table, that’s excellence.”

Despite that diversity, themes emerge as Alberta’s respected entrepreneurs describe their work. The best have a clear vision and dynamic plans. They pay careful heed to quality, teamwork, finances, processes, customers and suppliers. They’re always innovating. And they strive to balance work with family and community.

What’s more, smart entrepreneurs borrow insights from other high performing companies rather than reinventing the wheel. In that spirit, below are insights gleaned from conversations with a cross section of small businesses across Alberta….

© 2000 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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The Picture of Success
Alberta Venture, April 2000, pp. 75-80

Gord Wusyk was in his mid-30s when his father suddenly died, leaving no plan for the future of a major cattle operation. Two decades later, Wusyk says he wouldn’t wish the resulting heartache on any family enterprise. Two siblings wanted to run and expand their father’s operation; the other two wanted to sell the business and use the money to advance careers of their own. Caught in the middle, wracked by worry, his mother finally sold the farm.

The agony of dismantling his father’s life work, coupled with the realization that his experience was the rule rather than the exception, spurred Wusyk to sharpen the focus of his own financial planning company. He has since “quarterbacked” many a family through the succession struggle, pulling in other experts as issues arise. And the tissue box is always on the table…

© 2000 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Not a shrinking violet

Alberta Venture, June 1998, pp. 14-18

Twenty minutes until show time, and already half the seats are filled. Soon it’s standing room only at Londonderry Mall’s inner courtyard in northeast Edmonton, and people lean over the balcony above, waiting.

Suddenly she’s there, the silver-haired star of the show: Lois Hole. She looks remarkably down-to-earth for a best-selling author and soon-to-be University of Alberta chancellor. As always, she has something to give away.

It’s exactly those qualities—grassroots earthiness and boundless generosity—that endear this matriarch to gardening fans. In truth, those same qualities have rocketed her family’s enterprise, Hole’s Greenhouses & Gardens Ltd., to the top of Canada’s horticultural businesses.

“I’m always late,” she confides to the crowd. “But I had to make lunch for my kids.”

For the Holes of St. Albert, lunch with the kids is actually a head office deliberation involving Lois, husband Ted, sons Jim and Bill and daughter-in-law Valerie…

© 1998 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Edmonton gains momentum
Business in Calgary, May 2001, pp. 10-14

A hefty Orbitor 4000 telescope perches next to Audrey Luft’s desk at Alberta Manpower, its barrel overlooking the bustle below her downtown Edmonton office. A gift saluting her status as Global TV’s Woman of Vision for January 2001, the telescope arrived recently from the folks at Manpower International, corporate  headquarters for the franchise Luft has owned since 1991. “They know I like looking at the stars,” she says, and it’s true in more ways than one.

Incoming chair of Economic Development Edmonton, Luft is among the 1200 who’ve trained a telescope on the city’s economy while developing the Greater Edmonton Competitiveness Strategy. What she sees is a star on the rise: strong, buoyant, diversified—and united behind a plan….

© 2001 by Cheryl Mahaffy. All rights reserved.
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Being safe in a multicultural workplace
Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, January 2007, pp. 9-12

Walk into any safety session in today’s Alberta, and you’ll find workers from cultures far beyond our borders. Workers for whom survival has meant keeping the mouth shut when superiors mess up. Workers whose culture tells them to avoid eye contact. Workers who would be atop the heap in their country of origin, not here at the bottom. Workers who know “duck” as a bird, not a life-saving action.

Indeed, diversity is fast becoming a significant safety concern… [soon,] a health and safety unit without an intercultural specialist will find itself at sea….

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