In 1985, when JP Deveau joined the business his father, Louis, had started—Acadian Seaplants Limited—things were still headquartered in his childhood bedroom. “I had just finished my MBA, and like every other good MBA, I knew everything,” says Deveau with a chuckle. “My father said, Do you want to see what we can build together? And I said, let’s give it a whirl.”
Acadian Seaplants was launched in 1981 when the elder Deveau purchased the Canadian assets of FMC-Marine Colloids, a U.S.-based multinational that was harvesting seaweed on a small scale in Atlantic Canada. Deveau, upon buying the Canadian operations, continued to serve his former employer with the seaweed, but saw an opportunity to expand to more value-added products. With the help of JP, Acadian—headquartered in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia—beefed up its research and development, and soon moved out of the family home.
Today, Acadian has over 400 employees in 12 countries, and exports over 95% of its products (for consumers, animals and agriculture) to over 80 countries. JP, president since 2002 and CEO since 2016, says Acadian’s growth has been slow and steady, but thinks that attending QuantumShift™ in 2007—when Acadian was less than half its current size—played a critical role in positioning the company for what has become an increasingly competitive marketplace.
“You have an outstanding group of lecturers who go to great lengths to bring subject matter that’s very pertinent to the leaders of growing private organizations.”
“Business was going well, but it’s a very complicated business,” he points out. And as Acadian got bigger, it was threatened by competitors who were undercutting what they did with inferior products. “The two sessions that we did at QuantumShift™ on branding—there’s no question that I pushed branding more than I would have otherwise. I really got to see how valuable it was. We’ve done a lot of work to differentiate ourselves, to ensure that our end user knows that they’re using our product.”
Overall, Deveau argues that the quality of instruction at QuantumShift™ was invaluable: “You have an outstanding group of lecturers who go to great lengths to bring subject matter that’s very pertinent to the leaders of growing private organizations.” He also stresses the benefit of ongoing relationships he’s developed with his fellow entrepreneurs. “You get to interact with people, you get to know them—that’s a very valuable network of people.”
Looking forward, Deveau is bullish on the prospects for Acadian in 2018—just recently they’ve bought a company in Scotland—but more importantly, he’s proud of how the vision of his father, and his father’s father before him, continue to bear fruit for the company.
“My grandfather grew up in rural Nova Scotia, and I would go visit him with my parents when I was a little boy. We would go down to the shoreline with a team of oxen and a cart, and load seaweed onto the cart and bring it back to his farm and put it in the garden,” he recalls. “Those things that he would say, that the seaweed would do for the garden, if you fast-forward that to where we are today—well, today we have a team of 35 scientists, including a dozen PhDs, who can now explain to you, technically, how what my grandfather said was true. We take those products that we make—from that very same seaweed—and now sell it all over the world.”
A rigorous five-day executive development experience offered through The Ivey Academy, QuantumShift™ annually challenges forty of Canada's most promising entrepreneurs to improve their leadership style, inspire their business partners and maximize their growth opportunities. QuantumShift™ is for CEOs whose businesses are past start-up. They're innovative, insightful business leaders. And they're ready to shift a thriving enterprise to a whole new level of success. Candidates are nominated through KPMG Enterprise and participants are selected by Ivey Business School's Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.
As QuantumShift™ turns 15, we check in with some of the more than 550 Canadian entrepreneurs who have graduated from the program to see what the experience meant to them and their business.