This year, Sylvite celebrated its 40th anniversary in business. It’s the last independent fertilizer company left in Canada – no small feat in an industry dominated by multibillion-dollar competitors. But when Hugh Loomans bought the company in 1983, success was far from assured. Back then, Sylvite had only three employees, was focused entirely on fertilizer and had limited growth prospects. Today, Sylvite has 300-plus employees, operations in Ontario, Florida and California, and is a full-service agricultural and industrial supplier.
Loomans says that the invitation to join QuantumShift™ in 2006 was an intriguing one – and it came at just the right time. “Getting to meet entrepreneurs from across the country, business owners with similar problems: I liked the premise of what we were doing – actually problem-solving and doing case studies together.”
Back in the early 2000s, says Loomans, Sylvite had been growing quickly, but when the economic crisis of 2008–2009 hit, he had to adjust. “In the commodities sector, we had to regroup – pull back and reposition ourselves,” he recalls. “What I’ve learned from QuantumShift™, and many of the programs that we’ve gone through since – because I’ve been doing the alumni thing – is some of the prudent strategies for going forward and focusing on very specific parts of the business, which we’ve done.”
“I’ve been blessed to make some very good friends from QuantumShift™ – friends that I communicate with a decade on.”
Of all the moments from QuantumShift™, one that that really stuck with Loomans was when his group was paired up with a group of jazz musicians. “They came in, played a couple songs and did a couple requests. And then they said, ‘Okay, you guys go out and put together some songs, and here’s some basic instruments to keep the beat with.’ So off we went and tried to put together a song – and have something that resembled some sort of music when we returned,” recalls Loomans, chuckling over the incident. The point, he says, was communication: “You don’t realize that here are a bunch of jazz musicians who’ve been doing this their whole life. They can do it. Just like we’d been running our businesses our whole lives. So be aware that your communication – and that what you know, and what you think other people should know – may or may not be accurate.”
Loomans believes the key to success in QuantumShift™ is being fully committed. “Ensure that you are a participant. Become involved. I’ve been blessed to make some very good friends from QuantumShift™ – friends that I communicate with a decade on. It’s been said a thousand times, but it’s kind of lonely at the top: You don’t have people to talk to. You can’t do it internally. This is a great forum for being open and getting into stuff that you normally wouldn’t get into.”
So what’s next for Sylvite – and Loomans? The CEO says that he’s continuing to expand his transportation business, and is full steam ahead on the acquisitions front, having recently bought a small distribution company. “We’re also branding a number of unique products, in the agricultural supply business, that set us apart,” he notes. “We’re looking at a very bright future.
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.