I had the opportunity to learn about Aquaculture and the vibrant entrepreneurs at Cooke Aquaculture in New Brunswick yesterday. One of the world’s leading pioneers in the industry, I found the story of how they started inspiring;
The Cooke family’s roots stretch back 200 years in the Charlotte County area around Blacks Harbour. According to Cooke, for a large part of that time, his family was employed by the other corporate juggernaut in the village, Connors Bros. Ltd., the parent company of Clover Leaf Seafoods, LP, the largest seafood brand in North America.
"My father worked for Conners Bros., he was a marine mechanic – but my grandparents also worked for Conners Bros., and my parents worked for Conners Bros., and my great grandparents fished for Conners Bros.," he says.
Because the town was so small – at about 950 people today and even fewer back then – its success was tied to the Connors Bros. company. Although Cooke says the firm was integral to the town’s continued success, he also suggests its sole dominance as the only employer in the area put a blanket on entrepreneurial spirit.
That made him want to succeed with his own company even more, however.
Fresh out of high school in 1983, Cooke ventured into the world of small business and tried to put together a couple of his own start-ups. All of his attempts at success in his early years failed however.
Rather than giving up, Cooke treated his initial failures as learning opportunities.
"I thought I could take the world on. I assume I lost my shirt and probably a few other people’s shirts along with me," he says.
"It’s absolutely crazy that you graduate from high school and go start doing what I was trying to do. But I certainly did learn my most important lessons of how business works back in those days."
In 1985 Cooke put the false starts behind him and joined his brother and father to buy two fish cages and about 5,000 salmon.
The trio brainstormed a name for the new business and settled on Kelly Cove Salmon, named after the area they operated their fish farm in.
Work was steady for the next four years until the fledging company decided to buy its own supply chain and purchased Oak Bay Hatchery, which provided them with salmon eggs and smolt (juvenile fish).
And the rest is now their successful history, winning the honour of one of Canada’s 50 Best Run Companies multiple times and a growth trajectory that is far from over (Privately owned, their revenues a few years ago were over $180M). You can read about their approach to verticalization and ongoing innovation in the industry here.
From humble beginnings, an inspiring story.