The passing of an entrepreneurial icon: Bernard Imbeault R.I.P.

Since arriving back in New Brunswick to start my career in the early 1990s, I have had the opportunity to meet and have conversations with many of the top business leaders across the province.  This is why I cringe when I hear people reflexively crapping on successful entrepreneurs in New Brunswick.  Most of them have never had a single conversation with one of them.  Never heard the stories of laying awake at night wondering if they were going to make payroll that week or stories of cashing out RRSPs and putting a second mortgage on the house during lean times or the dictum of paying everyone else first – employees, suppliers, the government – everyone is in front of the entrepreneur in the queue to get paid.

So when an entrepreneur actually makes it big (and remember only a fraction of them do) we should celebrate and not criticize.  This doesn’t mean that all business owners are fine upstanding members of society but in my experience, most of them are.

There’s a great line in that Michael J. Fox 1980s movie “The Secret of My Success”.  The wife of his boss is introducing Fox to a bunch of business tycoons and when referring to one of them she states “He made his money the really old-fashioned way. He inherited it.”

I would suggest to you that many of New Brunswick’s most successful entrepreneurs started with very little and built their empires from the ground up. This is particularly true of the class of Acadian entrepreneurs that emerged in the 1960s, 70s and 80s such as Bernard Imbeault, Bernard Cyr, Claude Savoie, Normand Caissie and a number of others.  Their stories are probably not as well known in English New Brunswick but they are classic entrepreneurial stories of restlessness, the kernel of an idea, an appetite for risk,recalcitrant banks and the lack of a ‘old boys’ network – they were bootstrapping it and borrowing cash where they could.

I only talked to Imbeault a couple of times but the tributes to him in the news last week profile a classic entrepreneur – wanting to build something that would last – wanting to build his own little empire.  And he did.

Every time one of these older entrepreneurs passes, we come back to the question of who is next.  We have lots of entrepreneurs in New Brunswick but which ones are going to turn their local restaurant into a national chain of various restaurant brands?  Which ones are going to turn a local gas station into a global conglomerate?  Which ones are going to take the production of a few farms and build it into the largest French Fry manufacturer in the world?  Which 5-6  person trucking entrepreneur is going to build a 1,000 person national logistics company?  Which small metal shop owner is going to build a North American business with multiple plants in Canada and the United States?

We don’t need thousands of entrepreneurs to build $50 million to $500 million companies.  But we need some.

I’m a big fan of attracting national and international firms here – Siemens as one example in Fredericton – but local entrepreneurs have more skin in the game here.  They invest back in their local communities.  They keep an affinity to the home community and province even as they grow a global footprint.

Bernard Imbeault R.I.P.