Skip to main content
leadership lab

Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, including home-service companies such as 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

Success in any industry depends on your ability not only to out-think your competition – it depends on your ability to out-think yourself. The moment you think you’ve discovered the best idea is the moment you stop innovating. And that’s when someone else will jump ahead with a bigger and brighter idea than you ever imagined.

Companies that fail to look to the future are living on borrowed time. But with grit, perseverance and creativity, I believe anyone can come back from even the most catastrophic failures. I call this mindset WTF – Willing To Fail. It means always looking at failure as an opportunity: to learn, to grow and to become better every day than the day before.

I’ve failed countless times and, on more than one occasion, have thought my business might go bust because of it. But with every misstep and setback, we’ve managed to come back bigger and better, together.

When times are tough, success depends on how you react. Here are three companies that refused to let failure define their legacy and rose up from the ashes.

Sitka: From cut down to all spruced up

Just three years ago, Victoria-based clothing and adventure brand Sitka Surfboard Corp. was on the verge of collapse. The company had outsourced its manufacturing overseas as part of their expansion strategy. But for a brand built in the image of its sustainably minded, West Coast roots, this didn’t sit well with employees or customers alike.

Profits were down, they were behind on loan payments to the tune of $3.5-million and the future of the company looked bleak. In a three-day lockdown, founder Rene Gauthier and his team discovered the major snag in the fabric of Sitka’s culture: The product they were producing was no longer aligned with their values. Unless they made a change – fast – the company was going to go under.

They needed to bring manufacturing back to Canadian soil. They needed to make products they could stand behind with pride. The only problem was that, in order to do all that, it was going to cost a lot – financially and emotionally.

Mr. Gauthier did it anyway, downsizing and rethinking his strategy for long-term sustainability. It’s been a long road to recovery and Sitka still isn’t out of the woods yet. But they can now honestly say they’re a brand that lives and breathes their mission to leave the earth (and industry and community) better than when they found it.

Over my 30 years in business, we’ve had to recalibrate our vision for our company many times. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to achieving it. Staying true to your vision and being able to pivot in challenging times is the only way to guarantee your path to success.

BlackBerry: From smartphone craze to software sage

It was the mid-2000s and Research in Motion was at the height of its BlackBerry smartphone power. After pioneering the industry as the go-to device for business people, the company had successfully dominated the mass market. Everyone – from high schoolers to Barack Obama, soon to be president of the United States – was addicted to their BlackBerry.

Heading into 2007, the Canadian company had the world at its feet. But the year also signalled the beginning of the end: Apple entered the scene. Now, the once-revered BlackBerry is an ancient relic of technologies past.

Or is it? Last year, the renamed company re-emerged with a new-and-improved strategy for reinvention: Instead of trying to compete to create new hardware, BlackBerry shifted focus and is now selling its software. And chief executive John Chen doesn’t just have his eyes set on the smartphone market – he’s got plans to make BlackBerry the go-to software provider for industries from automobiles to timepieces.

I remember back in 2009 when I thought I was about to lose my company. The recession didn’t spare us and our revenue numbers were rapidly declining. I knew we had to change our strategy if we wanted to get back in the black. We took a long, hard look at how we were running the business. It was clear we needed to make critical changes to our leadership style – so we did. Our shift in focus has paid off: Our numbers are now higher than ever.

It’s going well over at BlackBerry, too: In March, the company reported record revenue from its software and service streams. BlackBerry has proved that it really isn’t over till it’s over.

Kodak: From digital downfall to retro revival

Kodak’s fall from photographic fame is a cautionary tale of what can happen when you fail to innovate your business. After 75 years of being the number one choice for professional and amateur photographers, the company neglected to predict the next big thing: digital.

As the masses flocked to the latest and greatest in point-and-shoot technology, sales of the company’s most-loved films plummeted – so much so that they had to do away with their professional products.

But that’s all changing: A decade after digital nearly wiped out analog photography for good, demand for Kodak’s iconic Ektachrome and Kodachrome film jumped up by 5 per cent between 2013 and 2015. Kodak Alaris decided to give the people what they wanted and brought back their famous products – and they’ll continue to do so through 2018.

We like to keep things pretty old school at our company, too. Even though we’ve innovated with new technology to give our customers the most premium service possible, at the end of the day we’re just a good ol’-fashioned junk-removal company.

We’ve launched a new weekly Careers newsletter. Sign up today.

Report an editorial error

Report a technical issue

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story

Study and track financial data on any traded entity: click to open the full quote page. Data updated as of 22/05/24 4:00pm EDT.

SymbolName% changeLast
Eastman Kodak
Blackberry Ltd

Interact with The Globe