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  • President and chief executive officer, Hydroxyl Systems Inc., Victoria

When Carolyn Rogers joined Victoria's Hydroxyl Systems in 2005, she inherited a small, troubled business in urgent need of a makeover. The wastewater treatment company was coming out of bankruptcy protection, and it was her job to regain the trust of both customers and staff.

"The first thing is, you don't try to pretend the past didn't happen," says Ms. Rogers, who has an MBA from Queen's University in Kingston. "You own up, you say, 'We screwed up, but it's not the end of the world - here's how we are going to make it different.'"

Hydroxyl designs and installs wastewater-treatment technology and had suffered partly because it was ahead of the environmental curve. She says it also needed to refocus its spending, which is where she came in as chief financial officer. A year later, she was steering the ship as CEO, successfully re-establishing relationships with customers such as a cruise ship line.Hydroxyl recently won a contract to provide water purification for B.C. Ferries. Not bad for a chief executive who found science class boring while in high school.

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Ms. Rogers says that she was initially scared to take on the challenges at Hydroxyl, but that it's in her nature to go into a company and fix things. The Winnipeg native got her BA from Brandon University and quickly worked her way up banking and credit union systems in management positions in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

After she and her husband, Matt, moved to Vancouver, she worked for three years as a business consultant. But she missed having "skin in the game" - direct responsibility for a project. Her hands-on philosophy extends to the community volunteer work she has done since age 11; today, she is a member of the board of a seniors theatre group.

"When [Hydroxyl]came along my husband said, 'You wanted a chance to do it your way, so here it is.' It's like a start-over. ... It's harder than a startup, where at least you have a clean slate. But we had 10 years of sketchy history and mistakes. We had to start with all that baggage and it was challenging."

Since she came on board three years ago, she has built the staff roster to 38 employees from nine. She sees her greatest achievement as changing the company culture. "When you have a group of people who have lived through a near-death experience like that, it gets to be a pretty cynical bunch. It wasn't much teamwork. And the team we have now is just amazing."

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