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From the turnaround success of Telus Corp.'s Darren Entwistle to the fumble of BlackBerry 10 by former CEO Thorsten Heins, here are six leaders who made headlines this year.


Darren Entwistle, Telus Corp.

The brash disrupter who took over Telus at age 37 in 2000, and drove its share price down by 75 per cent over the next two years, is now the grand, old, still-hair-gelled man of Canadian telecom — currently the longest-serving CEO of a major provider. Yet, Entwistle hasn’t slowed down or mellowed, and that may be a very good thing. Over the past five years, Telus’s share price has climbed by 85 per cent, handily beating BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications. And Entwistle is pushing hard to break out of a tie with Bell for second place in the lucrative wireless market (each has about 7.7-million subscribers, versus Rogers, with 9.4-million). 

In November, Ottawa blocked Telus’s second proposed takeover of struggling Mobilicity and its 250,000 subscribers. But in October, Industry Minister James Moore allowed Telus to swallow Public Mobile, with 280,000 subscribers. Over the summer, Entwistle also pretty much spearheaded the PR campaign against Ottawa’s proposal to allow U.S. giant Verizon Communications to bid for unused wireless frequencies in an auction next year. Why, he howled, were the feds delivering “handout gifts” to Americans? In September, Verizon folded and said it would stay out of Canada — at least for now.


Edward Burkhardt, Rail World Inc.

In the week after a runaway train operated by Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (a subsidiary of Rail World) exploded in the heart of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people, Burkhardt proved himself to be an abject failure as a leader. A few examples: In the days after the tragedy, he suggested that tampering was to blame for the accident, and then pointed the finger at volunteer firefighters who had doused a fire on one of the locomotives the night before. Before arriving in Lac-Mégantic (it took him five days to pay the town a visit), he joked to a Quebec reporter that he hoped he didn’t get shot by angry locals. Then, during a press conference in the ravaged town itself, he blamed the lone engineer on duty that night for failing to properly set the handbrakes. He also joked that his net worth was a whole lot lower since the disaster. The people of Lac-Mégantic did not laugh. 

Within a month, MM&A had filed for bankruptcy protection, with insurance liabilities exceeding assets, and the railway announced it would no longer haul oil. Burkhardt’s caddish performance makes us wistful for Michael McCain’s frank handling of the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak in 2008, and the class Galen Weston Jr. exhibited after the Bangladesh factory disaster this year. Burkhardt remains chief executive of Rail World. 

Stephen Elop, Nokia Corp.

Nokia was going down — the market knew it and Elop knew it. The Finnish company had gone from commanding 40 per cent of the handset market in 2007 to a negligible share of smartphones today. And so, in September, Elop sold the bulk of Nokia’s phone business to Microsoft (his former employer) for $7-billion (U.S.). In the process, Elop netted a $25-million bonus, thanks to a nifty incentive to sell out that was slipped into his contract when he took over Nokia in 2010. Thereby proving that a Canadian chief executive can be as deft and greedy a dealmaker as top executives anywhere in the world.

Thorsten Heins, BlackBerry Ltd.

This was supposed to be the do-or-die year for BlackBerry and its new CEO. BlackBerry is still around, but Heins isn’t: He hit the road in November, when Prem Watsa’s bid for the company morphed into a recapitalization and a re-CEOization, with former Sybase Inc. boss John Chen joining BlackBerry as executive chairman and interim CEO.

Heins leaves with a rich payout (though not as rich as the $55.6-million he could have made if the company had been taken over), but a poor legacy. He made an all-in bet on the company’s new smartphone platform, BlackBerry 10, when he took the helm in early 2012, ditching other strategic initiatives in the belief that a new, more user-friendly smartphone would be BlackBerry’s salvation. It wasn’t. Heins’s decision to launch with an all-touchscreen version instead of one with its trademark keyboard alienated the company’s dwindling fan base. Its marketing campaign was a confusing dud, drowned out by thunderous launches from Apple and Samsung. Core government and business customers continued to move away from BlackBerry to other players. When sales proved to be shockingly bad — even by recent BlackBerry standards — the company put itself up for sale and began hacking costs and jobs.

Perhaps the biggest insult of all: Rogers Communications, one of the firm’s longest-standing partners, decided not to stock the newest BlackBerry 10 phone, the Z30, just months after Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed appeared alongside Heins at the Canadian launch of an earlier version. Rogers reversed itself after consumers lashed out, but by then the damage was done.

If anything, Heins’s tenure marks the era when BlackBerry lost its way, as well as its last shred of cachet. (Even celebrity spokeswoman Alicia Keys was caught using an iPhone to tweet her support for BlackBerry.) Chen’s first order of business: making up for lost time under the old guy, and proving that BlackBerry has something left to fight for.


Galen G. Weston, Loblaws Cos. Ltd.

G2 has struggled somewhat since being named executive chairman of Loblaw in 2006, assuming the helm of the family grocery chain from his father, Galen W. Sales growth has been sluggish, and there were troubles implementing new IT and supply-chain systems. But Junior is getting more sure-footed. This year, he was one of the first retail chiefs worldwide to respond to the disastrous collapse in Bangladesh in April that killed more than 1,100 workers in a clothing factory where many lines, including some for Loblaw’s Joe Fresh, were made. Within days, Weston announced that Loblaw would compensate victims’ families, and he unveiled details of a plan in October. 

Previously, in July, he announced a big, but certainly not reckless, $12.4-billion takeover of Shoppers Drug Mart, a move that analysts said would help strengthen Loblaw’s hold over its core baby boomer base. The company’s share price is up almost 40 per cent in just over a year. And while Weston is no Dave Nichol yet, he’s proving to be a solid TV and radio pitchman. 

Serge Godin, CGI Group Inc.

Until October, BlackBerry was the only Canadian technology company to generate headlines south of the border, and Godin was just fine with that. 

That all changed after a U.S. subsidiary, CGI Federal Inc., was exposed as the builder and manager of the almost comically glitchy web portal where Americans were to shop for government health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). When the website went live on Oct. 1 — the same day the Republican-led House shut down the U.S. government over that very Act — it was plagued by technical problems. Nine out of 10 individuals attempting to use initially failed. One CNBC host joked (we hope) a week into the controversy: “Should we immediately go to war with Canada over the CGI thing?” The Tea Party spun the $94-million worth of contracts with CGI — which right-wingers paint as the official IT provider of Canadian socialized medicine — as yet another part of President Barack Obama’s nefarious plan to turn the States into a pinko country like Canada. Was Godin too immersed in integrating his latest, and largest, acquisition — CGI paid $2.7-billion for London-based Logica in 2012 — to worry about a relatively minor U.S. government contract? Whatever the case, we’re betting both Godin and Obama are wishing CGI were once more an unknown quantity stateside. 
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