Since purchasing New Brunswick’s Mrs. Dunster’s in 2014, Blair and Rosalyn Hyslop have busied themselves building a strong company, creating a great corporate culture, and working to support their community.

The company has expanded its product portfolio, and invested in new employees, equipment, and production lines. Its retail location welcomes 400,000 visitors per year, and their delivery trucks bring fresh-baked New Brunswick products to more than 600 grocery stores in Atlantic Canada and Maine multiple times per week.

Last year Blair joined the Sussex & District Chamber of Commerce’s board in order to facilitate strategic planning, bringing together over 150 community and business leaders to create an economic development plan for the region.

Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to Mr. Hyslop to get his thoughts on leadership, entrepreneurship, and advantages of doing business in New Brunswick.

ONB: You won this year’s Excellence in Business Leadership Award at the Sussex Chamber of Commerce dinner. Tell us about the event and the mood in the room?

New Brunswick Hyslop: What became clear after the mine closure last year was that we needed a strong plan for economic development and business attraction in Sussex. Via that process, we saw there were a lot of companies here doing quite well. Unfortunately, their efforts were overshadowed by the much more high-profile mine closure. That’s not to downplay that news or its effects on many people. Still, we felt with this past awards dinner, there was real need to focus on the success stories, of which there are many.

It was a great event, with some 20 odd success stories shared. I think people learned a lot about their neighbours and colleagues. We also learned plenty about our capacity to overcome adversity and respond to market conditions in order to keep seeing success at home. One couldn’t help but come out of that night feeling like you were in a place with good things happening.

You’ve worked with many of New Brunswick’s big-name food and beverage brands like McCain, Moosehead, and G.E. Barbour. Tell us what keeps you excited about doing business here. 

I’ve been fortunate to spend the majority of my career working in New Brunswick for those top brands. I love New Brunswick; it’s home. Many of the companies I have worked for have been, like Mrs. Dunster’s, family-owned. When you work for a family-owned business you’re working for a business that has strong and clear values, and a real passion for what they do. Those family values often drive a company’s values. That’s not always a given, certainly not in larger cities.

There is no question New Brunswick has plenty to be proud of, and that awards night was a fine example. Behind each award, there were still several great companies that didn’t get nominated.

New Brunswick has a great workforce, no question. Here in Sussex, we have people who grew up working on and running farms, tradespeople, and people who aren’t afraid of hard work. Strong work ethic is part of our DNA. As an entrepreneur, I feel it’s a great place to operate a business.

There’s no shortage of great entrepreneurial stories here, that’s for sure. What’s your best advice for young entrepreneurs?

New Brunswicker’s are humble by nature, and often the more successful they are the more humble they are. So the first thing I would say is know that you can be a successful entrepreneur in New Brunswick. There are a lot of successful entrepreneurs in every community; they just like to fly under the radar.

Secondly, I would say find one of these entrepreneurs and ask them to mentor you. Having a mentor is a great starting point. Find someone that can guide you in the early going; you’d be surprised who you can connect with for help.

What do you think makes a great business leader? 

I believe a great business leader is able to paint a picture of where their business needs to go and what success clearly looks like. It’s about having a crystal-clear vision for your company, and I think that’s why family-owned businesses work so well. As I said, you have the family’s values on one side, and that ends up creating well-defined values for the company itself.

I think being ready and able to mentor younger business leaders is also a must. I don’t think we do enough of that in a formal sense. It’s a small province, and I think we have a responsibility to support the next generation of business leaders.

Let’s wrap with a quick comment on your company’s relationship with ONB. 

Support from the public sector has changed for the better. In our early days with the company, there was a lot of predetermined programs; it was about fitting square pegs into round holes, seeing if you could find programs that lined up with your business needs. There’s been a shift in approach with ONB’s creation. I think the organization recognized that certain programs would not work for everyone, that not every company’s needs fit within narrowly defined parameters.

The shift has been towards sitting down with businesses and asking what their actual needs are, then seeing how ONB can help. That’s when our business really took off. We’ve had a great deal of success over the past two-plus years, doubling our workforce and growing the business exponentially. Support from ONB was a big part of that.

Written by Jason Boies

Images: Mrs. Dunster’s