Glenn Cooke is CEO of Cooke Aquaculture and The Cooke Family Group of Companies based in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. This interview was conducted by Rick Goossen, Chairman, ELO Group as part of the ELO Forum Toronto Online held on November 23, 2020. This is the second of a series of four blog posts.
RG: I think that is such a critical point for people listening to understand, that these things can be bundled together, in the sense that you can be doing a lot of good from a Christian standpoint but that it is tied in with actually having a viable, thriving business. Maybe just describe to people how, at the core, the business has to be profitable and sustainable but then in effect, that's the platform that allows you to invest back into communities and organizations.
GC: As we built our company, I think the key was that we got to the point where we were making livings for ourselves, but we saw the necessity to reinvest almost everything the company earns back into the company to grow it. We did this to make sure that platform, that balance sheet, was very solid and based on retained earnings and not have to deal with the influence of outside shareholders or private equity.
Part of our culture is that we've been a giving company. I think we show that to our employees and thus our employees are giving people also. So we created a culture where we give back, whether it's in needs for communities, from orphanages to addiction centers to a whole bunch of different things we’re involved in. We have that side of the equation, but we also give back to the community whether it's for kid’s programs or to work with the local schools and the local community somehow making those communities better.
So building that culture within our organization gives us and our employees purpose in our company. I'm a big believer that the first sign of a Christian is that they are givers, givers of their time, givers of their money. Givers see the need and somehow they reach out and make sure that they’re meeting those needs. It’s one thing to go out and preach on the street corner and I’m not speaking negatively about the person who does that. But I think also, though it's very positive from a corporate perspective that you can identify and make yourself different. People realize that you're a giving company through your employees, whether they dedicate their time or whatever they do. When we bring a cause to our employees, they’re there matching us or they’re wanting to get involved in some of the causes we’re involved in. We give back to the communities where we are located. We’re also involved in a lot of Christian ministries around the world. I think a big way we distinguish ourselves as a company is our giving attitude.
RG: I think some of the things you mentioned are so core to your approach. It’s important, of course, to your approach that you remain a private company. I'm sure you're getting accosted all the time by private equity firms and people who would love to take you public. Please describe why you have this conviction that “our family needs to stay in control” and how that ties into whose values are being reflected in what the company is about.
GC: I'm hoping that in the end, it’s the Lord’s values that provide the foundation for how the family drives the company. Do we do everything perfectly? No, we're human beings, so we're not perfect. We get mad and upset like anyone else can on certain issues but the whole concept of giving back and integrating the employees into that, those are the values that we have built. We call ourselves “Team Cooke” because it's a team effort. I'm a big believer that you need to get buy-in from employees to be part of the team and that their collective effort will drive the company forward.
RG: How do you think about ambition? When is your company big enough?
GC: I'm a driven person but I'm not growing the Company for personal wealth. I could say, ‘let's stop growing’ and I would never have to worry or work another day in my life, but that's not what I'm about. For me, the bigger we are, the more we can give, the more we can affect the communities and the lives of people.
I believe, from a driven perspective, that we want to build something of significance. It's a challenge to do that. We are risk-takers. That's the nature of our business and certainly my nature. The concept is to keep growing and not to sit back. I'm a big believer that as a leader of a company, either you're growing or you're falling behind. In the end the companies that are not growing are probably ones that people are going to exit or they're going to lose their sharpness in the marketplace and their competitors will walk all over them.
I'm a big believer in growth and we certainly want to keep growing. We want to be more profitable which allows us to do bigger deals and grow the company. Historically, we’ve doubled the company every 3-4 years and we want to keep doing that.