Glenn Cooke, CEO, Cooke Aquaculture: The Calling of an Entrepreneur (Part III)

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 third of a series of four blog posts.

RG: Let’s look at the role of faith in your life and how that is manifested in the company. How would you describe your calling? What does calling mean to you?

GC: I grew up in a Christian home and in a church environment. I always wondered, ‘what is my calling in life?’ We would have an evangelist come through our community asking, how many are going to the mission field? How many are going to Bible school? Yes, from very early on, I felt an entrepreneurial call. Some of us need to be the people to help fund some of the Gospel going forward and to be involved in leadership. I felt very early on a call to do that.

With the call comes responsibility. Some people say ‘oh, wow, what a wonderful call.’ Well, the responsibility you wear with that call is heavy. That's what people don't understand sometimes. ‘Oh, you built this big business, you're on top of the world.’ Well, really, I'm on top of 10,000 people that I need to make sure have a job tomorrow and the next day and the day after. I need to make sure that certain ministries and charitable organizations are supported over the course of my lifetime. That is a burden of responsibility that I take very seriously.

RG: The Bible commands us to walk worthy of our calling. It sounds like you're stewarding your calling. Would that be a good way to describe what you're doing?

GC: I think so. Yes, we built this company but the company isn't mine—this is what God has allowed. So we need to stay on purpose and plan for God’s purpose for the Company. I think we have to stay humble and focused on our purpose. I feel I’m a steward of what He's given us and it's my responsibility.

I work a lot. I probably work 16 hours on average every day. Even when I’m home I’m emailing and taking phone calls and that's a seven-day week. I can't walk away from something as big as our company and take the weekend off or take a week off.

Some of the worst crisis in the business have occurred when I have been on vacation. It may be a 2-3 day interruption where a storm went through an area where we have operations. Or there is some other problem. I have a responsibility. People need to understand that if you're going to take the call then with the calling comes responsibility.

RG: Sometimes people might think that if I'm called to something then I'm somehow succeeding at it all the time. But we all know that entrepreneurs because they're risking doing new, different things, it's inevitable that some things will not work. How have you dealt with failure?

GC: I started out in a business I created when I was basically out of high school. It ended up failing and being a disaster. It was a very stressful learning situation. The best thing I learned was that I never want to fail again. You can question a lot of things due to a business experience. ‘Lord, why did that happen?’ We could have done this or we could have that. I wish I knew the answers and sometimes I find the answers out down the road. For instance, we were considering an investment in a foreign country last year. Well, that country has been hit very hard with COVID. Thank God we didn't invest there.

We have had other things happen. We have some kind of a weather event or something else that causes inventory damage. You ask yourself, ‘why me Lord, why is it hitting us?’ You think, ‘are we not giving enough or are we not giving back?’  I'm a big believer that you have to learn through every experience. They’re building blocks.

If I didn't go through stressful times or I didn’t go through my business failure at first I would never have been able to build my character to handle the stress and the pressure that I have to handle on any given day now. I could go through a whole bunch of issues. I've had everything from plane crashes to various corporate issues, but to me they are all learning building blocks. And now I’m at the point when I have a disaster or an issue happens to me, I say, “well, we’re obviously going to grow again because I am going to be learning again.”

RG: Would it be fair to say, that some of these challenges that come up don’t actually undermine your calling. It actually helps you somehow pursue your calling or give you more substance for your calling. Would that be a way to put it?

GC: If life was easy and you were called to grow your business and it was a straight line to the top you would have no experience at all to be able to take on the bigger challenges. You have to look at these individual crises and the management to get through it as growth experiences. That basically is the training experience for future growth of your company and where your company is going to be.