Entrepreneur of the Year

December 5, 2006
Send to a friend Share RSS Facebook Twitter

Carmanah Technologies, a Victoria-based company that makes LED lighting and solar photovoltaic systems, was a small firm when CEO Art Aylesworth joined in 2000. Back then, it was largely a research and development company with just 12 employees. Aylesworth was hired to shift Carmanah’s focus from R&D to sales and marketing. Under his leadership, the firm has grown almost 70% a year. It began trading on the TSX in 2005, and it now sells LED-technology products, including airfield beacons, marine buoys and traffic lights, in more than 100 countries.

Business Philosophy: I am, by nature, a coach, so for me, the fundamental principle underlying my style is to recognize the very best in my people and communicate that so well that they begin to see it in themselves. When you do that, people begin to play to their strengths. That creates success, and success creates a sense of winning. And a team of winners is hard to beat.

Darkest Hour: I jokingly want to say, ‘Do you mean the one today, or the one that happened last week?’ It seems there’s always moments like that. The trick to overcoming those challenges is to understand what the business needs and make sure it gets it.

Carmanah was a very market-focused and customer-driven company. We were applying our core technologies to more and more new products because we felt there was a rush to take the first-mover position in each and every market we entered. For a while that seemed right, but we were forcing the company and its technical abilities to its limits. Those were dark moments. We were winning, but it didn’t feel right — like we’d gotten away with something. It was time to shift gears. We went from being a company that was all about selling and became a more scalable operation that could keep up with the opportunity we had created. Without doing that, I think we would have been in trouble.

Proudest Achievement: I’m most proud of my relationship with Carmanah’s founder, Dr. David Green. When I met him, we couldn’t have come from more different worlds. We had opposing personalities and priorities. That we bridged our differences has definitely been to Carmanah’s advantage.

Oftentimes when a technology-driven company is ready to commercialize, the founder isn’t the right person for the job, but they don’t let go and end up strangling the business. David was ready to let the rope go a bit. But then, of course, what tends to happen is, incoming guys like me can’t cope with the other person staying around and eventually muster the support of the board to move that person out. The best outcome, however, is to collaborate and find the value in each other’s strengths. David and I have done that, and I believe it’s at the core of Carmanah’s success.

Biggest Lesson: It might be trite but, somewhere along the way, I learned it doesn’t matter how good you are individually. If you want to accomplish big things, you can’t do it unless the load is spread around a bunch of people who are contributing in a significant way. You need to realize that it’s not all about you, but about everyone but you. That’s when you’re genuinely providing leadership and building strength that will live well beyond your tenure. When I learned that lesson, I believe it differentiated me from many others who strive to be leaders.

Understanding Success: I believe entrepreneurs, myself included, spend very little time celebrating success. Instead, it’s all about what’s next. If you don’t think that way, you probably wouldn’t have gotten to where you are. If you start to feel fat and sassy about your success, I’m not so sure you’re an entrepreneur. As somebody once said to me, the last thing you want to do is read your own press releases.


2000 revenue: $1.3 million

2005 revenue: $38 million

Traded on the TSX, Berlin and Frankfurt stock exchanges