|From Banker to Entrepreneur|
Stephen Hurst is a young man in a hurry. He was a 'Bankers Brat' who travelled with his father and family from place to place, branch to branch. And the bank life influenced him.
"It gave me a sense of mobility and practicality that I don't think I would have gotten elsewhere."
At the age of 22, Stephen was already managing a bank of his own, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in Norman Wells in the Northwest Territories. It was 1977, three years after the Yarmouth-born banker had started out in his chosen career.
"But early on I realized that I wasn't cut out for the pin stripe suit and it was not fitting well. So when an opportunity came up to go into business for myself, I jumped at it."
Stephen had been talking to a client who was in financial trouble with a lumber mill in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. As manager of the CIBC Bank there he was now a confirmed northerner and acutely aware of the problems and opportunities.
"I told the man what his company needed was not men who could sell lumber but someone who could handle finances. The potential was there; the answer was to find the right man. He smiled and said, 'I think I'm looking at him.' So I quit my job at the bank and went home and told my wife Glenda I was going into business for myself. She was happy for me because she knew I had been chafing in the bank long enough."
Great Northern Lumber went from the gates of bankruptcy four years ago to the employing of 14 people and sales projected to be $4.3 million in 1991.
In 1989 Stephen Hurst decided to stage a Yellowknife business conference to attract money and people to the city.
"Then I decided to go beyond that and have it include the entire Northwest Territories, the idea being to attract southerners to our turf and clearly tell them we are looking for capital and skilled people. The people we called were the busiest people in the country because the busiest people are the people who get things done. They came; the project got off the ground right away. It bloomed."
That's where I first met Stephen and was knocked out by his enthusiasm and drive. When I asked him if there was still the opportunity in the north that there used to be, he replied, "I was talking to a man of about 55 or 60
years of age who was thinking of retiring south. I asked him if there was less opportunity now than there was 25 years ago. I told him I was always pumped up by the spirit and dynamism of the north. He said, " I saw 25 years ago what you are seeing now. You're pumped up because it's real."
Stephen took a low profile in 1990 to 'heal up' after the exhausting job of running his lumber company, co-coordinating the 'Prospects North '89' Business Conference and starting a small graphics company, Yellowknife's first and only in that line. Now he's off and running again and the conference is already being planned for the year 1992.
"We are 53,000 strong here in the territories and we consume $1.1 billion worth of goods and services, most of which comes from the south. Our territorial government is heavily mandated toward import substitution to the point where they make it worth while for contractors and suppliers to use what's here. There's too much stuff coming in from the south that we can produce here. .. and we're going to do it."
The old saying was 'go west, young man' but Stephen Hurst has proven that if you are looking for opportunity and adventure, "go northwest young man and young woman."
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