Our Founder and CEO, Dr. Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, joined Sean Weisbrot, host of the We Live to Build podcast, to talk about her previous career in cryptography, her new role encouraging women in business, and the power of female investors.
CEO of Danby Products
Do the right thing. That’s the imperative that drives Jim Estil—in everything business, in community service and in humanitarian work.
Jim has been President and CEO of home appliance manufacturer Danby Products in Guelph, Ontario since 2015. His focus on doing the right thing is reflected in Danby’s operating values, where ethical working conditions throughout the supply chain, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and philanthropy are at the heart of the company’s culture. And Jim has found that this way of doing business results in greater engagement by employees and attracts new staff. “People want to work for a company that does social good.”
Encouraged by his father to study engineering, Jim graduated from the Systems Design Engineering program at the University of Waterloo in 1980. He had developed an interest in computing and technology and was more interested in a career in business. “I would have made a terrible engineer!”, he claims. He started his first company, EMJ Data Systems, while in his final year of university. When the company was sold in 2005, it had grown from one where he sold hardware and software from the trunk of his car to a publicly traded corporation on the Toronto Stock Exchange with a staff of over 300 and $350 million in annual sales.
Jim’s business success led to roles as a founding board member of Research in Motion/BlackBerry in 1997 and a founding member of Communitech, an innovation hub that helps tech companies start, grow and succeed. As an early-stage technology investor, he has worked with more than 150 start-up companies. And Jim shared his perspectives on leadership and time management in his two books Time Leadership – Lessons from a CEO and Zero to $2 Billion: The Marketing and Branding Story Behind the Growth.
Beyond his success as an entrepreneur and investor, Jim is perhaps best known as a humanitarian. In 2015, he personally sponsored the resettling of 50 Syrian refugee families in Canada and, as CEO of Danby, set up a community network of hundreds of volunteers in Guelph to sponsor hundreds of people from countries around the world. Danby’s latest venture in this area is the Circle Home Furniture Bank, an ongoing resource to help provide furniture and housewares for newcomer families from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Syria as they establish their homes in Guelph and neighbouring communities. Through the work of local volunteers, community organizations and the federal government, Danby’s refugee sponsorship program has helped settle hundreds of newcomer families, helping them find and furnish homes, secure employment, and start their new lives in and around Guelph. “People are grateful to help and to be part of the better, bigger good,” notes Jim of the massive community effort of more than 800 volunteers that donated their time and resources to help people from around the world start a new life in Canada.
Jim has long been concerned about environmental issues. He started a recycling program in his university residence, has installed solar panels on his roof and invests in alternative energy. “I’m worried about climate change and the social upheaval it will cause as people will be forced to leave their homes.” This concern Is reflected in Danby’s focus on sustainability and the company’s goal to work toward a more sustainable future. The company refurnishes units as “Danby Certified” to help to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and to lower greenhouse gas production at their manufacturing plants.
Thanks to Jim’s leadership, and Danby’s ongoing commitment to do the right thing, the company continues to work to make the world better by supporting women’s shelters, programs for youth and for people experiencing homelessness. In recognition of his work, Jim was named to the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada, received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Guelph and an Everyday Heroes Award from the Global Hope Coalition. Despite the awards, he says “I’m a normal guy, trying to do my part.” And Jim hopes that Danby’s commitment to a corporate culture of philanthropy, volunteerism and servant leadership can serve as a model for much larger companies across Canada and internationally. “Everybody can do their part by taking on something that’s the right size for them to do their version of good.”
You can see more of Jim’s impact in the visualizations below.
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Strategic Partnerships Pioneer and Mentor
The Impact of Making Connections and Fostering Mentorship
As the oldest of five children, including three younger sisters, being a mentor to young women and a leader is something that has always come naturally to Adele Newton. Over the course of her career, she has wanted to provide others with the guidance and support she didn’t always have.
“I had very few female mentors – but those I did have made a big difference to how I looked at progress in my career,” says Adele. “I know I would have been more confident and taken more risks if there had been more women role models for me. So if I can make the road a little easier and more visible to a young woman, that means a lot to me and to her.”
Creating her own way
When Adele started her BMath at the University of Waterloo, she expected to have a fairly straightforward career path as a teacher. She realized teaching was not what she had hoped for. Instead she created her own way, and after working in a series of positions at the university, she found her calling.
“When I managed the President’s Club program for the University of Waterloo, I learned a lot about the importance of giving back to the university and the difference it makes to the institution. It was when I first understood the potential for connecting industry to the research part of the university and how that could benefit both parties.”
Over the years, Adele has facilitated relationships between industry and academia, which has led to countless research collaborations as well as valuable opportunities for students. Canadian companies, such as Alias Research, Side Effects Software, Bell Canada, and BlackBerry all benefited from connections Adele helped them make with universities around the world.
The value of mentorship
Her talent for creating connections has allowed Adele to pursue her passion for outreach and mentoring others. While working in the computer graphics industry, she became involved with SIGGRAPH, the world’s largest conference in computer graphics. Adele saw an opportunity to create programs to introduce children and teenagers to the field. She recognized the important role women play in mentoring others.
“I have almost always been the only or one of the few women in the room during my career. That’s just the nature of tech – though it is changing. When I suggested we have an outreach program for SIGGRAPH, I knew that most of the mentors would be male – but we had some wonderful women participate. I saw the kids’ eyes light up. These were kids where 10-14 years old from inner city schools in New Orleans. I knew we had sparked ideas and possibilities in them. It was very powerful, and I knew I wanted to keep doing this.”
In more recent years, Adele co-founded LAUNCH Waterloo – an organization that aims to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math through fun recreational programs. She is also a mentor in the Women in Communication and Technology (WCT) Waterloo Region Mentorship Circles, a program that connects women with mentors.
“Mentoring younger women is a joy! I love sharing my experience and being there for them to run their ideas by me and to provide insight that they may not have had otherwise.”
A career filled with accomplishments
As Adele begins to consider retirement and focus on travel, writing and her love (and exceptional talent) for creating mouthwatering culinary creations, she can look back with pride on her accomplishments. She has influenced countless individuals – men and women alike – through her mentorship and guidance. Many of the research partnerships she facilitated continue thanks to the connections she originally created.
“I look back on my schooling and my career and am proud of the work I did with industry and universities and the lasting effect those programs have had. There are still research collaborations in place that started as a result of some of those programs. I know my work provided motivation and funds for students of all ages (from grade school to grad school) to go to school when they might not otherwise have thought to or been able to.”
Adele has been a valuable contributor to Profound Impact and will continue to work on special projects on occasion. While we are sorry to see her go, we are happy she will be able to indulge in her love of cooking and travel, and wish her all the best in retirement.