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Serial entrepreneur

Q&A with 2018 Alumnus of the Year Paul Antle

By Lisa Pendergast

From starting his first business, SCC Environmental Group, in his mother’s basement to becoming president and CEO of Pluto Investments Inc., it has been quite a journey for Paul Antle, B.Sc.’85.

As president and CEO of SCC for 11 years, Mr. Antle was an environmental champion for the province, leading the way with milestones, such as being the first to provide integrated hazardous waste management services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

From 2007 to 2015, he served as president and CEO of Western Mountain Environmental, again leading the way as the first foreign company to establish and manufacture its environmental technology in China.

Known worldwide for his expertise, Mr. Antle was a member of the Prime Minister’s National Round Table on the Environment and Economy for five years and was one of Canada’s representatives at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.

He credits a Memorial University education for much of his success and is paving the way for students to follow in his footsteps through the Paul Antle Entrepreneurial Award.

Contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Mr. Antle, Memorial University’s Alumnus of the Year for 2018. 

LP: You were the first in a family of six children to receive a university degree, and not just one, but a bachelor of science, a master of engineering and you completed a management program at Harvard. What made you decide to pursue post-secondary education?

PA: I was ambitious. I wanted to be successful and to do that, I knew that I would need a great education. The best decision I ever made was to go to Memorial. I was nervous when I started, but the more I learned, the more confident I became. When I got my first degree, that solidified everything for me. I knew I had a shot at success; I knew I could change my life. Going to university put me on track to where I am today.

LP: What do you remember most about being a student at Memorial?

PA: The switch from high school to university was a whole new world. One of the things I remember from my first days at Memorial, is buying my books. They sold them in the library and it was huge. Just walking in and seeing the vast number of books, smelling the paper and the print – I will never forget that.

Over the years at Memorial, it was the camaraderie, the friends I made. I had different pockets of friends, in chemistry, in soccer – I played varsity soccer for a couple of years – in biology, in math. It was so diverse. I have all of these memories and it’s wonderful.

LP: How did you get the idea to start SCC Environmental Group?

PA: When I finished my master of chemical engineering degree, Dr. Frank Smith hired me in the chemistry department at Memorial to do some research for him. Then a job came up in the construction industry for a chemical engineer. At the time, there weren’t very many chemical engineers around, because we didn’t have that program at Memorial. I applied for the position and I got it!

“I owe a great deal to Memorial for getting me started in my career and in my life.” –Paul Antle

This construction company was doing some work in Labrador and they came across PCB transformers. The project was going to shut down because they knew PCBs were carcinogenic. But the work needed to get done, so the utility paid twice their rate and it got done.

The owners then got the idea to start a business in waste management. So, they hired me to develop this business idea. I had to learn what it was to be a business person; I was fresh out of school but instinctively I found a way to do things while developing relationships.

I figured out the regulatory climate, I got customers and after nine months we were doing really well. Given my performance I approached the owners and asked for a raise. They said no. I asked for a profit-sharing arrangement, where I could receive a little more. They said no. I asked whether I could buy some equity in the company and again they said no. On the third no, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting far in my current position, so I resigned. The next day, I started on my own.

I started with nothing, just an idea and a piece of paper. I did not take any of their customers, nor did I do anything to harm the company, I just walked away and started by myself. That was when I moved into the environmental space, in earnest. It wasn’t easy.

I started in my mother’s basement by selling dangerous goods labels and offering safety training for private companies, while I was building my ideas. I was the chief bottle-washer and chief executive officer all-in-one. It took years to advance to the point where I could afford a real office and hire people. Looking back, 30 years later, I think wow, what a ride!

LP: You were clearly ahead of the curve on environmental issues in Newfoundland and Labrador. What inspired your interest in the environment?

PA: I did a chemistry degree at Memorial, but I didn’t enrol with that in mind. Originally my goal was medical school. In my first year of general studies I took chemistry given it was a perquisite for medical school. Having not taken chemistry in high school I didn’t know what to expect, but when I started taking it, I liked it, especially organic chemistry, which I loved.

“Every economy needs people who are inspired, tenacious, innovative and driven to put their ideas out there to help solve problems in the world.” –Paul Antle

After a few years I decided medical school wasn’t what I really wanted to do. So it was by going through school that I came to realize what I didn’t want to do. And that is just as important as figuring out what you want to do. I ended up finishing my chemistry degree, because I loved it, even though I didn’t want a career as a chemist. I wanted to take what I knew and apply it in a real-world setting and that’s when I decided to do chemical engineering.

So that background provided me with the insight into what was possible in the environmental space. I understood at a molecular level what hazardous waste meant. I knew how contaminants affected our ecosystem and how they needed to be handled and treated. I also knew what the outcomes would be of not doing so.

Whether it was the treatment of septic waste and sewage treatment, the disposal of chemical waste, or the destruction of biomedical waste, I understood the chemistry. I knew what those wastes consisted of and learned about the engineering principles that were the basis of technology that allowed you to safely recycle, reuse or destroy them.

Hazardous waste, soil remediation, etc., it was all based on chemistry and engineering principles that all just flowed from what I had learned in university. This was an area I could immerse myself in because of my education and I enjoyed it.

LP: How did it feel to be asked to be at the Prime Minister’s National Round Table on the Environment and Economy and the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development?

PA: When I was invited to the Prime Minister’s Round Table, I was over the moon. I was part of a group of highly experienced, intelligent people from across our nation. We were discussing environmental and economic policy that impacted all Canadians. We were having public meetings on these issues all across the country, collating those responses and that data and then creating advisory positions that we would present directly to the Prime Minister.

It was inspirational, invigorating and intellectually challenging. Every time I came home from a couple of days of meetings with the Round Table, I was fired up. It was like someone turned on something new in my brain. A perspective and a dimension to issues that I never knew existed and expanded my thinking into new areas of thought.

It was while I was part of the Round Table that I was asked to speak at the United Nations World Summit. There were thousands of participants and it was focused on our planet and surviving as a people. I got to speak on behalf of our nation and it still is surreal to me. It’s an event that I will never forget.

LP: As a founding member of Pelorus Venture Capital Ltd., the province’s angel investor network, entrepreneurship and innovation clearly mean something to you. Why are they important to you – and to the future of our province?

PA: I was one of a few successful business people who got together and said that we have to help kickstart young entrepreneurs. We need to find a way to help startups move forward, flesh out their ideas and become investment ready. There was a gap in the marketplace at the time. There were people with wonderful ideas and it would make a tremendous impact if they were properly supported and mentored. What followed was the N.L. Angel Network whose members eventually become investors in Pelorus.

Not every entrepreneurial endeavour is successful, but every economy needs people who are inspired, tenacious, innovative and driven to put their ideas out there to help solve problems in the world, thereby making progress happen.

It’s so important for us to make sure there is always support there to encourage, promote and mentor entrepreneurs and innovators. That’s what drives our economy. If we can solve problems in the world and make it a better place through technology and advancement in innovation, that’s what we should be doing.

LP: How does it feel to be named Memorial’s Alumnus of the Year for 2018?

PA: It’s overwhelming! I still can’t believe it. I’m really proud of being a graduate of Memorial, I always have been. Memorial opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that come with a good education and I owe a great deal to Memorial for getting me started in my career and in my life. So to be recognized for my accomplishments by my alma mater is off the charts.

Mr. Antle will be honoured during the 37th annual Alumni Tribute Awards ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 11, at Memorial’s Signal Hill Campus, St. John’s, N.L. Tickets (individuals and tables) can be purchased online. For additional inquiries, please contact the Office of Alumni Engagement at 709-864-4354, toll free at 1-877-700-4081 or email rsvpalumni@mun.ca.

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