Andrea Feunekes is a forester, software developer, mother – and a key catalyst in a new game plan for reviving the challenged New Brunswick economy. Ms. Feunekes and her husband, Ugo, have built Fredericton-based Remsoft Inc., a software firm serving a global space of 500 million acres – the property managed by its worldwide forestry-industry clients. For her latest gig, Remsoft's co-CEO has added the chairwoman's role at Future NB, a business-led initiative aimed at rekindling economic growth in the perennially have-not province.
What is a global software developer doing in Fredericton?
My husband and I came to do our master's of forestry at University of New Brunswick. For years we thought we'd go back [to Central Canada]when we had kids. We went as far as looking into moving the business to Ontario. Then we thought, "Nah, this is good for us. It's our home and we love it."
And why not? We have a forestry school, an engineering school, a computer sciences school, and a business school. That's what we need for our business.
But how do you run a business from here?
Our company has clients in 15 countries. That means we don't have a lot of clients anywhere; we have a few clients in a ton of places – which is the nature of our industry. So we have to get very good at serving clients, and we can't do it by setting up offices all over the world. It's not cost-effective.
So we have to work with partners. We do a lot of tech support via the Internet. We do a lot of online training. And the time-zone thing? We're actually closer to Europe than other regions of Canada. We're kind of half-way to everywhere in doing remote things, but we also have sales guys based in Ontario.
What is your business?
We help clients do things like logistics, prioritization and scheduling harvests; sales and operational work; land evaluation; and where to put a plant. How do you protect the spotted owl and still generate revenue?
It gets so complicated to be sustainable. It's easy to extract a resource, but it's harder to do that and stay on the right side of the line. So you've got to have some modelling; you need some big thinking stuff. We go everywhere from a week to a couple of hundred years.
How did you get into saving New Brunswick?
Putting it that way might be a stretch. You try to be a bit of a part of the solution. A few years ago, I was invited to join the New Brunswick Business Council. I could see a bunch of guys completely committed to business in this province. But we just kept trying things as a province – tolls and the [proposed NB Power deal with Quebec] thing after thing. A ton of people were saying "Government should…" and not enough were saying "Let's try to do something."
My husband and I wrestled with it: "Are we just going to watch this? Or should we go somewhere else?" [Along with co-CEO Steve Palmer]we were all together in trying to do something.
Has the forest industry taught you something?
Our customers go bankrupt every time we turn around – not just domestically but internationally. The land is always there and someone is always going to manage it, but the players change and the game changes, in what they do, how they do it, where you can find them value. At first it was just, "How do I produce a harvest schedule?" Then it was a lot of environmental issues; now they are very focused on tight margins, so everything is changing all the time.
Is that a microcosm of what New Brunswick faces?
Our province needs a much bigger openness to radical change. I don't think governments should be investing hugely in business and I don't think they can change an economy. I can't think of any examples where government has said, "We're going to fix business" and it has worked.
What about former premier Frank McKenna's partnership with business?
It created an attitude and feeling and that is the critical component. The companies were stepping up to the plate because he created that.
Are you in a crisis mode in your province?
In a really positive way. To do something, you need to recognize a burning platform – and then you move on to action. We had a business summit a year ago, where people said, "Yes, we have a problem." But there was also general agreement we just can't sit around and wait for someone to fix it because that hasn't worked before.
What are the key parts of your strategy?
The main issues are: innovation, the work force, regional co-operation and access to capital. What are the cross-cutting issues that apply to all businesses? Let's knock down some of those barriers.
We are going to create business opportunity groups – it's not about a sector, such as IT, but to identify where there is a business opportunity and put together people who want to work on that. There is no kind of flag-waving that can solve this stuff – it is long and slow.
The Maritimes face a scary demographic crisis. Is that one of the drivers?
On a personal level, I have two kids at university – where are they going to end up? And when we're sitting around in our rockers, who's feeding the economy? If I want to stay and retire here, who's paying? That's a real concern. I wish it were more widely recognized as a big problem on a grassroots level.
Two tech companies with Fredericton roots were sold recently for big bucks. Has that created a different feeling?
It's different in the sense that people here are excited that other people are making money – and for businesses to grow there has to be this climate of excitement. There is proof you can grow a very smart business, attract big partners and you don't have to be in Toronto, Vancouver or somewhere else. It's proved that the universities here can turn out smart ideas.
ANDREA FEUNEKES, Co-chief executive officer, Remsoft Inc., Fredericton
Personal: Born in Vancouver, 51 years old.
Education: Bachelor's degree in outdoor recreation and geography Lakehead University;
post-graduate diploma in secondary school education, McGill University;
MSc in Forestry, University of New Brunswick.
1992: Andrea and Ugo Feunekes found Remsoft
December, 2007: Software veteran Steve Palmer recruited to share CEO job with Andrea; Ugo becomes chief technology officer
July, 2011: Ms. Feunekes is named chair of Future NB; Remsoft diversifies into oil and gas and other resource sectors