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Entrepreneur of the Year: Jeff Fuller

"I set big goals; some of them I know how I'm going to get to them, some of them I don't know how I'm going to get to them, but I set them and then I stay focused on them."

After graduating university with a commerce degree and launching a promising career in banking, Jeff Fuller chucked it all to head out on the road with his band. When he found himself broke, tired, and ready for a change, he went into the family business. And he hasn't looked back.

It was a prescient decision. After working with his dad at Abraflex for 14 years, he started his own company, Fuller Industrial, which fabricates pipes and fittings, and interior rubber lining for pipes and tanks. Today, Fuller sends its niche products all over the globe; up to 90 per cent of its business comprises exports out of the Sudbury plant.

Fuller's forward thinking has carried his company far. It now has a presence on every continent, and after making a name for itself in the mining industry is seeking the same success in oil and gas.

He credits growing up in an enterprising family with fostering the ambition that's brought him to today.

"When you grow up in a family that owns a business or is entrepreneurial, you always get to see the business from both sides," he said. "As an employee, it's easy to understand it from the employee perspective, but it's not always easy to look from the other side and understand what the perspective is from the owner. So, I was lucky to have that and lucky to have that support too."

Motivation for him comes in looking for opportunities to grow. Fuller doesn't view obstacles as barriers to success, just roadblocks whose solutions haven't yet been revealed. He's a big advocate of setting goals and seeing them through to completion.

"I set big goals; some of them I know how I'm going to get to them, some of them I don't know how I'm going to get to them, but I set them and then I stay focused on them," Fuller said. "It's amazing when you know in the back of your mind it'll pull you towards it, so you'll always find a way to get there."

Fuller said finding great people to work for him is one of his biggest challenges, so he appreciates his employees and their contributions.

Integrity, respect and honesty form his triumvirate approach to business, and all ideas are vetted through an employee charter of rights before they're adopted. The company can experience short-term success quickly by deviating from those tenets, Fuller said, but in the long run, it will be more successful by sticking to its guiding principles.

"If you always act with integrity, if you always treat people with respect, if you always look after continuous improvement and try to treat people the best that you can, and create a good environment, it works on two levels," Fuller said. "First of all, it's the right thing to do, and secondly, in the long run, you're going to be more profitable, a healthier company, and make more sales. It all works together."

Acknowledging that pipe and rubber coatings are "unromantic," Fuller said he's adapted his business to become knowledge-based, transforming them into the fastest available, highest quality, and often lowest priced, product and exported it around the world.

The company is now offering valueadded product lines alongside the pipes and coatings, which is increasing sales. In the future, Fuller envisions the company doing more detailed engineering, isometric drawings, and scoping of projects earlier in the process, furthering its diversity.

Chalk it up to another goal met and conquered in Fuller's ever-evolving career.

"It's about finding a focus and getting the vision and finding the way to get there despite all the obstacles and always overcoming all the problems," he said.