In July 2003, fresh out of Cambrian College’s computer systems technology program, Paul Brunet landed on the gravel tarmac at Kattiniq/Donaldson Airport, observing the unfamiliar surroundings before him.
Located in the remote Nunavik region of northern Quebec, the private facility is operated by Glencore to deliver its workers to the nearby Raglan Mine, where Brunet had recently been hired as the site’s new information technology (IT) specialist.
“Oh, this is going to be fun,” he recalled thinking during the bus ride to the mine, as the snow came down sideways and caribou roamed the rocky terrain. “This is going to be interesting.”
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His work at Raglan proved to be not just fun and interesting, but a formative period that shaped Brunet’s approach to business for years to come.
Brunet was put in charge of all the mine’s IT systems, including 30 different servers, ensuring that access was maintained at all times, even with a glacial satellite connection.
In one instance, Brunet scrambled to get payroll out on time as communications went down and transmission to the mine’s financial institution was cut off.
Brunet never did get it up and running, and the mine figured out a stop-gap solution. But the incident taught him the importance of flexibility, compromise, and thinking on his feet.
“That seven months that I worked there was probably the best experience that I’ve had in terms of building the confidence, building the skill set, and just being resourceful,” said Brunet.
“It was definitely a real eye-opener, and to this day I’m so grateful for that experience, because when you’re plopped in the middle of nowhere and there’s only two flights a week and a really slow internet connection, you’ve got to figure it out.”
Those lessons laid a good foundation leading up to 2012 when Brunet and a partner founded Great White North Technology Consulting in a small basement office in downtown Timmins.
The firm of 14 people provides customized IT services for clients, protecting their online data and providing IT support for a fixed monthly fee.
In recent years, as more people work from home, the security of data and technology’s ease of use have become even more important to clients who want to make a seamless transition from work to home and back again.
Many clients weren’t prepared for the abrupt transition introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brunet said, rushing to implement haphazard measures, leaving their networks vulnerable to security breaches.
Great White North worked with them to migrate their systems onto cloud services, enabling them to access their corporate applications easily and securely.
“The beauty behind it is we’re here in the background doing our thing, and if we’re doing our thing very well, the end user doesn’t even really realize that we’re anything,” Brunet said. “We’re resolving issues a lot of times before they even realize it’s an issue.”
Great White North has clients across the country, from Northern Ontario to Ottawa to Nunavut, with many operating from remote locations.
But Brunet has prioritized working with Indigenous communities and organizations; in particular those in remote regions with spotty internet connections and IT systems that have been installed in a fragmented, piecemeal fashion.
“In the past, I’ve done work with communities on the James Bay coast, and I kind of fell in love with different remote communities, because the people in those communities are just so appreciative of the work that we do, and they’re very genuine people,” Brunet said.
“We’re able to partner with them on cleaning (their IT networks) up and provide real support to get them to where they want to be in terms of technology.”
Great White North has landed most of its contracts through word of mouth – “When you do good work, it spreads,” Brunet said – and company representatives regularly travel to northern tradeshows where they can network with prospective clients and share their perspectives on cybersecurity.
Now in its 10th year of operation, the company has outgrown its third office and Brunet is on the hunt for a new location that will serve its needs for years to come.
He’s also in the process of buying out his former partner to become Great White North’s sole proprietor.
Optimistic about the next 10 years, Brunet is grateful for his staff and their commitment to the work they do.
He’s confident that the flexibility that got his company through the first decade will prepare them well for the next, and indebted to the employees that have continued on this journey with him.
"There's a lot of places where companies are so demanding of their staff, and I really believe that it's a give and take," Brunet said.
“Let’s be a little bit more human and let’s try to make it a fun place to work, respect the staff, appreciate the staff, and make sure they feel they’re appreciated, and that they’re going to stick around and have your back when the going gets tough.”
Since launching in 1986, the Northern Ontario Business Awards has become the largest annual gathering of its kind in Northern Ontario. These awards serve to heighten the visibility and influence of business in the North and bring peer recognition to the business leaders who create prosperity and economic growth.