Aligning Core Values: An Interview with Bob Sweeney, Owner & Sr. Project Manager, Sweeney International Marine Corp. (SIMCorp) Inc.
You’re likely familiar with the stories of how some of the world’s largest technology companies had humble beginnings. Apple, Amazon, Google—all started in a small garage. UnderArmour sold their first shirts out of founder Kevin Plank’s car.
Bob Sweeney is the Owner and Senior Project Manager of Sweeney International Marine Corporation (SIMCorp), one of Canada’s leading environmental management services companies in the aquaculture industry. His start was in the back room of his house, with just his computer, and one window overlooking Rushton Street in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick in 2002.
While it may have started as a one-man shop, the team has grown to just under 20 biologists and technicians, primarily working across the Atlantic provinces with an office and lab in St. Stephen, and a secondary office in Halifax, Nova Scotia. While projects on the Atlantic coast keep them busy, the team has worked across Canada, Chile, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
Regardless of where SIMCorp works or who they work for, they are unwavering in their commitment to the company’s core values of Integrity, Respect, Safety, Community, and Environmental Sustainability. All values that were established in that room in St. Stephen.
More Than a Company Commitment—It’s Personal
As the founding force behind SIMCorp., Bob looks at the company’s core values as a reflection of his own. “I think that’s quite important,” says Bob. “With our company policy, we integrate our core values into it with the first and foremost being Integrity—you cannot sacrifice integrity.”
Bob admits that integrity is not always the easiest value to uphold. In his words, “quite frankly, integrity can hurt.”
With nearly two decades in business, there have been a few times where Bob’s and the company’s integrity has been tested. He remembers the first time that something didn’t go right in the field and having to make the phone call to the client.
“Part of integrity is contacting your client, saying we should have done things differently and taking ownership of that,” says Bob. “That’s not an easy thing to do but once you’ve said it, you feel better and you’ve earned the respect of your client saying you made a mistake, and you’re going to correct it.”
It’s easy to see why Respect is SIMCorp’s second core value. Not only is there a deep level of respect for each other and the people SIMCorp works with, but there is a deep level of respect for their work and their findings.
“We’re not producing data to the benefit of the producer,” says Bob. “We’re producing data based on the results of what we’ve seen or what we’ve collected.”
And collecting this data is not always easy. Data is typically collected on the open ocean, a few kilometres from land. When we talked with Bob over Zoom, it was a startling picture to see a large White Shark as his virtual background. While we had a good laugh, he uses that picture as a reminder of the dangers of their work environment.
“The ocean environment is one of the harshest and most dangerous environments,” says Bob, who stressed there is no compromising of safety when it comes to sending the team on the water.
Their focus on safety has heightened with new COVID protocols, reducing the number of staff on each boat and disinfecting the entire craft at the end of each day. Bob admits that it’s a lot of work but “it has to be done.”
Adding a New Value
While SIMCorp’s values have remained since Day 1, Bob recently incorporated a new value into the company policy; ECO Canada. In a traditional company culture, incorporating another organization as a core value is a strange move, but in SIMCorp’s case, it’s who they are.
“The ECO Canada accreditations are extremely important to us,” says Bob. “Important to the point that we felt that it had to be part of our core values.”
Over the years, Bob has found himself between industry and various non-government organizations (NGOs) who both want different outcomes to an aquaculture project.
The challenge of finding a medium between these parties is to have the accreditation and backing supporting findings. With a lack of minimum standards at both the provincial and federal levels, Bob and the SIMCorp team decided that is what core to their business to set their own standard.
“We felt that it was extremely important for us to have the qualifications to support the product that we put out the door,” says Bob. “And for that reason, we depend very heavily on people with the Bachelor of Science minimum in Environmental Studies. But, I was also looking for that third-party accreditation. And I couldn’t find anything until I came across ECO Canada.”
With the support of the company, the team of biologists and technicians were encouraged to take their Environment Professional EP (EP) or EPt (Environmental Professional in-training) designations. Already part of an environment where continuing education is highly encouraged—even if that means saying goodbye to a team member to pursue a different career path—and giving back to the communities where they live in work, the team started their designations without a second thought.
“I think the reason it didn’t take any convincing is just [ECO Canada’s] commitment to environment and integrity, which is rare,” says Bob. “ECO Canada takes it to a different level for all intents and purposes.”
A Reciprocal Commitment
When Bob was approached by ECO Canada about SIMCorp becoming the first EP Qualified Employer in Canada, it was a simple choice to say yes.
An EP Employer encourages a commitment to sustainability advancements at the company level by conducting work ethically, promoting sustainability within their communities, ongoing education, and valuing the EP designation; all values that the SIMCorp practices each day.
“When I was approached by ECO Canada about the EP Employer, I thought, perfect,” says Bob. “It’s perfect because now we’ve taken it from an individual commitment to EP accreditation, to now it’s a reciprocal commitment on the business part. This is just another reinforcement of our corporate and individual commitments as well.”
Not Bringing in the Boat Yet
With over 35 years of experience in the marine resources industry, 18 of those with SIMCorp, the number one question Bob gets asked is, ‘why hasn’t he retired yet?’
“Quite honestly, right now, I’m just having too much fun,” says Bob. “I love what I do. We have great people with the business we’re in. The clients we work for are great people to work for as well.”
Bob still talks about that house on Rushton St. Part of his community involvement is speaking with the local middle school about entrepreneurship. And Bob always takes time to show a picture of the house.
“The main focus that we try to encourage with the students is what’s your area of interest and to try to build on that,” says Bob. “I want to show them what could be a small idea and entrepreneurship could have the potential of going to unknown places.”