When Don Duval moved to Sudbury two years ago, to take over the reins as CEO of the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), he admits he knew very little about the city.
“I had spent the (previous) 15 years either in the U.S. or in Toronto,” Duval said. His employment covered the arts, business and academics.
Duval has a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Queen's University, and a master's degree of science in civil engineering from the University of Toronto. However, music is what called to him. He toured with ska and funk band called Franklin's Fault for a couple of years.
“I grew my hair long and tried to make it as a musician,” he said.
When the record label contract never came, he moved to Italy for a year, where he worked for Anderson Consulting, a business consulting firm that immersed him in the world for Bay Street and Wall Street companies.
After his European jaunt, Duval returned to Toronto where he worked as an adjunct professor in the University of Toronto's engineering department for seven years.
Prior to his move to Sudbury, Duval spent five years as the vice-president of strategy and operations, for business services, with the MaRS Discovery District, a business incubator that focuses on technology startups in the Toronto area.
“I just have this eclectic brain where I always want to try new things and learn new things,” Duval said. “I crave that change constantly.”
While the MaRS Discovery District covered a wide range of sectors, for Duval, it missed out on a key component of Canada's economy: the resource sector.
“When you think of Canadian competitiveness, by many attributes we're still a resource-based economy,” he said. “When I was at MaRS, we had a huge amount of clientele coming in that were in clean tech, digital media, online businesses and health care – which are all very important sectors to the Canadian economy. But I wasn't seeing anything related to innovation in the resource sector.”
In 2012, Darryl Lake, NORCAT's founder and CEO, retired from the organization's top job.
Duval, who was looking for change in his career, replaced Lake on July 9, 2012.
The opportunity to lead an organization that focused primarily on innovation in the resource sector proved to be an attractive prospect.
By his first 150 days with NORCAT, Duval and his team developed a new five-year strategy for the organization.
That strategic plan, which still forms the basis for NORCAT's future expansions, featured three core goals.
The first was to continue to focus on NORCAT's key commercial venture – skilled labour training and development.
When Lake founded NORCAT in 1995, it was to create a training and development centre that focused primarily on health and safety.
The strategic plan's second goal was to rebrand the NORCAT Innovation Mill in an effort to identify early stage technology companies and accelerate their growth.
The final goal was to build a vibrant innovation hub that would foster any qualifying small- or medium-sized enterprises in the Sudbury area.
The greater focus on the NORCAT Innovation Mill, said Duval, has yielded results with the organization's other endeavours.
“We see a lot of startup companies coming in that are focused on education, or online businesses,” he said. “We're now seeing innovation in training and development and e-learning.”
Those innovations in training and e-learning are then applied to the skilled labour training and development centre.
There are plans to incorporate virtual reality into the training curriculums to create more immersive learning experiences.
“We're doing a lot of work that hasn't been done before,” Duval said.
NORCAT's training business has expanded internationally with two recent projects training Goldcorp mining supervisors in Argentina, and providing online training materials to another group of mining supervisors in Kenya.
Duval said positive experiences with both projects have already opened more doors outside of Canada's borders.
NORCAT has also opened a new office in Timmins to provide more training opportunities in one of northeastern Ontario's largest mining jurisdictions.
As for Duval, although he knew very little about Sudbury two years ago, the city has since grown on him.
“I have this civic pride to show off Sudbury as my home and my community,” he said. “I'm still loving it, and I plan to be here for a while.”