Growing Together

"There was never any sense of 'us and them', it was always 'us'. They're in it for the long haul; they're not going to compromise their reputation by taking shortcuts."

Martin Connell


ACE Bakery

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CEO Insider: Martin Connell, Co-Founder, ACE Bakery

ACE Bakery is a leading Canadian producer of fresh and par-baked artisan breads that are sold through leading Canadian grocery retailers, boutique food markets in Ontario and a number of large grocery retailers in the U.S.

On Growing Together:

"Ace was growing. Growth capital was becoming a challenge. There was an issue around building management bench strength and capacity if we were to keep on growing the business. Eventually Birch Hill became a full-fledged partner with two-thirds equity.

Everyone was there for the same reason. There was never any sense of "us and them," it was always "us." They're in it for the long haul; they're not going to compromise their reputation by taking shortcuts. And they work right alongside the CEO to make sure that everybody's pulling in the same direction."

On Working Together:

"Our brand equity included a commitment to quality and community, making the best bread we could that was healthy for you, using all natural ingredients. With Birch Hill, there was never any debate about the importance of the brand in terms of communicating value to the customers and creating a foundation for business growth around it.

Employees had a lot of anxiety during the transition, but once they realized there would be no change, they were fine. Through the entire relationship with Birch Hill, from them buying into ACE to selling it to Weston's—and even after that—not one employee was terminated.

The foundation of all of Birch Hills's relationships that I've been able to witness is respect and fairness. Birch Hill is very straightforward with their executives in terms of their expectations. They always build on the notion that, "if it's good for you, it's good for me." I didn't feel we'd lost the company. Birch Hill was so hands-off in how we conducted our business that we almost forgot they were there."

Advice to CEOs

"There comes a time in all entrepreneurial enterprises when you start running into walls of capacity. Or you want to take some money off the table and stay engaged but not at quite at the same level. At that moment Birch Hill probably offers the best opportunity for lightening the load or getting out. In either case, you're going to be happy with the outcome because they're extremely fair-minded. All negotiations and discussions with them were totally transparent and totally fair.

Now, I'm an investor. I sit on one of the Boards of their partner corporations so I see Birch Hill at work basically doing the same things that they did with us."