Above, from left to right: Patrick Isada, VP Human Resources; Nell Halse, VP Comunications; Glenn Cooke, CEO; and Kris Nicholls, COO of Cooke Aquaculture.
We sat down with Nell Halse, VP of Communications with Cooke Aquaculture to talk about their new corporate headquarters under Cooke Inc. in Brick Park. We chatted about the impetus behind the move, how they’re enjoying the new digs, and what the future holds for Cooke.
With recent acquisitions in places as far flung as Uruguay and Argentina, Cooke is a serious competitor in a global marketplace with a focus on maintaining its leadership position. And with their executive team always on the go these days, we’d be remiss not mentioning that so too, is their coveted ocean farm-raised Atlantic Salmon – selected to be served to the President of the USA on inauguration day this past January.
When you’re a company that’s experiencing as much worldwide growth as Cooke Aquaculture and its affiliated businesses, there is no denying the need to be near an airport. From Spain to Scotland, Alaska to Argentina and many places in between, Cooke is on the move. The company, based in Charlotte County, New Brunswick, just outside Saint John, has expanded over the past 30 years to include operations from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S., and around the world. A producer of high-quality salmon, sea bass and sea bream and now wild caught fishery products like scallops, wild salmon, black cod, hake and specialty products like skewers and smoked salmon, Cooke Aquaculture employs 5,000 people worldwide. The company boasts global sales approaching $2 billion. “Blacks Harbour and St. George are the hub of our operations and our success is rooted there. Cooke Aquaculture’s head office will remain in Blacks Harbour, but we needed a corporate office in Saint John for our global business dealings,” says Nell Halse, Vice President of Communications at Cooke Aquaculture.
Cooke opened an office in Saint John’s north end on Metcalfe Street 10 years ago, but after years of aggressive growth and global acquisitions, the company soon outgrew that space. “Each of our acquisitions and any wholly-owned subsidiaries brings new people, and we needed a bigger corporate headquarters,” says Halse. “We enjoyed being in the north end, but our new location [on Wellington Row] gives us more of an identity within Saint John and the business community.”
In 2011, Cooke Aquaculture CEO Glenn Cooke purchased the building on Wellington Row in the heart of Uptown Saint John. Before they could move in, the building needed a retrofit and a renovation to match the progressive vision of the company. Once it became clear that more space was needed, Cooke began making the arrangements. No detail was missed and all conveniences were considered for their employees.
“We wanted to make sure our employees had convenient parking,” says Halse. “We purchased two nearby buildings that had passed their useful life and built secure parking. Making sure our employees don’t have to worry about finding parking each day means that they’re are able to be more involved socially at lunch and after work,” explains Halse.
Glenhar Builders did the building and contracting work and Pam Cooke, wife of Glenn Cooke, designed the interior. In the fall of 2016, Cooke was ready to settle in. “It took a few years to get everything done because we were otherwise occupied,” says Halse. “The original idea was to use the bottom two floors and rent out the upper floors, but as the company continued to grow it became clear we needed the whole space.”
Their new corporate headquarters on Wellington Row may look like a typical concrete office building from its exterior, but inside is something special. “You wouldn’t necessarily know from the outside, but inside it’s bright, airy and charming. It has a very cosmopolitan feel to it,” says Halse. In the basement is a kitchen that looks like a restaurant, and a coffee bistro with comfy chairs. “That design was deliberate,” says Halse. “We don’t want people sitting at their desks eating lunch, or taking a coffee break alone; we want people to gather and interact with each other. Especially because the company is international, we want to encourage our employees to be curious about what people are working on and really interested in what’s happening.”
Above: Dwayne Stoddart, Global Logistics Manager, and Sharon Veinot, Legal Assistant, review documents in the two-story foyer under the new atrium.
Maintaining an open, familial culture is important at Cooke Aquaculture. “Our family values are deeply rooted,” says Halse. “In the early days, the Cooke family would host a Christmas dinner for their employees around their dining room table. The spirit of that tradition continues, and we now have a Christmas dinner for all of our employees throughout Atlantic Canada and Maine. We also have an annual kids’ carnival in Blacks Harbour every May that draws to up 800 people. We encourage our subsidiary operations to do something similar for their employees and communities.”
Halse says Cooke is looking forward to having more of a presence in the Uptown, thanks to their new location. “Being in the core of the city with the ability to walk everywhere is a real change to our culture,” she says. “Everyday tasks are so much easier because everything is in walking distance now. Whether it’s renewing a driver’s license at Service New Brunswick, or going to a bank appointment at one of the many branches uptown, we’re so lucky to be a stone’s throw from everything now,” says Halse. And it doesn’t stop there. From a business perspective Cooke is just getting started integrating into its new community. “We plan on being more involved with the Regional Chamber of Commerce,” notes Halse. “Our first retail seafood store, North Market Seafood in the City Market, is only steps away now. We want to make the most of that location and really boost our presence in Brick Park.”
Above:Seth Dunlop, Global Business Development, and Glenn Cooke, CEO, serve homemade fish chowder to colleagues in the staff kitchen.
Cooke plans to continue using its fully integrated business strategy to learn, grow and innovate from its new home. The company is always looking for new challenges and ways to strengthen its product and services. “We’ll likely see more growth in our fisheries business, and also in the control of the value chain,” says Halse. “We have a continuous improvement department that’s focusing on ways in which to grow and adapt and pioneer change.”