Eric Cook Proves You Don't Need to Leave New Brunswick to Drive Innovation

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on Feb 6, 2018

Category: Alumni Spotlight

You might not immediately think that a young boy loading potato trucks in the red-soil fields of Prince Edward Island would one day be a leader in the innovation business. Yet accelerating innovation is exactly what Eric Cook (BScME’88), P.Eng, is doing in his role as CEO/Executive Director the Research and Productivity Council (RPC).

RPC is New Brunswick’s provincial research organization that provides scientific services and technological innovation to business partners and industry. The organization employs over 130 scientists, engineers and technologists carrying out business-led research and analytical services such as testing and inspections. It’s fully funded by business client revenue, and Eric is quick to say that this model works well because it forces them to move “at the speed of business, which is always changing.”

Cook loves to keep a close eye on future trends and innovation and emphasizes that “innovation is the conversion of ideas into money not to be confused with invention, which is the conversion of money into ideas. Discoveries remain invention until there is economic or social value achieved for them to become innovation.”

One of the things he’s excited about right now is Industry 4.0, also called Digitization, as part of the sixth wave of innovation that we’re now entering.  He feels that Industry 4.0 is the newest hope for improving Canada’s productivity performance. “There is enormous economic potential when innovation is part of business strategy.” Cook sits on the board of Genome Canada, and says that genomics is also a huge part of the sixth wave and feels that it has the potential to help Atlantic Canada renew our natural resource industries and excel economically and environmentally. Genomics is the science that aims to decipher and understand the entire genetic information of an organism encoded in its DNA and related molecules. “The knowledge emerging from this field can be used to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change on our traditional industries like forestry, agriculture, fisheries and food production, while also accelerating our pursuit of cleantech and protecting our environment,” Cook explains.

Eric’s enthusiasm for innovation seems to stem back to his early days at UNB, where he had transferred to complete his Mechanical Engineering degree after beginning his studies at UPEI. Little did he know that he would stay in New Brunswick for the long haul.

He had a natural interest in mechanics (he was a mechanic’s assistant for a trucking company hauling those PEI potatoes as well) and also for biomechanics, which he studied under Dr. Ed Biden as a graduate student upon completion of his bachelor’s degree. During that time he also took a job at UNB’s Manufacturing Technology Centre when it expanded to serve new aerospace clients when the federal government purchased its fleet of C18 fighter jets. “It was a super exciting time. We were doing ground-breaking work with new CAD/CAM software and even trained the companies that were manufacturing components of the first space station!”

Experience in space-related work led him to a job at COM DEV Atlantic, a leading satellite technology and space sciences company that expanded to Moncton at the time. “I had completed my graduate work and had even done the first defense of my thesis, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity, so I left the program without graduating. But the job turned out to be a phenomenal experience that was almost too good to be true.”

It’s easy to understand why. Over the next few years, Eric got the chance to work with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, was part of a team that managed the development of a first-to-flight, vibration-suppressed cryogenic cooling system marrying the technology of British Aerospace and Lockheed Martin, and led a team to develop Canada’s first inter-planetary space science instrument for a mission to Mars. “As a young engineer, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Eric made a brief leap to APEX in Moncton to do business development work with companies like Bombardier and Boeing, but was soon lured back to COM DEV to become the General Manager and move the company into the wireless communications field. While leading an expansion to over 400 people in the factory, he went back to school at UdeM to complete his MBA. During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s the organization became an innovative leader in cell phone filtering and noise amplification technology. They did “leading edge stuff” for communications giants like Nokia, Nortel and Motorola.

As mergers and acquisitions swept the country, COM DEV was one of the casualties, and the Moncton operation closed. It was then that Eric was asked to join RPC as CEO and Executive Director, and he made the move back to Fredericton. “I was blown away by the brilliant people that work here, by their talent and commitment to customers. The people here possess that rare quality of being both advanced scientists and business savvy.”

The research and development work (with a heavy emphasis on development) being done at RPC is driven by New Brunswick’s economy and niche business needs. “Diversity is our strength, and we’ve also learned to be very agile. We’ve been able to move quickly when industry changes.”

A good example of that is their focus in the last few years on medical marijuana testing; they’re now a leader in the analysis of cannabis, which has been a big factor in the 25% revenue growth they’ve seen this year. And with over 1000 clients in 30 countries around the world, RPC is poised for continued growth and success. The strategic plan includes investment in both a renewal of current facilities and equipment and an expansion of the building on College Hill Rd. in Fredericton.

The combination of engineering and business training, along with a continuous passion for learning and seeking future trends is, Eric believes, a big part of his success and satisfaction in his career. “I’ve had phenomenal experiences in the last 30 years, and all without leaving New Brunswick. It’s a great place to live and work.”