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Collaborative success: Jake Augustine's journey to leadership and empowerment

Author: Angie Deveau

Posted on Jun 28, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , UNB Saint John

Jake Augustine

Over the next four weeks, the University of New Brunswick (UNB) will shine a light on innovation and entrepreneurship at UNB through stories that inspire, transform, provoke, and drive society toward a brighter, healthier tomorrow. This is the second story in the series.

Jake Augustine, a transformative force in the New Brunswick seafood industry, is charting a future where McGraw Seafood's success transcends financial achievements.

Inspired by his experience at the Wallace McCain Institute (WMI) at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), an experiential, peer-based program for growth-stage entrepreneurs, Augustine is driven to make a positive and lasting impact on the Elsipogtog First Nation, the Acadian community and the wider region.

By fostering an environment of respect, inclusivity and collaboration, he has been able to pivot, prosper and give back to the community. Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to embrace diversity and work together toward a brighter future.

When Augustine began his journey at the WMI, he was undergoing a difficult transition in his life. He had recently come out to his family, taking a significant step that brought about emotions and uncertainties.

In the safe and inclusive environment of WMI, Augustine felt empowered to be his authentic self and fully engage in the program.

"WMI welcomed me with open arms and made me feel seen and heard,” he said. “The genuine acceptance I experienced from my peers created a sense of belonging and gave me the strength to navigate this challenging chapter in my life."

Augustine, who grew up in Elsipogtog First Nation, had a deep connection to his culture and community. After completing a bachelor's degree in management at Dalhousie University in 2012, he applied for the assistant manager role at McGraw Seafood. Leadership saw Augustine as a natural fit for the position. He eventually transitioned from assistant manager to general manager through a carefully crafted five-year plan.

As an Indigenous-owned seafood processing company, McGraw Seafood plays a role in the community's economic development. Originally owned by Edmond McGraw, who set up the company in 1973, McGraw Seafood processes snow crab for American and Japanese markets. In 2008, the Elsipogtog community bought the company with the intention of expanding and giving back.

Since then, McGraw Seafood has experienced significant growth—doubling its production ability and generating substantial annual revenues. Located in Tracadie, NB, 150 km from Elsipogtog, the company now employs 200 seasonal workers, primarily Acadians, but also some Elsipogtog residents. The company also recently constructed a state-of-the-art production facility which has improved its operations and allowed it to achieve and maintain British Retail Consortium (BRC) certification at the highest level.

Much of that success can be attributed to Augustine's leadership. With the help of his mentor, Gilles Theriault, and his experience at WMI, Augustine has developed and implemented various innovative strategies at McGraw Seafood. These include a sustainable project the company uses to generate bait for lobsters and crabs. McGraw Seafood has also invested in initiatives in the Elsipogtog community, including housing, a school lunch program and various other community projects.

“In 2016, we invested $2 million into housing and built 12 units,” he said. “The benefits that are generated from rent are reinvested into new housing. We’re up to 16 units now and we're hoping to build approximately one each year.”

“We also supplement the band’s infrastructure budget in snowploughs and school buses, and we also invested in two vessels that operate as standalone businesses, and the benefits from that are used to support new employment in those projects.”

They also built their own sweat lodge on the company grounds with the guidance of an elder.

“Two summers ago, 20 people came from Elsipogtog, along with a few local people here built this together,” said Augustine. “We've been having a monthly ceremony where we invite the entire company to take part. We also have our kitchen staff prepare traditional Acadian and Mi'kmaq dishes. Our focus is on cultural exchange and collaboration.”

During his time at McGraw Seafood, Augustine met challenges beyond his journey. The North American right whale threatens the industry. He has also faced increased quotas and the unforeseen impact of the pandemic.

But through the WMI, Augustine found strength in overcoming those challenges. Adapting to ever-changing conditions, he navigates the dynamic seafood industry with confidence.

The WMI offers Augustine a platform to connect with like-minded individuals and gain insights from diverse perspectives. Group dynamics supply a space for sharing knowledge, learning from each other's experiences and fostering personal and professional growth.

"Peer groups like the Wallace McCain Institute have allowed me to build this network that helps me build my business acumen, develop my own opinions and have more confidence in myself,” he said. “And I would be remiss not to mention the network of incredible people that are part of this and the doors they could open."

The relationships formed within the WMI extend beyond scheduled meetings as members support each other outside of formal sessions. Communication channels like Slack or WhatsApp ease ongoing conversations and facilitate idea sharing and camaraderie.

Janice MacPherson, director of programs at WMI, has known Augustine for several years as he had initially participated in their Strategic Executive Program. But when he took over managing McGraw Seafood, that peer group was no longer the right fit.

“I work with many peer groups in our Entrepreneurial Leaders Program and knew that Jake would be a great fit to join this existing peer group,” said MacPherson.

“In 2022, I introduced Jake to the members of the group, and the fit was perfect. We have watched him learn and grow from his peers, and he provides great guidance to the others in the room. Recently, we toured McGraw Seafood and were all impressed with how well-run his company is. We’re proud to have him as part of WMI.”

Augustine reflected on his experience at WMI, saying, "Over the last few years, we've been through some of our most challenging times. Members of my cohort have helped me through many tough decisions. It's an excellent support system. It's also an honour to share my knowledge about being Indigenous and bring that perspective to the table. It's been amazing."

Learn more about how WMI can support you on your entrepreneurial journey.

Read the first story in the series: Social innovation lab connects early childhood educators