Annette Verschuren, OC, business executive, entrepreneur (born 24 June 1956 in North Sydney, NS). Verschuren studied business at St. Francis Xavier University and also holds a number of honorary doctorates. Best known for her 15 years as the president of The Home Depot Canada, Verschuren co-founded Toronto energy-storage start-up NRStor in 2012 and serves as its chair and CEO. She has served on several government-appointed bodies and the boards of Canadian businesses and non-profits.
Born in 1956 in rural North Sydney, Nova Scotia, Annette Verschuren grew up on a Cape Breton dairy farm with four other siblings. Her father, who emigrated from Holland, had a heart attack when Verschuren was 10. Since he was unable to continue his daily work, farm operations fell to Verschuren’s mother and her five young children. This was a gruelling time in Verschuren’s life, one that she credits with teaching her the value of hard work and problem solving in a team environment.
Annette Verschuren began her career as a development officer in the coal mining sector for the Cape Breton Development Corporation in 1977 before joining the Canada Development Investment Corporation as their executive vice president. After running mining company Imasco’s corporate development division as vice president, she made her foray into retail by heading up Michaels Canada (the Canadian division of the American craft store) as its president and co-owner in 1993. There, she showed her aptitude for accelerating growth by bringing the business north of the border, opening 17 stores in Canada within 26 months. After three years in the post, she joined The Home Depot Canada in a dual role as president and CEO.
President and CEO of The Home Depot Canada
Photo taken 17 March 2012. (Courtesy Michel G./flickr CC)
Annette Verschuren joined The Home Depot Canada in March of 1996, just after the American home improvement retailer expanded into the Canadian market and opened its first 19 stores. This was still in the early days of large, warehouse-style stores, but despite doubts from Arthur Blank (CEO of the parent company at the time) that The Home Depot could surpass 50 stores in Canada, Verschuren brought the retailer to 179 Canadian stores within 15 years. In addition to growing the business in Canada, she also led the launch of Expo Design Centers, an American sister chain that catered to upscale consumers.
Her experience in international expansion proved useful when she was hand-picked by Frank Blake, the soon-to-be CEO of the US parent company, to oversee The Home Depot’s 2006 expansion into China. Their proposed way of entry into the world’s most populous market was to acquire The Home Way, a home improvement retailer with 12 stores in six Chinese cities — including capital city Beijing.
The China expansion was unsuccessful. After six years of operating losses, The Home Depot decided to shutter all seven of its remaining stores. The chain hadn’t manage to localize the product well enough to suit Chinese tastes. While The Home Depot sold do-it-yourself products, the Chinese market demanded more of a do-it-for-me approach. Still, during Verschuren’s time at The Home Depot, she led the retailer to unprecedented growth in Canada as sales grew from $660 million to $6 billion in her 15-year term as president and CEO.
Chair and CEO of NRStor
After stepping down from The Home Depot, Annette Vershuren married long-time partner Stan Shibinsky. The couple took a one-year trip around the world, visiting much of Europe and Southeast Asia. Verschuren considered it her first real vacation since she was a child. During her travels, she learned a great deal about the environmental issues plaguing the world, in particular those surrounding food, water and energy.
Inspired by what she saw on her trip, Verschuren set out to make a difference in the energy sector by co-founding NRStor, a Toronto-based energy-storage start-up created in 2012 when she was 56 years old. Within two years of launch, Verschuren, at the helm as chair and CEO, spearheaded the installation of Canada’s first commercial grid-connected energy-storage flywheel in Minto, Ontario. Featuring a mechanical battery that stores electricity using kinetic motion, the facility helps balance energy on the power grid on a short-term basis. NRStor also partnered with Opus One to bring Tesla’s Powerwall home battery to Canada in 2015.
Other Leadership Roles
Annette Verschuren is a board member for several companies, including Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, Air Canada, Saputo and Canadian Natural Resources.
She has served on a number of government-appointed bodies. She was among the 11 business leaders on finance minister Jim Flaherty’s Economic Advisory Council, which was tasked with advising the Canadian government during the 2008 recession. Verschuren was also appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to the North American Competitiveness Council in 2008. During Harper’s third term, she chaired the federal government’s Expert Panel for the Venture Capital Action Plan. She has been a member of the federal Science, Technology and Innovation Council and chaired Ontario’s Clean Energy Task Force. In 2012, she chaired the Governor General’s Leadership Conference.
Verschuren’s leadership also extends to the non-profit and university sectors. She is chair of the MaRS Discovery District’s board of directors and sits on the board of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation. She is also chancellor of Cape Breton University, where she led fundraising efforts for the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment, which opened in 2011.
Verschuren lives with her husband, Stan Shibinsky, in Toronto.
Bet on Me: Leading and Succeeding in Business and in Life (2016).
Honours and Awards
- Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, Mount Saint Vincent University (1996)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, St. Francis Xavier University (2001)
- Distinguished Canadian Retailer of the Year, Retail Council of Canada (2005)
- Outstanding Business Leader of the Year, Wilfrid Laurier University (2006)
- CNW Group Communicator of the Year, International Association of Business Communicators Toronto (2007)
- Inductee, Marketing Hall of Legends, American Marketing Association Toronto (2010)
- Inductee, Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame (2010)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2011)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Dalhousie University (2012)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Carleton University (2013)
- Testimonial Award, Public Policy Forum (2014)
- Honorary Doctor of Civil Law, Saint Mary’s University (2016)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, York University (2018)
- Companion, Canadian Business Hall of Fame (2019)