15 minutes with Gilbert 'Luck' Gluck

Gilbert GluckThe success of Gilbert Gluck, founder and CEO of Cyvex Nutrition, can be credited to industriousness, ingeniousness and luck, but there is another attribute that stands out: focus. Since 1978, Gluck founded companies around meal replacement, sprouts, shark cartilage and red-wine extract, Cyvex Nutrition's founding ingredient. Here he shares some of the secrets of his success

Fi: Your last name translates to the word luck. Was it luck or something else that has led to your success?

GG: I learned from the school of hard knocks. I was born in Romania in the 1960s, when Communism began to crumble and government officials were desperate for money. Each one of my family members was sold for $2,000. I only learned this last year, after my parents had passed away. They never knew this brutal fact. In 1964, we left for Rome with nothing; after a short time there, we boarded a soon-to-be-defunct cruise ship on its last voyage to Halifax, Canada. Eventually, Toronto became home. I was 18, spoke no English and had not yet finished high school, so I unloaded railway cars of lumber for a living. In time, I was able to garner a job as a dairy technician, thanks to a coincidence that three out of four quality-control people in the lab were born on the same day, on the same month, at 10-year intervals. The person hiring was one of those, and so was I; hence, I was hired over other better-qualified candidates, which afforded me a career. This led to my entering the university to study food science. In 1978, after losing a job in the Canadian food industry, I founded Bionex Corp with my last $300 and in 1983, we took the company public on NASDAQ; in 1984, I founded Cyvex Corp, as a Canadian supplier of food ingredients, and Martha's Garden, Ontario's largest sprout grower.

Fi: You left Canada in 1989 and headed for California, where your foray into consulting on dietary supplements and manufacturing pet treats didn't work out as planned. What did you learn from that experience?

GG: For five years I was trying to jumpstart my business in California with little success. I was addicted to the 60 Minutes news programme and I happened to watch 'Sharks Don't Get Cancer' one evening in 1994. This was the jump-start I needed, so I found a seafood processor in San Diego who was willing to sell me shark bones (cartilage). It took a long time to process, dry, sterilize and package, but the demand was so phenomenal we could not fill the orders. But it didn't last. Negative press drove the demand down as sharply as it rose. I let go of my only two employees and was left with virtually nothing until a customer called about a new ingredient, grape-seed extract. I acquired a sample at a Paris trade show and took the samples to a local analytical lab. I was told it was the best grape extract they had ever seen. BioVin, the first full-spectrum grape extract was born. The rest is history.

This experience taught me to focus on what you know best and don't deviate from your core business. In today's shaky business world, the reality is that business owners who have financial difficulty deviated along the way from their core business. Lack of capital is a symptom, not the reason for failure. I believe that the opportunities are still out there. With the ageing of my generation, there will be an increase in demand for what our industry provides.

Gluck says he is not getting enough exercise, so he is looking for a buyer for the Segway that he rides to work every day, pictured above.

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