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Keith Phillips

Forty under 40 winner 2018; President and founder, West Coast Aquatic Safaris, Age 39
Chung Chow

Finding the right career can be a daunting task. For many it means putting in long, difficult hours of work they don’t enjoy in the hope that it will eventually lead them to their dream job. 

Keith Phillips found another way – he decided to create his own dream job.

“I wanted to make a better planet; I wanted to make something unique and that was better than what was being offered,” he said. 

Always one to pursue unique experiences, when studying at the University of Victoria, Phillips took on a number of jobs not typically on the resumé of an entrepreneur. He volunteered under the mentorship of a graduate student at the university’s whale lab and joined the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary to fight fires, help people and save lives on B.C.’s coast. 

One day while he was working in the whale lab, his beeper went off, signalling that someone needed his help. Later, when he got back to the lab, the graduate student he was working with asked why he didn’t put his love of the ocean and his love of nature and whales together. Phillips hadn’t made the connection before, but the observation inspired him to jump into the whale-watching industry. 

Soon he would move to Tofino to launch his own new whale-watching experience, but not until he worked for other whale-watching businesses across Vancouver Island to learn exactly what they were doing right – and wrong.

For Phillips, launching West Coast Aquatic Safaris in Tofino was more than just creating another iteration in a long line of whale-watching tour providers. He focused on making the whale-watching adventure better, whether tackling the challenge of making sure that people could enjoy both indoor and outdoor viewing experiences on the same boat, or simply providing washroom facilities for guests. Phillips wanted to put his spin on the business and change the local industry for the better. 

Phillips said if there were a book about his life, it might be called “Running Through a Dark Forest.” 

“I’ve gone into a very unknown, running as hard as I can through it. I’ve tripped along the way but it’s about getting up and running some more.”

Birthplace: Terrace

Where you live now: Tofino and Vancouver

Highest level of education: MBA and marine master certification

Currently reading: Factfulness by Hans Rosling and Full Disclosure by Beverley McLachlin 

Currently listening to: This American Life podcast and 99% Invisible podcast

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Firefighter

Profession you would most like to try: Journalist

Toughest business or professional decision: To go back to school to get my MBA

Advice you would give the younger you: Take things less seriously

What’s left to do: What isn’t there left to do? Make the coast the safest coastline and let people know how awesome B.C. is