When you're first-born son of a Catholic family, there is always this need to succeed in the eyes of your peers.
I always wanted to be a civil engineer, someone who builds concrete, tangible things. A whopping 47% on a first-year calculus exam helped me decide on another career.
As a kid, I was competitive in school, at sports, and with my three brothers. But before building Newcourt Credit, I was a very modest and down-to-earth young accountant. I worked at Ernst & Young and Toronto Hospital, now the University Health Network. Newcourt gave me the Whiz Kid of Bay Street moniker. It was dramatic, entrepreneurial, fast-paced, exciting. With that kind of attention, however, you run the risk of believing your own BS. I don't miss it.
What went right at Newcourt was going from four employees in Canada to more than 6,000 in 26 countries. What went wrong was going too fast. You need to block and tackle every acquisition. At the end, we were doing a deal every quarter, then every month — no pausing for fine tuning. We went a bridge too far.
When I first heard about the Hair Club opportunity, I recalled Sy Sperling's infomercials. I thought used-car sales and said, “No way.” Then I met Sperling. He's a bit of a rogue, but one of the world's great grassroots marketers. He understood the psyche of men who are losing their hair and built a great business model around it.
The average Hair Club client is 35 to 40 years old. He makes 35K to 40K. And his biggest expenditure is his hair.
Most of the hair used in transplants comes from Indian temples, thanks to atonement rituals. Grey hair is the biggest challenge. You'd never guess where it comes from.
My U.S. work visa listed my Hair Club CEO title. Customs was tough whenever the agent I faced was bald.
I'm a better operator than investor. The thing I've really learned is how to pick partners. In Boca Raton, Americans called my Hair Club management team “the Canadian Vikings.” They'd joke that we raided the company. But we executed our plan beautifully. We tripled income in 24 months and doubled our market value. We then sold to Regis, the world's largest salon company.
There aren't as many hotels flying Canadian flags in Florida as there used to be. In that community, you hear a lot about the deterioration of Canada's relationship with the United States. I worry about our access to U.S. goods, services and capital.
I absolutely did not miss Toronto or snow. But I did miss family and friends, and my time in Florida was good because it gave me a chance to see Toronto as a great city. Distance from Bay Street also allowed me to take a therapeutic journey.
I'm no longer into political fundraising. I'm still friends with many good politicians. But fundraising is work that offers very little influence, if any, on the public agenda. It also comes with a lot more scrutiny than you want.
I don't want to sound full of myself, but I've managed to lease helicopters to CHC's Craig Dobbin and given men their hair back. And I've gone from finance to follicles because I understand good business models. I'm now looking to share what I've learned with Canadian firms. I want to be an active investor with significant stakes in mid-size companies, ones that maybe have been beaten up or tarnished and that can benefit from my experiences, good and bad.
A Gulfstream III is the worst investment I've made. Airplanes are worse than restaurants. I leased to almost make the numbers work.
Men need a kick in the butt to deal with image. At Hair Club, 62% of male clients are single or divorced. I wasn't just president. I had 1,148 follicles implanted. I did it single and it didn't hurt. I'm now in a committed relationship after finding the right person.
Born July 9, 1958, in Scarborough, Ont.
Investor; firm builder; Street mover and shaker
1981: Graduates from York University with business degree. Becomes chartered accountant two years later.
1984: Founds Newcourt Credit as medical leasing firm with $400,000; grows it into world's second-largest non-bank lender.
1999: After ruling Bay Street for years, almost botches merger with U.S. giant. Leaves Newcourt and hero Street rep behind.
2002: Returns to spotlight after surprise acquisition of Sy Sperling's Florida-based Hair Club operation with EdgeStone Capital.
2005: Returns to Toronto with money to invest after growing and selling new-and-improved Hair Club for $260 million.