Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

The Rise of Alternative Investments: Navigating New Opportunities for Diversification

Thursday, April 25th, 2024

By Kevin Parton, Partner, Senior Advisor


In the ever-evolving landscape of investing, a significant trend has emerged that captures the attention of both individual and institutional investors alike: the shift towards alternative investments. This movement is not just a fad but a strategic pivot to diversify investment portfolios beyond the traditional confines of stocks, bonds, and cash.


Understanding Alternative Investments: What Are Alternative Investments?

Alternative investments encompass a wide array of assets that fall outside the traditional categories of stocks, bonds, and cash. These include:

  • Commodities: Tangible products such as gold, oil, and agricultural goods.
  • Real Estate: Properties that can generate rental income or capital appreciation.
  • Private Equity: Investments in companies that are not listed on a public exchange.
  • Derivatives and Hedge Funds: Complex financial contracts and investment strategies that allow for hedging risks or achieving higher returns by betting on the movement of asset prices.

These types of investments provide an opportunity for substantial diversification. They typically behave differently from standard stocks and bonds, often remaining unaffected by fluctuations in the stock market.


Strategic Incorporation of Alternative Investments

Balancing Risk and Reward

The decision to include alternative investments in a portfolio is calculated and tailored to fit individual risk tolerances and financial goals. While these investments can offer higher returns, they also come with their own set of risks such as lower liquidity and higher volatility. Financial advisors typically recommend allocating between 8% to 12% of an investor’s portfolio to alternative investments, depending on their risk appetite and investment timeline.

Democratization of Investing

One of the most noteworthy trends is the democratization of these sophisticated investment strategies. VELA Wealth’s partners are pioneering efforts to make high-value assets like private equity, private debt, and real estate accessible to retail investors. Through the unitization of these assets, barriers that once restricted access to affluent individuals or institutional entities are being dismantled, paving the way for a more inclusive investment landscape.

Conclusion: Embracing the Shift

The integration of alternative investments into financial planning marks a significant shift in wealth management. It opens up new pathways for investors to diversify their portfolios and enhance potential returns. As the financial landscape continues to unfold, the importance of being informed and adaptable to emerging investment opportunities becomes more pronounced.

VELA Wealth is at the forefront of this shift, providing clients with broader access to a spectrum of investment options that align with their unique financial objectives.

As we continue to witness this evolution, embracing alternative investments could well be a key strategy for those looking to spread their risk and potentially increase their returns in these turbulent times.

This exploration into alternative investments highlights the importance of strategic diversification and the role of key financial entities in facilitating access to complex asset classes. For investors looking to navigate this sophisticated terrain, partnering with adept financial managers who can guide them through the intricacies of regulatory compliance, risk management, and portfolio optimization will be crucial to achieving long-term financial success.


If you’d like to explore more about alternative investments, tune in to one of my recent interviews with Keith Allan, Portfolio Manager at Harness Investment Management, where we discuss the behind-the-scenes look at how VELA Wealth and its partners collaborate to unlock unique investment opportunities.


Disclaimer: The information provided in the article is designed for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security or investment product.

A Candid Conversation with Kevin England

Monday, February 5th, 2024

The interview is hosted by Jason Boudreau and published in Iconic Concierge, Winter 2023/2024


Kevin England

The England Group |Director and Founder of New Hope Recovery Foundation |Chair of BC New Hope Recovery Society |Co-Chair of Classic & Contemporary Car Invitational


Greetings and welcome to the winter edition of Creating Impact! I’d like to start by wishing you a joyous New Year filled with warmth, health, and happiness for you and your loved ones throughout 2024.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to meeting Kevin England, President of the England Group, through a mutual connection. Throughout our interactions, I was met with enthusiasm for life and a passion for vintage cars, right down to the intricate art of cranking and firing up one of his proudest assets – the Ford Model T. As I delved into Kevin’s life, his passion for community and family became more and more evident, offering insights into his remarkable journey and the values that define him.

Kevin’s narrative begins in the rural heartlands of Pembroke, Ontario, where he was born as the fifth of ten children on a bustling dairy farm. This early environment was more than just a place of residence; it was a crucible where the values of hard work and family solidarity were deeply ingrained. Kevin fondly recalls the influence of his grandparents, particularly a 1922 steam engine owned by them, which not only symbolized their hard work but also ignited Kevin’s lifelong fascination with machinery.

Kevin’s educational journey was as unique as his upbringing. He attended a one-room schoolhouse, a setting that not only provided academic learning but also reinforced his understanding of community and collective identity. This early exposure to diverse age groups and the need for cooperation undoubtedly laid the groundwork for his later success in team environments and business collaborations.

After completing high school, Kevin embarked on a gap year adventure in Europe. This experience broadened his horizons, instilling in him a sense of independence and a global perspective.

His journey into the professional world began with humble experiences that forged his character. Hitchhiking to Fort McMurray, Alberta, seeking better job opportunities, Kevin engaged in various roles, from construction to driving gravel trucks. Amidst these experiences, a serendipitous interview with IBM altered the course of his life.

At 25, Kevin embarked on his career with IBM, where he not only honed technical skills but also developed crucial interpersonal talents, fostering relationships that would later shape his trajectory. Kevin’s time at IBM was marked by a thirst for knowledge and an unrelenting work ethic, immersing himself in diverse projects, learning the intricacies of technology and business dynamics.

Kevin’s journey into the realm of real estate began as a branch manager with Imperial Group. His career trajectory took an intriguing turn when a transfer whisked him away from Vancouver to Edmonton. Upon returning to Vancouver, he delved into a two-year stint with Qualico, immersing himself in many roles that extended beyond his job description. This approach, characterized by an insatiable appetite for learning from diverse company divisions and individuals, laid the groundwork for his eventual foray into establishing his own real estate syndication investment company, The England Group.

The decision to venture into this new territory proved to be a turning point of immense significance. Recognizing the potential in the real estate landscape, particularly in Texas, Kevin embarked on a path to familiarize himself extensively with this market.

His strategic approach during the early ’90s, a period marred by market crashes and overbuilding, was unconventional yet astute. “We focused on purchasing existing properties in those areas, preferably gated communities,” Kevin elaborates. “Our emphasis wasn’t on building; it was on enhancing what was already there.”

Understanding the intrinsic value of amenities and quality living, Kevin’s team didn’t just invest in properties but in experiences. “We enhanced these properties with amenities like tennis courts, gyms, and more,” Kevin says, “as opposed to trying to cut costs, we were actually bringing more value.”

Through treating investors’ properties like family assets, he ensured no deferred maintenance, even deferring his management fees during economic downturns. His innovative financial tactics, like the cash pool loan, and fortified properties, resulted in an impressive 19% annual cash-on-cash return over 25 years. His emphasis on transparency, evident through audited financial statements, built trust and led investors to claim it was one of their best investment experiences ever.

Kevin’s approach wasn’t just about profits; it crafted a legacy of success and satisfaction for all involved. In 2014, he proposed that if the final sale of the portfolio exceeded $20 million above the appraised value, investors would donate 1% of the proceeds to the B.C. New Hope Recovery Foundation. This foundation’s initial focus was to support Baldy Hughes, a therapeutic addiction treatment community and farm, in Prince George, B.C. The portfolio value surged to an astounding US$288 million (initially appraised at US$220 million), and with an additional CA$52 million sale of a property in Toronto, a CA$4 million donation was made to enhance support and addiction services.

Kevin shared, “helping young men who struggle with demons has been very gratifying and that’s where I realized that it’s fun to do properties to make money, but it’s a lot more fun to go out and bring people together and do good in the community. That has become my passion.”

In recognition of his unwavering commitment to community service, Kevin received a Medal of Good Citizenship from the Premier of British Columbia on September 14, 2016. This prestigious award stands as a testament to his dedication and outstanding contributions to the well-being of society.

Today, Kevin remains focused and committed to supporting young men and women who are battling addiction, sharing, “my most important and impactful work is still ahead, where I am a strong advocate for individuals in need of a solution for their disease of alcoholism and addiction, in the province of British Columbia and across Canada”.

A deep-rooted passion for vintage cars, stemming from his childhood memories of his grandparents’ steam engine, has evolved into a significant aspect of Kevin’s life. His vintage car collection is not just a personal love; it serves as a conduit for his charitable work, most notably through hosting car shows after a moving experience at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.

His convertible Model T ride for a family staying at the hospice, led to the idea of organizing a car show to raise money to support Canuck Place and cancer research. Kevin was beaming when he shared about his passion for this event, “Helping others enhances my personal life so much because I have been blessed with so much. When I see these other people struggling and I get to help them, that re-grounds me, resets me, and that’s a blessing.”

Since its inception three years ago, the Classic & Contemporary Car Invitational has been able to raise over $2.5 million, with the next one upcoming on June 15th, 2024, taking place the day before Father’s Day.

Speaking with Kevin about the car show being centred around Father’s Day, led to me then learn about his role as a family man being central to his identity. He speaks of his children and grandchildren with immense pride and joy, cherishing the moments spent with them, especially through sharing his love for vintage cars at the car shows, or by taking rides together around the city. For Kevin, these moments are not just familial bonding but opportunities to instill in the younger generation the values of hard work, passion, and the joy of giving back.

Kevin’s zest for life extends beyond his professional and philanthropic interests. He is an avid kite surfer and enjoys electric foiling, activities that reflect his love for adventure and the outdoors. These hobbies, while providing personal satisfaction, also offer him a sense of balance and rejuvenation, essential in sustaining his high-energy lifestyle. Travel forms another crucial element of Kevin’s life. His trips are not just vacations; they are journeys that offer cultural exposure, adventure, and opportunities to meet diverse people. His experiences in places like New Mexico, Brazil, and Thailand have enriched his perspective, enabling him to embrace a more holistic view of the world.

As we closed out our candid conversation, I asked Kevin to share some words of wisdom, particularly to younger people, regarding philanthropy and giving back. “Go with your passion, pick something that truly moves you and you’ll be able to galvanize others to come together with you to make a difference!”

Kevin England’s life story is a compelling narrative and serves as an inspiring example of how a life driven by purpose, passion, and a desire to make a positive impact can truly create a lasting legacy. He hopes his journey will serve as source of inspiration, motivating individuals to pursue their aspirations with unwavering dedication, confront challenges with resilience, and, most importantly, leverage their achievements as a foundation for fostering a positive and enduring influence on society.

Navigating Life’s Purpose: A Journey of Entrepreneurship, Reflection, and Philanthropy with Som Seif

Friday, December 15th, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of finance and entrepreneurship, Som Seif’s narrative unfolds as a compelling journey marked by resilience, purpose, and a commitment to positive change.

Som’s story begins with his family’s immigration from Iran to Canada during the Iranian Revolution when he was just three years old. This move not only altered the geographical coordinates of his life but set the stage for a transformative journey that would shape his future endeavors.

Choosing Canada, guided by advice received while Som’s father was studying in England, proved to be a pivotal moment. This early chapter in his life underlines the transformative power of immigration and the doors it can open for personal and professional growth.

As Som’s journey progresses, we gain insight into the early ambitions of a young mind driven by creativity. Initially aspiring to become an architect, practical advice from seasoned professionals steered him toward engineering at the University of Toronto. His entry into the world of RBC Investment Banking in 1999 coincided with the challenges and excitement of the early 2000s tech bubble.

However, a critical moment of introspection at the age of 25 became a turning point. Som questioned the singular pursuit of wealth and redirected his focus towards a deeper sense of fulfillment. This pivotal moment laid the groundwork for a trajectory aligned with his passion for progress and innovation.

Som’s entrepreneurial journey takes center stage with the founding of Claymore in 2005. Motivated by a vision to revolutionize asset management, Claymore emerged as a key player in the Canadian financial landscape, challenging industry norms related to fees and transparency. The subsequent acquisition of Claymore by BlackRock in 2012 marked a transition, propelling Som into a new venture—Purpose.

At the heart of Purpose was a broader vision for the financial services industry. As a co-founder of Wealthsimple, Som demonstrated a commitment to driving innovation across various facets of financial services. The journey through entrepreneurship unfolded with strategic decisions, challenges, and moments of reflection that collectively shaped Som’s trajectory.

Beyond the entrepreneurial milestones, Som shares personal reflections on happiness and the evolution of his priorities. A poignant moment at 25, working late hours in investment banking, prompted him to question the pursuit of wealth at the expense of genuine happiness. This introspection led to a commitment to building a life that aligned with his values.

Som candidly discusses his early ambition for wealth, the decision to leave the security of a corporate role at 28, and the subsequent founding of his first company. The narrative weaves through the sale of Claymore, the inception of Purpose, and the ongoing pursuit of impactful ventures. The delicate balance between professional ambition and personal fulfillment becomes evident.

Family life takes a significant place in Som’s narrative, including the decision to have a large family. Drawing from his upbringing in a loving and dynamic household, Som expresses gratitude for the joy and support he experienced. The discussion touches upon the profound impact of the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of being present and redefining priorities.

Insights into Som’s evolving perspective on work-life balance emerge, recounting the transformative effect of becoming a parent. The pandemic serves as a catalyst for a deeper understanding of the value of presence, leading Som to redefine his approach to both professional and personal aspects of life.

Som delves into the role of immigration in Canada’s economic growth and innovation. Drawing parallels with the U.S.’s emphasis on intellectual property, Som underscores the pivotal role of immigration in sustaining Canada’s economic development. The dialogue highlights the significance of fostering an environment that attracts talent and drives economic growth.

The narrative takes a philanthropic turn as Som shares his longstanding commitment to giving back to society. Reflecting on his experiences as a Big Brother during university, he emphasizes the joy and impact that come with giving. He shares his belief in the duty to give back, rooted in gratitude for the opportunities Canada provided him.

Som’s aspirations for the future include a commitment to philanthropy with a focus on creating sustained impact. He expresses excitement about integrating an entrepreneurial spirit into his philanthropic endeavors, aligning with his vision to drive meaningful change in society.

The tapestry of Som Seif’s journey—from immigration to entrepreneurship and philanthropy—resonates as a testament to the transformative power of purpose-driven pursuits. In a world often dominated by narratives of ambition and financial success, Som’s story stands out as a reminder of the profound impact that aligning one’s actions with values can have on personal and professional fulfillment.

Som’s journey is more than a series of career milestones; it’s a testament to the enduring values of resilience, curiosity, and the pursuit of meaningful impact. As the narrative draws to a close, the conversation touches on leadership and the responsibility to inspire the next generation. Som articulates the importance of mentorship and creating an environment where aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals can thrive.

The evolving landscape of the financial services industry becomes a focal point as Som explores the impact of fintech and innovation. The conversation provides valuable insights into the intersection of traditional finance and technology, highlighting the transformative potential of purpose-driven businesses.

The podcast delves into the challenges Som faced throughout his entrepreneurial journey, from the early days of Claymore to the current landscape of financial services. Som candidly shares the lessons learned from setbacks, emphasizing the importance of resilience and adaptability. The conversation unfolds as a rich tapestry of triumphs and challenges, providing a nuanced perspective on the entrepreneurial landscape.

Looking to the future, Som shares his thoughts on the future of finance, innovation, and the global economy. The conversation touches on the role of purpose in shaping the future of businesses, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach that considers societal impact alongside financial success.

The richness of Som’s narrative, coupled with thoughtful questions, creates an episode that transcends the conventional boundaries of business discussions. His life experiences—a journey marked by resilience, purpose, and an unwavering commitment to making a positive impact. It serves as a compass, guiding individuals to reflect on their own journeys and consider the profound intersection of passion, purpose, and success.

Looking to the future, Som shares his thoughts on the future of finance, innovation, and the global economy. The conversation touches on the role of purpose in shaping the future of businesses, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach that considers societal impact alongside financial success.

The richness of Som’s narrative, coupled with thoughtful reflections, creates an exploration that transcends conventional boundaries. Som’s journey encourages us to view success not merely as a destination but as a journey—one enriched by purpose, resilience, and the perpetual pursuit of positive impact. As we reflect on the themes of entrepreneurship and the intricate balance between personal and professional fulfillment, Som Seif’s journey stands as a guiding example of the transformative potential embedded in personal narratives.

To listen to the full podcast, click here.

A Candid Conversation with Amar Doman, the President & CEO of The Futura Corporation

Friday, August 4th, 2023

The interview is hosted by Jason Boudreau and published in Iconic Concierge, Summer 2023


Welcome to the summer edition of Creating Impact, it’s great to be back and I hope this finds you and yours doing well and excited for the season we wait all year for! In preparation for this edition, I had the pleasure of spending some time in conversation with visionary entrepreneur and philanthropist, Amar Doman, President & CEO of The Futura Corporation.  I first met Amar a couple of years ago on the football field, as our boys are teammates on a spring flag team. Through our conversations over time, I’ve learned more and more about his journey, and I am grateful he was willing to take time from his packed schedule to share his story for this edition. I am excited to share this candid conversation about Amar’s journey and the transformative impact he has in both business and the community.

The Doman family’s journey can be traced back to the early 1900s when his grandparents embarked on a voyage from India to the UK. However, destiny had a different plan for them, and they eventually found themselves in Canada, first landing in New Westminster and finally settling on Vancouver Island. Amar’s grandfather, Doman Singh, worked as a logger, enduring the challenges of manual labour to provide for his family. Despite the hardships, they persevered, and the family grew, with Amar’s father and uncles shouldering the responsibility of supporting their loved ones.

Education was a luxury, and Amar’s father became the first member of the family to graduate high school. He joined the family business, which began as a humble trucking venture collecting wood scraps for firewood. As the business expanded, the three brothers invested their hard-earned money to acquire a sawmill, steadily building an enterprise that would thrive for years to come. The Doman family became an integral part of the forestry industry on Vancouver Island, contributing to its growth and development.

Amar, the youngest of two siblings, was born in Victoria, where his father had established a division of the lumber business. Growing up surrounded by the lumber mills and the family enterprise, Amar was introduced to the industry at a young age. Under his father’s guidance, he gained firsthand knowledge of the operations, working on machinery, stacking studs, and loading trucks. “We just hopped in the truck with Dad and off we went. It was awesome. I miss those days, and I certainly wouldn’t trade that sort of education for anything”.

Following his graduation from high school, Amar made a pivotal decision that would ultimately shape his destiny. Instead of pursuing post-secondary education, he chose to channel his entrepreneurial spirit, and at the age of 18, armed with a burning ambition, a clear vision, and a $10,000 loan from his mother, Amar started his own lumber remanufacturing company in Victoria.

With three employees by his side, Amar embarked on his entrepreneurial journey. He recalls the early days, juggling responsibilities, answering phone calls while working on the production line. The challenges were abundant, and so were the rewards. As the sole owner of his company, Amar experienced the thrill and satisfaction of owning a thriving small business at a young age. “I’ve always had that sort of independent streak in me that I just wanted to do it on my own.”  It was a testament to his resilience and determination.

1990 became a pivotal year for Amar. Presented with an opportunity to acquire a struggling forestry company in Vancouver, he took the plunge and moved to the bustling city overnight. With focus and relentless effort, Amar turned the company around and soon expanded his business portfolio by purchasing a competing firm. Despite skeptics who doubted his ability to take on such challenges at a young age, Amar’s unyielding commitment and the values instilled in him by his father paved the way for success.

As the late 90s and early 2000s unfolded, Amar faced new milestones and opportunities. He acquired CanWel Building Materials, which was struggling at the time and presented significant challenges. However, with his trademark determination and the support of banking partners who believed in his vision, Amar successfully turned the company around and eventually took it public in 2004. This marked a turning point for him and his team, providing tangible equity ownership for employees and expanding the company’s horizons.

The significance of the “Futura” name, holds a special place in Amar’s heart. Inspired by his father’s small development company, Futura Developments, Amar adopted the name for his own company, The Futura Corporation. The sentimental value and connection to his father make it a cherished part of his entrepreneurial journey. The enterprise now spans North America, with over 4,000 employees and revenues that cleared $3 billion in 2022.

Amar’s family life started to evolve in his 30s when he met his now wife, Natallie. They married and had three children, which Amar considers true wealth. “It was the first time I felt fully wealthy,” shared Amar,” being wealthy in a bank account is one thing, but when you’ve got healthy children and a strong marriage – that’s all you can ask for”.

A strong family and its values play a crucial role in Amar’s life and vision for the future. He believes that parents should assist their children in navigating their starting point and determining their own path. Amar encourages his children to choose a vocation or profession they are passionate about and to start gaining practical experience early on. “One of my children is already working at a young age. And he’s doing well, and he seeks to work, which is great”. Through instilling strong values and work ethic in his children, Amar ensures that they are equipped to make their own mark in life while appreciating the family’s achievements and aspirations.

One of Amar’s proudest moments in his life was his introduction to the BC Lions football team after he acquired the team in 2021, from the late David Braley’s estate. “I was standing there and that was one of those moments I’ll never forget. They’d stopped the whole practice. It was one of those few moments in life that’s just etched in your mind”.

For Amar, owning the BC Lions is not just about growing the fan base or personal achievement, it is an opportunity to re-engage the entire football community. He believes in the power of sports, particularly football, in helping kids develop valuable skills and fostering their personal growth. Amar’s vision for the BC Lions extends beyond the boundaries of Vancouver. He is determined to make the BC Lions more than just a football team—it is a symbol of provincial pride, shared values, and the power of sports to bring people together.

Amar’s commitment to inclusivity and community involvement is evident in his efforts to make the BC Lions more accessible. He has worked closely with TSN and the CFL to schedule games at more convenient times, allowing fans from Vancouver Island and other regions to attend without the burden of expensive hotel stays or late-night travel.

Actively involved with his own children’s football teams, including coaching, Amar encourages young individuals to embrace empathy, kindness, and integrity as they navigate their journey through life. Through instilling these values at a young age, Amar believes that they can cultivate a future generation of compassionate and impactful citizens who strive to make a positive difference in the world.

Amar urges young minds to be independent thinkers and to stand up against peer pressure, even when it’s challenging. He emphasizes to his own kids, the importance of recognizing that not everyone is fortunate enough to have what they have. “If there’s a new kids in your class, reach out, put your hand out, welcome them. That’s the type of citizens I want our kids to be – to help others and just be that good person”.

With a big heart for the community, Amar and Natallie have been meaningfully contributing to causes such as the CKNW Kids’ fund and Heart and Stroke Foundation for many years. In the context of philanthropy, Amar shared that he believes the term “giving back” is often overused, and instead, he sees it simply as just giving, without expecting anything in return. Amar believes that when one has achieved a certain level of success, it is important to share that success with others. “There are so many different things we’ve been doing for years and to me it’s just an automatic thing to do. When you’ve done okay, and you can share, share”. Without anticipating any reciprocation, Amar finds fulfillment in witnessing the happiness of a child or the positive impact of a life-saving operation. For him, these acts of giving are intrinsic to his purpose, as he questions the true meaning and purpose behind all his accomplishments.

Looking ahead, Amar expresses his intention to continue building and pushing boundaries. Retirement is not on the horizon for Amar, and he plans to stay actively engaged in the business he loves. I’ll eagerly anticipate the future chapters in Amar’s story, knowing that his entrepreneurial endeavours and his passion for the BC Lions will continually intertwine and evolve, creating a legacy that leaves a lasting impression both in our beautiful province and well beyond.

The Earth Group: Changing Lives and Minds through a Unique Business Model

Thursday, April 20th, 2023

Kori Chilibeck and Matt Moreau, the co-founders of The Earth Group, share their journey in creating a socially responsible business that aims to help people in need. They talk about the challenges they faced during the pandemic, building new relationships with well-known brands, and their successful stories in making a positive impact on the world.

The Earth Group is a social enterprise that is dedicated to providing school meals to children globally through its unique business model. The Earth Group funds the school feeding programs through their worldwide agreement with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Recently, Kori Chilibeck and Matt Moreau, the co-founders of The Earth Group, shared their journey, social initiatives, business model, challenges they faced during the pandemic, difficulties they experienced while building new relationships with well-known brands, and their successful stories on changing minds and lives.

The journey of The Earth Group began when Kori Chilibeck and Matt Moreau met in 2005 while working in Skiers Sportshop in Edmonton, Canada. After traveling extensively, they became aware of the severe conditions in which a significant portion of the world’s population lives. This instilled in them a sense of obligation to make a positive impact on the lives of those who are most in need.

Kori and Matt felt a strong desire to make a difference with their skills, leading them to establish a business that could make a positive difference in the world. One of the main social focuses of The Earth Group is the provision of a school meals programme. They recognized the importance of providing free school meals to students, relieving parents of the worry about their children’s nourishment while in school and allowing the kids to focus on their studies. To achieve this goal, they developed a business model that utilizes the revenue from selling everyday products such as coffee, tea, water, and chocolate to fund social initiatives that fight poverty. Moreover, The Earth Group is committed to minimizing their environmental impact by using sustainable materials such as aluminum for water bottles instead of plastic.

The Earth Group has partnered with the United Nations agency on The World Food Programme, providing school meals to schools in developing countries. This has enabled the distribution over 3,5 million school meals, which in turn has led to improved health, attendance, and academic performance. The Earth Group’s mission to give back to the community and support sustainable development aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, making their partnership a natural fit.

The pandemic presented significant challenges for The Earth Group, as it did for many businesses around the world. With the closure of many retail outlets and the shift to online sales, the organization had to adapt quickly to new market conditions. Despite the difficulties, The Earth Group remained committed to its mission and continued to find ways to support its charity partners.

One of the biggest challenges that Kori and Matt have faced is building relationships with well-known brands. Many large corporations are wary of working with social enterprises, as they can be seen as a threat to traditional business models. However, Kori and Matt have been successful in changing minds and creating partnerships with companies such as Fairmont Hotels and Four Seasons.

The Earth Group is proof that businesses can be successful and make a positive impact on the world. Their innovative business model has created a unique and inspiring organization that is changing lives around the world. Despite the challenges they have faced, The Earth Group remains dedicated to its mission and continues to find new ways to support communities in need. Their success stories show that social enterprises can not only make a difference but also create lasting partnerships with well-known brands and inspire others to improve the lives of people who need it most.

To learn more about The Earth Group initiatives, please visit their website at .

A Candid Conversation with Som Seif, Founder & CEO of Purpose Unlimited

Friday, February 10th, 2023

The interview is hosted by Jason Boudreau and published in Iconic Concierge, Winter 2022/23


I had the pleasure of sitting down for a deep conversation with Som Seif, Founder & CEO of Purpose Unlimited. I’ve known Som for many years through the industry, with VELA being a partner company of Purpose. Over the years, Som and I have spent most of our time talking business and so it was wonderful to spend some time on the topics of family and philanthropy, and to learn more about Som’s family history. It’s always inspiring to speak with people like Som and hear about what drives them to be their best, push through adversity and truly create something great. I hope you enjoy this first candid conversation of 2023 with one of Canada’s leading financial services entrepreneurs, Som Seif.

Som’s background plays a huge role in who he is today, and we began the conversation from how it all began. His family immigrated to Canada from Iran around the time of the Iranian revolution. His father was working toward his master’s degree in England where Som was born. It was the 70s and his father originally wanted to stay in England, but a professor suggested he move to a more progressive society-a country that might be more welcoming like Canada. This advice led his father to Toronto, ON, where he applied to continue working toward his Ph.D. at York University. His family immigrated a year later in 1980.

“It was one of the greatest decisions my family ever made, but most importantly, one of the most important decisions in my life that I didn’t make.  That single decision changed the probability of success for me, and my family, 100-fold”.

Growing up Som dreamed about being an architect as he loved the idea of building and designing. However, in speaking with a couple of well-known architects in the Toronto Area, he changed his mind and decided to pursue engineering at the University of Toronto. Very shortly thereafter, he went to work with RBC Investment banking, just in time for the tech bubble.

“I worked at RBC for six years but then, I just started to really ask myself whether this was what I wanted to do? I remember the big moment. I was 25 years old and starting to make very good money for a young kid, and I remember coming home one night at two in the morning (pretty typical of the hours I was working). I sat on my bed and said to myself I’m not happy. It’s not that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing. I wasn’t happy because I had pursued all of this with the singular goal of making money. Now that I was making some money and was on a path to making lots more money, I didn’t feel like I had the right goal. I had to step back and figure out what I really enjoyed.“

Som wanted to apply himself to see his ideas flourish and he realized he wanted to build something. So, he decided to leave, giving himself an ultimatum, “If I reach my 30th birthday and I’m still sitting in this seat, I’m going to resign”. That day came before Som turned 30. At the age of 28, he established his first company called Claymore; an ETF company built on a strong philosophical model and a vision to build a better asset management firm.

Over the following seven years, Claymore became one of the most important asset management firms in the Canada and changed the way the industry looked at investing and investment product design. Then, Som’s business partner in the company wanted to exit, so in 2012 the company was sold to the world’s largest investment management firm, BlackRock.

A year later, Som started Purpose Investments and co-founded a firm called Wealthsimple. Both companies have been growing over the last nine years in multiple areas of financial services, driving successful industry innovation for Canadians.

“If I went back in time, I wouldn’t do anything differently. One of my fundamental beliefs is that we shouldn’t have regrets in life—that every decision we make in the moment, right or wrong, has been for reasons that were in the moment. I also believe it’s important to go back and reflect on our decisions with the benefit of hindsight and apply those insights going forward.”

As with many other entrepreneurs, the pandemic had an impact on Som’s priorities and exposed him to what is most important in his life. Having dinner every night with his wife and four children during the pandemic was amazing after years of building Purpose.  “I have made it a rule that I want to be home four weeknights and the weekends to have dinner with my children. It is important not to be absent for what I think is the most relevant period of their lives—it’s just that family time of being around the table together.”

Som’s childhood was very different that his own. He wants to be certain to lead by example in everything that he does. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have lots of material things. All I had were my dreams. In many cases, our lifestyle has taken away some of those things from my children because they have grown up in a different life setting. We have to find different ways to inspire them to dream–be something greater than what they are today in many ways.”

Continuous development and learning are important things that Som wants to instill in his children. He believes that people should not be worrying about how they are relative to somebody else, but they should focus on how they progress as an individuals. “If you as an individual think that way, you’re just going to get stronger. You’re going to get better. You’re going to do more. You’re going to feel more accomplished. You’re going to attack your goals, and I think that’s the most important thing I want to teach my kids. I think it’s a really powerful way to think in life.”

Giving back is another big part of Som’s life that he wants to pass on to his children. He has been involved with his time, energy, and money in different organizations to give back to society. Being grateful to his parents for coming to Canada and for the opportunity this country has given him, Som has a sense of duty to give back to his country, and community. This passion brought him to the organization “Big Brothers” while he was in his second year of the university. Even though he was busy with his studies and a very busy social life, he signed up and became a Big Brother.

“It taught me so much about the joy of giving and the invaluable personal returns.  It has been an important part of my life ever since.”

Today, Som has a deep engagement in several organizations that he is passionate about. He applies himself to them wholeheartedly and plans to do so for the rest of his life.

“I aspire to give with impact. I believe it is the most important project of my life. Today I try to add value and all the rest of it, but I’m talking about really giving with impact.  I want to apply the same rigor and entrepreneurial spirit that I dedicated to building businesses and helping to change the financial services industry for the benefit of Canadians, to how I can support causes drive positive outcomes that matter and change society in meaningful ways. I’m really energized an excited at the prospect of getting there.”

Knowing what we know about Som Seif, it’s only a matter of when…

Candid conversation with Jayesh Parmar featured in Iconic Concierge

Monday, July 25th, 2022

CEO/Co-Founder of which was acquired by Eventbrite in 2018, now Jayesh Parmar is an active investor and has jumped back into being a Co-CEO /Co-founder of Gunkii, the world’s sexiest tongue scraper. Read the interview hosted by Jason Boudreau for the Iconic Concierge Summer 2022 issue.


Read the full article in the Iconic Concierge Magazine.

A Candid Conversation with Ian Telfer, former Chairman and CEO, Goldcorp Inc.

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Published in Iconic Concierge, Summer Issue 2020

Welcome back to another edition of Creating Impact, Candid Conversations with Leaders in Life, Business and Philanthropy. Before we dive in, I first want to take a moment to extend my very best wishes and hope this finds you and yours safe and healthy. We, as humanity, are certainly in times unlike any other. In this issue, I am both humbled and excited to bring you another story of a big-hearted entrepreneur with a passion to create transformation on the planet and leave it a better place for future generations- something I believe is important now more than ever.

In early March, 2020, just before the world went into lockdown, I was in Palm Springs and had the fortunate opportunity to spend some time with Ian Telfer, former Chairman and CEO of Goldcorp Inc. Ian is a well-known Canadian mining entrepreneur and executive with a successful career spanning over three decades. During his time at Goldcorp, Ian led the company to become Canada’s top gold producer, prior to its acquisition in April, 2019, by Newmont Mining for USD $10B. Over his career, Ian developed a passion for philanthropy and sharing his success through giving back to people and organizations that made a difference in his life and others became a core focus both personally for Ian and for Goldcorp as a company. Throughout this candid conversation with Ian, his focus, drive and unique ability to lead were abundantly clear. What came through even stronger though were his humility, kindness and generosity of spirit- qualities of a leader that people truly want to follow.

Ian’s life journey begins in 1946 in Oxford, England. His father was a Scottish pilot in the Royal Air Force and had spent time living in Canada (Moosejaw, SK) training other Air Force pilots before being transferred back to the UK and meeting Ian’s mother on a blind date. The family lived in England until 1948 when Ian’s parents decided to move to Canada and after a five-year stint back in Moosejaw, they finally ended up putting down roots in Toronto.

Ian grew up in the upper-middle class area of Downsview where he remained until the end of high school, sharing that “I failed grade 13 and barely got into the University of Toronto”. Once he settled into U of T, he decided to join a fraternity and explained to me that “I was voted Most Likely to Fail by my fraternity brothers”. Eventually, Ian passed his final university exams in and had not a singled job lined up for when he graduated.

Over the next five years, Ian held many different jobs, including selling pharmaceuticals and even life insurance for London Life. After a short stint in Europe for “fun and work”, Ian found himself in Ottawa working for Prentice Hall, selling university text books. “Then one day I woke up and told myself I’d better get my act together”, he shared, “I always read Fortune and other business publications like that. One thing I noticed is that almost all CEOs started off as Brand Managers and then eventually became CEOs. I decided that I was going to become a CEO and start off first as a Brand Manager to get there”. Ian decided to go back to school to get his MBA. He wrote the GMATs and shared that he “did good enough” and then applied to 10 different business schools in Canada, every one of them turning him down.

At this point, it’s 1974, Ian is still with Prentice Hall and he shared, “I hated my job, I hated my life”. Then, on Labour Day of that year, he received a call from the University of Ottawa and “they have an opening in the business school! They also proceed to tell me that I have the worst marks ever for a graduate student and to please not embarrass them”. Ian is so grateful for the opportunity and explained, “I showed up, worked my ass off and at Christmas, I received a scholarship into the MBA program”.

It’s now the summer of 1975 and Ian is working for Bata Shoes. He has also just met his soon to be wife, Nancy on a blind date, ironically, just as his parents had met back in 1944. He has been working diligently in pursuit of his Brand Manager aspirations, sending letters to stalwart companies like Colgate, General Mills, Lever and Proctor & Gamble. Ian shared “at the time I was 28/29 years old. I got a bunch of interviews and both Colgate and Proctor & Gamble gave me job offers calling on Eastern Ontario drug stores. My response to them was, I already did that job! Forget it, I’m not doing that job”. He decided to reach out to some of his friends to get their thoughts on what he should do next. One of his friends suggested he get his Chartered Accountant designation, “so I did!” Ian shared, “In 1976 I wrote the CA exam and I passed! I started working right away at a firm called Thorne Riddell and then in 1979, a mining company called Hudson Bay Mining called. I took the job right away in the role of financial analyst”.

Ian worked at Hudson Bay Mining until 1983 when a chance arose that he couldn’t pass up, “so I moved to Brazil with Nancy and our one-year old son”. Ian shared, “I had an opportunity to work with Eike Batista, and we formed a company called TVX Gold. It was an incredible experience, we lived there for five more years, learned Portuguese, had a ton of fun and adopted our other son. At that time, TVX merged with INCO and I felt it was time to return to Canada so in 1990, Nancy and I moved back to Toronto with our two boys”.

Shortly after returning to Toronto, Ian received a call from well-known mining entrepreneur Robert Friedland. Ian shared, “I was bored at the time so in 1993, I moved to Vancouver and joined Friedland in a company called Vengold. We raised money at one dollar, went to Venezuela, drilled and found…NO GOLD!. The stock then eventually to dropped to five cents. We then decided to start a new project in Papua New Guinea through Vengold, run by Rio Tinto. The stock ran and then eventually gold prices dropped and the stock ended up at six cents”.

It was now 1999 and the internet was coming fast online. At that time, Ian decided to launch an internet start-up called Itemus, using the same shell company as Vengold with the share price starting at six cents. He joked, “at that time we asked, does Canada have an internet? The stock went on a nice run from six cents to five dollars and we invested in a number of different internet/IOT companies. Then, in July 2001, with the Dot-Com bubble bursting, the company went bankrupt”.

Ian was now 55 years old and he shared that at that point in life, “I had two kids in Collingwood School and no job. I sold my house in West Vancouver and moved into a rental. Then, around 2002, I reconnected with Frank Giustra. We knew each other from the mining industry and Frank had called and told me he’d always wanted to work with me.” Ian and Frank then started Wheaton River Minerals and Ian said “we bought EVERYTHING. We kept on buying, acquiring a lot of assets, continued buying and acquiring and then, in 2005, we merged with Goldcorp”. After the merger, the offices were moved from Toronto to Vancouver. “It was incredible”, Ian shared,” when we started Wheaton, our market cap was $10M and at one point, Goldcorp hit a market cap of $50B. We grew from six to 20,000 employees”.

At this point in our candid conversation, there was a natural segue from business to philanthropy. Ian shared with me, “what I’m most proud of is that from 2002 to 2019, Goldcorp gave away over $100MM to charity. I was thrilled that we were able to have the impact that we did. I believed that for Goldcorp, it was just part of being a good corporate citizen and in Vancouver, there were very few large corporate citizens”. It was incredible to learn just how substantial Goldcorp’s contribution to the community truly was under Ian’s leadership. He shared that “as Goldcorp grew, the charities didn’t really know about us at first, and then every year, and the next year, and the next year, and the next year, they learned about us and our giving and requested support…and we were thrilled to do it! The difference with Goldcorp was that all of the other major companies like BMO, Telus, Rogers, etc. had products to sell to the public, we were just doing it out of the goodness of our hearts”.

As the company continued its incredible growth, so too did its focus on charitable giving. “I absolutely pushed it at Goldcorp”, shared Ian, “we had an “eclectic” approach to giving, we did what felt good and really focused on staying in sync with our employees and the causes that mattered in their lives. As an example, we covered around 99% of the Special Olympics budget. We considered it as though we were “supporting friends” and my biggest concerns with the Newmont buyout were the future of the Goldcorp staff and the philanthropy”.

We then expanded the conversation from the corporate philanthropy at Goldcorp to personal philanthropy, which Ian and his wife Nancy passionately share in together. In opening this dialogue, he shared with me a story about a very unique call he received one day in the mid-‘90s, “ I’m in mining, living in Vancouver, it’s been about 20 years since I was at the University of Ottawa and I get a call from them. They ask, “is this Ian Telfer?” Yes, “Did you go to the University of Ottawa?”, Yes, “We’re setting up a $5,000 scholarship in your name, have you thought about your criteria?””. Ian paused for a moment to reflect and replied, “I want the scholarship to go to the student who is accepted into the MBA program with the lowest marks!”. After the faculty at the University of Ottawa heard about this, they put Ian on their “radar” and the next time the dean was on a trip to Vancouver, he asked Ian to have lunch to open communication between him and the university.

Ian then fast-forwards the conversation to around 2005, “it was around the time the TV show The Apprentice started. I decided to create a posting for the MBA graduates that one student could apprentice under the CEO of Goldcorp. I go to the University of Ottawa, interview and bunch of students end up hiring a woman who turned out to be fantastic. We ran the apprentice program for only another year and both of them are still in the mining business today”.

It’s now 2007 and through the MBA apprentice program, Ian shared that, “I got to know the school and the school got to know me. Then, one day, the dean says to me that no business school in Canada has been named after someone who went there”. This conversation then led Ian to make a significant mark with his desire to give back, donating $25M to his Alma Mater, the University of Ottawa’s School of Management. Following his generous gift, the name was changed to the Telfer School of Management.
“The triple irony was”, Ian said, “the guy who got turned down, then gave a scholarship to the student with the worst marks, now has his name on the building!”. Ian still returns to the school 2-3 times a year and said, “the students have a much stronger connection to the school when it’s names after a person. Invariably when I’m back there, someone comes up to me and says, “Mr. Telfer, I won your scholarship!” and I can’t help but smile and laugh a little”.

Ian and Nancy’s giving hearts are felt throughout the community, both at home in Vancouver and across Canada. They have been generous supporters of Collingwood School, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Lions Gate Hospital to name a just a few. Ian shared with me a few thoughts on their personal philanthropy, “All causes are deserving causes. I believe personal philanthropy is about things that touch your heart”. Today, through their Fernwood Foundation (Fernwood Road is the first street they lived on Toronto), education and healthcare are the main focuses of their giving. “Philanthropy doesn’t need to be complicated”, shared Ian, “today we just see things much more simply”.

At the completion of our candid conversation, I asked Ian to share two key takeaways for people, young and old, who want to give back and maybe even become philanthropists themselves. As I had expected they would, Ian’s words truly struck a chord with me and made me think a lot about how to look at giving from a new perspective. “Focus on things that are impactful to you. Do something where you feel a close connection to it, where it’s close to your heart. And, I believe that to the extent possible, giving should be very public. When you do something, put your name on it! This will encourage others and inspire them to do the same!”.

Creating Impact: A Candid Conversation with Lotte Davis

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Published in Iconic Concierge

Welcome to this next edition of “Creating Impact, Candid Conversations with Leaders in Life, Business and Philanthropy”. For those of you reading this editorial for the first time, I will “reset” the context for you with the opening words from our first edition in the Fall 2019 issue.

When you hear the word philanthropy, what comes to mind? Writing a large cheque to a charity? Donating a piece of art for a fundraiser? Gifting appreciated shares of a company you’ve invested in to a foundation? While we all choose to define philanthropy in a manner personal to us, the word itself originates from the Latin meaning, “love to mankind”.

In this new editorial, we will share intimate conversations with dynamic, successful and accomplished people, who also have big hearts and a common passion to leave the world a better place for future generations.

Late in 2019, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Lotte Davis, CEO & Co-Founder, AG Hair and CEO & Founder, One Girl Can. Lotte co-founded AG with her husband, John Davis, more than 30 years ago in Vancouver and over the past three decades, they have grown AG to become one of the most well-recognized hair product brands and the largest independent manufacturer of hair-care products in Canada.

In 2008, Lotte combined her entrepreneurial spirit with her desire to create meaningful change in the world and founded One Girl Can, a charitable organization that exists to give girls in Africa the opportunity to achieve their potential and become the next generation of leaders in Kenya and Uganda. This candid conversation with Lotte clearly illustrates how aligning and integrating our businesses with the change we wish to see in the world, creates the ultimate win-win for all stakeholders involved.

Our journey with Lotte begins in South Africa in 1951, where she was born to Dutch parents who had immigrated from Holland right after World War II. This was right in the middle of the Apartheid era and Lotte shared that “from the age of four or five, I realized just how much people of colour were being discriminated against and marginalized”. She spent the first nine years of her life in the middle of this humanitarian atrocity and in 1960, her parents finally decided to move the family to Canada to start a new life and settled in Toronto.

Lotte’s entrepreneurial spirit and strong desire to be independent were sparked as early as age 11, when she got her first job delivering papers for The Globe and Mail in Toronto. Soon thereafter, she started to discover the social norms concerning females, how they were not treated equally in society and were often belittled by men and seen as subordinate. Lotte shared that at age 13, “I read Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminist Mystique, and from then on, I knew I was a feminist.”

At age 15, a disruptive family life forced Lotte to leave home. She decided to move to Holland where she still had some relatives and entered the workforce full time. This is where she began to experience discrimination against women and sexual harassment in the workplace firsthand. Lotte shared that “It felt like a constant competition amongst women…like if you weren’t being objectified, then you didn’t belong”.

In spite of the social norms she’d been exposed to, at the age of 17, Lotte decided she was going to be successful. She wanted to prove that women were just as capable and intelligent as men, and moved back to Toronto to complete her high school education and begin the next phase in her life journey.

Lotte started out her official career working in merchandising, design and window display, taking her from Toronto to Arizona to Los Angeles and finally, to Vancouver. She shared, “My initial negative experience working for others inspired me to become an entrepreneur and create my own business model”. In 1981 in Vancouver, she met her husband John and together they started brainstorming new business ventures. One of the first involved beating pinewood with bike chains (to give it a worn look) and then crafting the boards into country furniture.

After much trial and error, Lotte and John ultimately decided to go into the professional hair care business. We took out a $5,000 third mortgage on our home”, says Lotte, “bought 1,000 white, stock bottles, a used and broken peanut butter filling machine, and small mixing tank. I designed the labels which we hand-applied to the bottles to save money. We started with two products, a shampoo and conditioner, and John formulated them both.” To thicken the shampoo, John used a unique plant-based cellulose, that infused moisture into the hair and produced a discernably better, quality product. Their competitors routinely used sodium chloride (table salt) to thicken shampoos, a cheap alternative that understandably dried out the hair and left it feeling less manageable. Their “No Salt” shampoos gave them the competitive advantage they needed to start building their new business.

“In the evenings, we hand-pasted the labels to the bottles and filled them by hand”, Lotte explains. “During the day John, with his natural sales ability, would sell our hair care line, consisting of only two products, door-to-door to salons in Vancouver”. To manage cash flow, John would use the family car to deliver the products and offer a 10% discount for COD.

Lotte and John also had two young girls, Courtney and Mackenzie, both of whom were under three years old. Without funds for daycare, Lotte would bring the girls to their 1000 sq. ft facility in Burnaby while she filled bottles from the used peanut butter filling machine John had refurbished. At night, she would work on her graphic design business that helped bridge the gap in finances. “We should never have succeeded”, she says to me. “We had no money and no experience in the professional hair care industry.” They realized they only had one chance to make a good impression, and to make sure the products John was formulating made a discernable difference in the hair, they bought every competitive hair product in the market and did half-head tests on their own hair every day. Based on their own critical feedback, John would go back to the lab at night and fine-tune each new product, until one by one, they eliminated each of their competitor’s product from testing.

Lotte and John were all-in and managed every aspect of the business. John’s skills were in sales, formulating, and manufacturing efficiencies, where Lotte excelled at marketing, design, and strategy. They quickly discovered that they had a particular talent together for promotional marketing and merchandising when they decided to sew 700 drawstring bags for their first Christmas holiday promotion and sold out almost immediately. The AG brand was becoming more and more well-known in a short period of time, and in 1994, they received the Canadian Award for Business Excellence in Entrepreneurship. From 1995 to 1996, they went from the 16th fastest growing company in Canada to 5th and at that point, took on a big expansion to accelerate AG’s growth and evolution into the company it is today.

At this point in our conversation, the focus shifted from business to the spark that ignited Lotte’s deep passion for empowering women. About 15 years into AG’s life, she had a sudden realization that “the business was stable and profitable”, and that the time had come to finally fulfill her lifelong dream to go back to Africa, and to impact gender inequality. After raising her own two daughters, she experienced such a deep sense of purpose and fulfillment and she realized whatever she was going to do, it needed to be about girls and about giving them the opportunity to achieve everything her own daughters had. And it had to be Africa. But where to start? There are 53 countries in Africa, so which one made the most sense? After reading many books and articles about Africa, she decided on Kenya and soon booked a flight to Nairobi to try to get started.

In Kenya, Lotte found an NGO that was based in Africa and run by Africans. They showed her a school in the Kibera slums that needed to be rebuilt and right away, Lotte was engaged. For the next five years she would build and renovate 5 schools. “Initially all the projects were funded through AG”, says Lotte, “Our employees, distributors, salons, and suppliers were really interested in what I was doing in Africa, and they wanted to be involved”. AG built the first school through the profit from a customized promotional package depicting African schoolgirls on the box and featuring two bestselling AG products. It yielded $90,000.

After 4 years of partnering with the NGO, Lotte decided it was time to take the reins and start her own not-for- profit charitable society. It was through this initiative that One Girl Can was born in 2013. Although she continued to build schools for girls living in some of the most marginalized regions of Kenya and Uganda, she began providing high school and university scholarships for hundreds of girls and built a comprehensive mentoring program that now coaches more than 8500 girls a year. She began fundraising externally to increase the capabilities of the organization, and although AG and its partners and employees continue to be a driving force in supporting the efforts of One Girl Can, it now accounts for only 20% of One Girl Can’s revenue, donating over $365,000 annually to support the administrative costs.

“Today, 35 of our 80 employees sponsor a girl directly themselves. One Girl Can has become so much a part of AG’s DNA, the two organizations are now inextricably woven together. One Girl Can would have never been able to become what it has without AG, and AG’s brand has become solidly fortified through its strong philanthropic stance. ‘We Give Back’ is one of AG’s three brand pillars that drive the decisions we make every day”. Lotte continues to explain that candidates applying for work at AG inevitably state that one of the main reasons they want to work for AG is because of depth of their philanthropy. Lotte says, “The reason it works is because it’s authentic and everyone in the company feels connected and involved. It’s created an unbreakable bond between us and our customers and brought a genuine humanity and purpose to the AG brand”.

I asked Lotte to share her thoughts about the future of One Girl Can, and she said, “My focus is to work myself out of a job. One Girl Can needs to stand alone and live well beyond me to continue doing the work I started. I’m now recruiting for an Executive Director so that I can focus on programming and growth in Africa”.

Lotte runs One Girl Can the same way she does AG Hair, like a business, not just a charity, and she believes this has been the reason behind the huge growth they’ve experienced, and the strong foundation that’s been established.

Nearing the end of our time together, I asked Lotte about AG and the plans for the future, and she explained, “we’re expanding into Europe as well as white labelling hair-care products for other companies, starting with Amazon. We have tons of runway to grow, and with every bottle AG sells, the donation to One Girl Can grows as well”. It’s a true integration of two companies focused on their impact on the world; one providing the resources and support, the other executing on a mutual philanthropic mandate.

I asked Lotte to share her advice for others as it relates to philanthropy, impact and giving back. She responded, “You need to do what makes sense for your company and for yourself. If it isn’t authentic, your customers won’t be engaged. But the important thing is to do something, more now than ever. If you have a business that’s making a profit, you must have as part of your brand strategy, a program for giving back. It’s fundamental to the health well- being of your brand”.

In closing our candid conversation, I asked Lotte for a final thought and her choice of words resonated deeply with me. “I thought being financially independent would be the ultimate fulfillment in life. Then I realized that giving back what you’ve earned is even more satisfying. Sharing your knowledge, networks, and resources to help others achieve even a measure of what you’ve been able to, is the most fulfilling feeling you can ever hope to attain. It’s also the right thing to do”.

Economic & Market Outlook for 2020

Friday, December 6th, 2019

Authored by Keith Allan, Harness Investment Management

As 2019 comes to an end and we move forward to 2020, investors reflect on a few dominant themes that have captured the news in recent weeks.  Four words that can’t seem to elude consumers are ‘World Economic Slow Down’. Ostensibly, we hear that, and we are overwhelmed with visions of 2008. Automatic trepidation creeps into the spending and investment habits of consumers. Truthfully, ‘slow down’ is the wrong phrase to use. We are currently experiencing disinflation – where there is effectively no upward pressure on prices – thus, ‘World Economic Calming’ is a more appropriate description of the present economic environment.

Between 2017 and the beginning of 2019, global economic growth was very robust at around 3%. Increasingly, it became more evident the primary factor weighing on this continued growth was not economic or financial uncertainty, rather it was political instability.  Nationalism has gradually reared its ugly head and become more prevalent amongst some of the largest players in world trade. Be it with Brexit, the ongoing trade dispute between the US and China, or a rapid rise in population movements because of civil unrest, political events have slowed world economic growth. Canada has not been immune to the residual effects of this protectionist agenda by both US and China. By showing support for the US on several occasions, Canada has effectively erased any diplomatic traction it had gained with China over the past decade. As a result, China has severely restricted Canadian agricultural purchases, which has negatively impacted the balance of trade.

In the case of the US-China trade war, the entire global market is feeling the effects of their ongoing trade dispute. Regardless of how President Trump wants to spin it – limited, or heavily stunted global trade is bad for the economy. Until this standoff between the US and China is resolved markets will continue to stay flat. Should the US and China reach a deal (a tentative Stage 1 deal is supposedly close to being finalized) then we could certainly see equity markets take off.

Currently, we are in the longest economic expansion in US history. Given it is the late stages of a business cycle, and our current low interest rate environment has created economic distortions, it is easy for one to hypothesize that we are on the verge of another recession. While we may see moderate pull back, I am hesitant to suggest a recession is imminent. Historically, central banks will cut interest rates between 4 and 5% when a recession is on the horizon. The Bank of Canada has left the target overnight rate at 1.75%; therefore, cutting rates by the traditional 4% is incredibly unlikely. Sweden and Denmark currently have implemented negative interest rates and have shown that an economy can function when rates are in the red (Denmark has negative mortgage rates; they will pay the consumer to borrow money to buy their house). However, Canada’s central bank, along with the Fed in the US, have all but ruled this out as a possibility. Furthermore, we have recently seen upward pressure on the 10 year US yield curve – the trajectory of expected interest rates in the future – which is generally a strong leading indicator of continued growth. In addition to the steepening of the US Treasury curve, we are also seeing less global debt carry a negative yield. This would suggest optimism has percolated into bond markets, which is generally a good sign for the economy.

When President Trump took office at the beginning of 2018, the US economy got an immediate surge from tax cuts he implemented for corporate America. This instant fiscal stimulus allowed markets to skyrocket and gave investors a false sense of security. What we are seeing now, in addition to the political uncertainty, is the US economy fundamentally slowing down because the lack of fiscal stimulus; thus, the market imbalances that were always there have become increasingly transparent.  None of these developments, however, equate to a repeat of what we saw with subprime mortgages in 2008, nor do they represent the pullback we saw from tech stocks in 2001. The current calming of economic growth is not driven by an overheated financial sector fueled by derivative instruments. What this means is that 2020 will likely provide us with mild growth while financial markets navigate their way through some of the inequalities caused by ongoing political turbulence.