Geoff Chutter
Founder, President and CEO, Whitewater West Industries (Winner)

ChutterAdam Blasberg

Dubai’s 40-degree desert heat sends thrill-seekers flocking to the Boomerango, a towering raft slide at the Aquaventure Waterpark that shoots riders screaming down a half-pipe and launches them almost vertically up the other side. The ride’s creator, Richmond-based WhiteWater West Industries, has been stretching human imagination to build attractions like this since 1981, when founder, president and CEO Geoff Chutter opened one of North America’s first waterslide parks—the since-closed WhiteWater Waterslide and Recreation Complex in Penticton.

That first summer, four separate groups approached Vancouver-born Chutter to help them design and build waterparks in their hometowns, too. “I recognized that an expert was someone who simply knew more than the person beside him,” the UofT commerce grad and CPA recalls. “At 28, 29, I was the expert in the waterslide field.”

Chutter concluded that developing slide parks suited him better than managing lifeguards, and so he began what is now the world’s leading manufacturer of waterpark products. He’s still the top waterslide expert nearly four decades later. While his competitors typically make a handful of products, WhiteWater works with partners like Six Flags Entertainment Corp., Universal Studios Hollywood and Walt Disney Co. to help create nearly every aspect of their fantastical parks—including slides, wave pools, interactive play structures and wave machines—and keeps providing service through the life of their projects.

WhiteWater’s architects, engineers and play specialists can help operators at the earliest conceptual stages to design parks that suit their topography, budgets and demographics.

The business has literally and figuratively taken Chutter on some wild rides since he saw Canada’s first waterpark in Kelowna in 1980, which prompted him to leave his job as an auditor for KPMG to build his own. He still loves to enjoy his company’s latest offerings. “We’ve had the good fortune over the last 35 years of being ahead and staying ahead,” Chutter reminisces. As for the future? “The focus has to be on sticking with your guiding principles and continuing to innovate.”

For WhiteWater and its 600 staff, that means looking after customers’ needs first. “It’s service, service, service,” Chutter says.

What was your first summer job?

I worked on a cattle ranch. I was 14. It was up in the Interior, and my sister ended up marrying the son of the owner and remains on the ranch. I did absolutely everything, but turning hay and baling hay was a part of it.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I think that an entrepreneur is born. Having said that, I think a lot of entrepreneurs have the potential but never realize the dream. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs become entrepreneurs and then, once in the field, grow tremendously.

I think a lot of people are born with a percent of the skills and some never develop them and don’t become entrepreneurs, and others become them. And then it’s a lifetime of learning.

And along the way you have to make some tough decisions. One of the toughest in this world is, what kind of entrepreneur are you going to be? Are you somebody who believes in the principle of win-win, or more of a bullying, aggressive, winner-take-all approach? 

What is your definition of success?

There is success in business, success in family, and there’s personal success. To be successful, you’ve got to score highly on each of those three areas.

On the business side of it, for me, it’s never been simply about the bottom line. I’m motivated by winning, not as much by the bottom line. But the people part of it is really important to me. Going out back and talking to a welder whose daughter just graduated from med school—that’s pretty neat.

For somebody coming from a modest background to see that next generation dial it up and excel in a competitive world, I get satisfaction from that. I sit on the board of Covenant House. I very much enjoy that—giving a little back to the community.

In this company, you’re doing a job that puts smiles on people’s faces, and wins are celebrated by all. We have a corporatewide profit-sharing program.

What other career might you have had?

When you’re in high school, sometimes you take these tests on what you’re good at and what vocation that leads to. I remember one came back suggesting I should be a funeral director, and it scared the daylights out of me.

If I had to look at an area I’m passionate about that’s not business, it would be the political side. I ran in ’93 and ’97 for the Progressive Conservatives. There’s lots to be done to take the country to the next level. I don’t think the steps are wildly difficult, but one needs the courage to make change. 

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

In the business sector, it might be that I have a hard time expressing gratitude without getting emotionally involved.

We have quarterly reviews, and if I have to turn the focus on the employees to help deliver the company that we have today, I have a hard time getting through that without having many sips of water to keep the emotions under control.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more...”

Thinking out of the box, particularly in terms of globalization. One of the reasons for our success is we’ve thought globally. EDC says to us, you lead the country in understanding what globalization is all about.

It’s not about exporting your product to China or to Europe or to South America from Vancouver and patting yourself on the back. It’s recognizing that, gee, we’re building a park in China, doesn’t it make sense to do some manufacturing in China, save the delivery, save duties, to develop a manufacturing footprint, in that local environment?

What businessperson do you most admire?

I don’t know one who embodies it all for me. In terms of innovation and creativity, Steve Jobs is hard not to look up to. In terms of starting from nothing and pure entrepreneurialism, Jimmy Pattison would be difficult not to look up to.

The guys I look up to are the guys who do it straight, play on top of the table, believe in win-win, believe in giving back, and do it in a very Canadian way—i.e., not brash and boastful. Humble. And at the same time, you can’t push them around. They want to win. And I think that’s what Canadians are all about.

In the international market, I love to be Canadian out there. One of the biggest assets WhiteWater has is we’re Canadian. We’re viewed as nice guys. We’re viewed as honest. We’re not viewed as heavy-handed. Our word is our bond. 

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I go to the garden. These days my mornings a month and a half ago started with coming downstairs, going to the backyard and getting raspberries. Now they’ve migrated to coming down, going outside and getting blueberries. It’s a good year.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Loyal to the employees. High expectations. In terms of integrity and drive, lead by example. Unwavering focus on the customer.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

You get to the point where it’s pretty damn routine. The one that ticks me off if I do forget is a night T-shirt. The second one is a speaker for my laptop.


Jay Evans
Co-founder and CEO, Keirton
(Runner-up)

Jay EvansAdam Blasberg

Jay Evans was building his telecommunications business in 2005 when a friend’s mother showed him the cannabis industry’s potential. A paraplegic suffering from constant pain, she called Evans crying, telling him that the plant had let her sleep through the night for the first time in years. Evans saw how cannabis could help people and figured the industry was ripe for growth. Mechanically inclined, he set about creating a device for processing marijuana plants.

“We built the first machine in a garage,” remembers Evans, who grew up in the Lower Mainland and studied electronics and communications at Vancouver Community College. “It was crude and made with rudimentary tools.” He thought he might sell one of the $15,000 units a month, which he did. But soon more orders started flowing in–five, then seven, then 15, and eventually 60 each month.

Surrey-based Keirton has since grown to 50 staff. As governments worldwide change their cannabis laws, the company works with top producers in more than 20 countries.

What was your first summer job?

I started a lawn-mowing business when I was 11. At the same time I also had a paper route. My first real job was in my parents’ construction company. That was weekends. I would sand vehicles or repaint them. Or just do all the jobs nobody wanted to do.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I think they’re made. I think maybe 5 percent are born. I think anyone can be an entrepreneur. I think it’s a mindset more than anything.

If you can control your fear and you have tenacity, then you can be an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur has to be able to tolerate risks. But that’s also something that you can learn.

What is your definition of success?

I redefine that every two or three years. For me, it’s helping other people become the best versions of themselves and seeing that.

We’ve seen a lot of people from our company go on to do great things. They’ve started public companies; they’ve started their own businesses. For me, that’s the most rewarding piece.

The other piece for me is leaving a legacy—making a big impact on an industry.

What other career might you have had?

In a perfect world, I’d either be a fighter pilot or race-car driver. But I got motion sickness really bad, so that never happened. But if wasn’t that, I think I would do something technology-related, Internet-related.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I like classical music. The more I hear, the more I’m learning about it. I met with Benjamin Zander, the founder and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. I spent a couple of hours with him, and he taught me so much about classical music. So now I’m very fascinated by it.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Tools to support their mental health. I think it’s often a very lonely place to be. You’re on an island, and you’re expected to know all the answers. And you don’t. It can be taxing on the mental health side of it. Not always. There are times when it’s amazing and there’s nothing better than it. But there are times when it’s hard.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Elon Musk. He’s just next-level. I don’t know any human being who can take on so many things with so much pressure and so many people with a bull’s eye on him, and still keep on moving forward.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

It sounds funny, but I do yard work. Nobody can bug me when I’m mowing the lawn. I hated it when I was 11.

I do a lot of other things. I like surfing, snowboarding, I love backcountry snowmobiling. There’s tons of things I love doing, but there’s nothing quick.

How would you describe your leadership style?

It’s definitely evolved a lot over the last little while. The best way to describe it would be servant leadership. I prefer to give the people we have the tools they need and do what I can to support them.

I think I’ve come a long way with that. I used to be the other way, very directive and directing.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Probably my Bluetooth speaker. I like music in the hotel room. If I forget it, I get annoyed.


Danny Chase
Founder and CEO, Chase Office Interiors
(Runner-up)

ChaseAdam Blasberg

Growing up in the Yukon, Danny Chase never thought about becoming an entrepreneur. Nobody among his family or friends had started a business. “I was raised to think that you go get a job and you work your way up the ladder,” he says.

That changed after he earned a business degree from Trinity Western University in 1997 and took a job managing a company that sold office supplies. He found that the business world stoked the competitive fire he’d developed playing soccer and hockey as a child. When clients asked Chase about providing furniture, he gave them a level of service they hadn’t experienced.

“I was just being responsive to my customers,” he recalls, thinking that was just common sense. But it wasn’t common for office furniture suppliers, so in 2003 he founded Chase Office Interiors to disrupt a complacent industry. His West Vancouver-based company employs about 30 people, including space-optimization and concierge teams to keep delivering premium customer service.

What was your first summer job?

Working on a ball diamond ground crew up in the Yukon. I biked miles to get there and worked cleaning up cigarette butts and garbage, raking fields and lining fields. It was actually kind of fun. I was in Grade 7 or 8 when I started that. 

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I believe there’s an entrepreneur in every single person because we’re all very creative beings. Everybody has an aspect of creativity to them. And entrepreneurship is all about creativity. But not everyone has that risk tolerance to take action on that. 

What is your definition of success?

I’m very passionate with balancing business success with every other area of life success. It’s success to me to work seven days a week and be on your fourth marriage.

My definition of success is to have business success, providing an extremely healthy lifestyle to you and your family, but also having a great marriage, great family, great personal health and time for yourself.

What other career might you have had?

At one point I was thinking of becoming an RCMP officer. My summer job at university was a student RCMP. They were recruiting university students into the force at the time, and I seriously contemplated quitting university to become an RCMP.

One of my fellow constables suggest to me to finish the degree and see where business takes me first. And then I could always go back to the force. And I’m very thankful, because police work is very challenging.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I love car racing—I’m an amateur car racer.

I’m a member at Area 27 in Oliver, the new race track out there. It’s a five-kilometre, 16-turn track designed by Jacques Villeneuve. So I race what’s called a Radical—it’s kind of a mini Formula One–style car.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Consciousness around why they are doing what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.

Entrepreneurship is like chasing the wind. You can never catch the wind. You can get caught up with bigness. You can get caught up with making the next dollar or making the next million and potentially losing your marriage, your family or your health. And then what do you have left?

I’m trying to be very conscious of living a balanced life and understand why I’m doing what I’m doing and what I’m trying to achieve. Maybe I could make X million dollars more, but at what cost?

What businessperson do you most admire?

I’m still looking. Because I know what I don’t want to be like. The good thing is knowing what you don’t like is just as good as knowing what you like. It gives you clarity on one side or the other.

I don’t admire people who get caught up in their obsession with making more money, and their obsession with power and greed.

I don’t want this at all to be mistaken as quitting, or giving up or being lazy. It’s trying to maintain a balanced mindset around what you’re trying to achieve.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I love my family time. I love boating. I love racing cars. I love exercise and sports. I also love learning, so I love audio books.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Coming from team sports, my style is keeping everyone focused on and passionate about excellence. Trying to be the best at what we’re doing. But also maintaining discipline.

Also allowing people to think for themselves and make mistakes. But also being there to help them, direct them and help them be successful. Not fishing for them but helping them learn to fish for themselves.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

I am a bit of perfectionist, so it’s very rare I forget something to pack. If there was something that I sometimes wish I would have packed, it would be something like shoe polish. I like my things clean, tidy, and perfect. Sometimes I look at my shoes when I’m on the road and want to buff them up and shine them.


Haresh Bhatt
President, Natu'oil Services
(Runner-up)

HareshAdam Blasberg

Haresh Bhatt came to Canada from Malaysia in 2003 to give his daughters, then seven and 12, a better education than they could get in their home country. Starting a new life was challenging for all. “Kids are kids,” Bhatt explains. The children were sad to leave their friends. Meanwhile, he invested most of his life savings in a new business to support his family.

Bhatt, who had worked as a palm-oil broker in Malaysia, founded Port Coquitlam–based Natu’oil Services to bring that commodity to North America. He was confident it could compete against other food oils like soybean, sunflower and canola. “It was versatile. It was economical,” he says. “I wouldn’t put most of my money into it if I didn’t know how to manage a risk. I saw an opportunity, and I took my time to do things.”

Besides expanding his payroll to 27, Bhatt has grown Natu’oil’s sales from 100 tonnes a month to 15,000 throughout North America. His company now owns warehouses in Port Coquitlam, Toronto, Tacoma, Los Angeles and upstate New York.

What was your first summer job?
My dad used to trade in spices. So my first summer job was helping him sort cloves. I was around 13, 14 years old. This was in Malaysia.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

I think an entrepreneur is made. An entrepreneur is product of all the different experiences he has. Through the experiences, the hunger of an entrepreneur is created.

What is your definition of success?

When at the end of your life and you look back, you realize that you have been living a life with no regrets, you are proud of the contribution you have made to society, as well as opportunities you have given to others.

What other career might you have had?

If I hadn’t been an entrepreneur, I would have ended up in the field of computer science. Maybe I would have been a programmer or something of that sort.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve got a very good sense of humour. A little quirky, maybe, but it’s a good sense of humour.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Mentorship. I came to this country as a greenhorn. So I think entrepreneurs could use a lot of mentorship. The school of hard knocks was my mentor.

What businessperson do you most admire?

I admire a few different business people from India. One of them would be Dhirubhai Ambani. He set up a very basic trading company. Today, his company, Reliance Industries, is the largest company in India.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

I like to read and listen to relaxing music. I also like to spend time with my family, which gives me a very good sense of balance between my work life and my personal life.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am a much more inclusive type of a leader. I get my team involved in projects I am working on. I value everyone’s opinion and get them to feel they are part of the project. It gives them a sense of belonging.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

You won’t believe it, but I forget to bring enough business cards. I’ve been in the palm oil industry long enough, I’m like part of the furniture. Everybody knows me. Whenever I used to travel around, people knew me, so I never had to keep these cards.

After coming here, I tend to forget that not everybody knows me. So the old habit of not carrying enough cards hangs onto me.

I am getting better at that. What actually made me carry enough business cards is that when I go back to the hotel, I send emails to all those people who gave me cards and I apologize. Sending all those emails stresses me out so much, so now I remember.