Entrepreneur of the Year 2005 -- B2B Products and Services.
Amar Doman stands in the parking lot of Futura Corp.’s pressure-treated wood plant in Surrey, watching a man drive a forklift between the massive stacks of hemlock and Douglas fir boards. “I get excited by lumber,” laughs Doman. “I’ve got sawdust in my head. It was shoveled in when I was 10 years old and I was getting yelled at by my dad to work harder.” Indeed, Doman is a familiar name to anyone in B.C.’s forestry business. The Doman family first got into the industry in the 1920s, when Amar’s grandfather, an immigrant from the Punjab, became a logger on Vancouver Island to support his wife and five kids. It proved to be the spark for Amar’s uncle Herb: he bought a truck and a sawmill, and went on to create Doman Industries, one of the largest lumber companies in the province before it went bankrupt last year and was acquired by Western Forest Products. Herb’s son Rick Doman lost his job as CEO of the company shortly after. Amar’s dad, Ted Doman, also ran a building materials company in the 1970s, and young Amar spent his summer vacations piling lumber at the family sawmills. “My uncle and my dad are my mentors,” says Doman. “They started with nothing in the 1930s and ’40s and built up their businesses with hard work. I admire what they did.” Today, the 35-year-old is making waves of his own in the industry. Doman is the CEO and 100-per-cent owner of Futura Corp., a building materials company that has experienced massive growth spurred by an ambitious series of acquisitions: in 2003, Futura had 600 employees and brought in $600 million in revenue; by 2004, it had doubled its revenue to $1.2-billion and added 550 more employees. Futura bought CanWel Building Materials, a company that distributes to Home Depot, Home Hardware and Rona, in 1999. CanWel lost money in every year of the previous decade except for one, but under Doman reduced overhead and freight costs and boosted sales. In 2004, CanWel did $597.6 million in sales and its net income climbed to $10.5 million. Doman was responsible for CanWel’s IPO last year, and when he announced he was converting the company to an income trust in April, the shares rose by 22 per cent. CanWel absorbed a key competitor and instantly became a distributor for a wide variety of hardware products last November, when it signed a $64.3-million deal to purchase Canada’s largest wholesale distributor to independent hardware stores, ontreal-based Sodisco-Howden. Doman’s plan is to increase CanWel’s product offerings and become a one-stop shop for stores in small centres. Despite Doman’s family connections in the business, he says he never received any handouts. “I had to build this business on my own.” The summer Doman graduated from high school in Victoria, he started a company to buy logs and trim them for export. A year later, he did his first acquisition, buying a bankrupt lumber remanufacturing operation in Chemainus for $50,000, using savings from his summer jobs and borrowing the rest from his mom. Doman says his mother was supportive, despite her concerns that he wasn’t going to university. “I’m an entrepreneur by heart,” he says. “It’s not something they teach in school.” The senior Domans are no longer in the business: Amar’s dad, 69, left the industry due to heart troubles and his uncle, Herb, 73, is in Vancouver General Hospital after suffering a stroke. But if everything goes according to Doman’s plans, he’ll replicate his uncle’s success – while steering clear of the financial difficulties that brought down the first Doman lumber empire – and ensure the Doman family remains a powerful force in the industry. Runners-up Kelly Hawes If you’ve been to Vancouver Island in the past couple of years, you’ve probably eaten food transported by Coldstar Freight Systems. The company ships 90 per cent of the poultry that goes to the Island, plus much of the seafood, beef, dairy, produce and baked goods. Hawes founded Coldstar in 1999, after working as a truck driver and a filing clerk. Today, Coldstar has 24 trucks and 70 employees, and opened a warehouse in Richmond last month. René Fluri A fourth-generation pastry chef from Switzerland, 27-year-old Fluri landed in Vancouver in 1958. He got a job at a bakery on Robson Street and a few months later, scraped together the money to buy the business. Fluri turned Gizella Pastry into a successful supplier of cheesecakes and French pastries for local hotels and restaurants. In 1984, Fluri hit the big time when he made a deal to supply burger buns to McDonald’s restaurants in Western Canada. Today, Fluri owns Golden West Baking Co. and Les Boulangeries René, two companies that make products exclusively for McDonald’s. 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