RossMcLeod_2.jpg

RossMcLeod_2.jpg

Hospitality Tourism and Entertainment Winner: Ross McLeod, CEO & Chair, Great Canadian Gaming Company

The door to River Rock Casino Resort never stops spinning. Even on a weekday summer afternoon there are about 4,000 people here, some in private high-stakes rooms where the bets go as high as $4,500, others plugging quarters into the hundreds of slot machines. But the man in the black pinstripe suit sitting in the hotel lobby may be the biggest gambler of them all. As chair and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., Ross McLeod was forced to ante up when the chips were down for his company. And this expansive development is just one of the payoffs. McLeod sinks into a cushioned chair, and within seconds a man with a nametag and uniform is at his side, offering a Diet Coke. "Is Brian Wilson here yet?" McLeod asks casually. "He's just arrived, sir. Would you like to greet him?" Wilson, formerly of the Beach Boys, is performing two shows in the $10-million state-of-the-art theatre that boasts the world's largest disco ball. It's just down the hall from the hotel, which includes a pool, a spa and a 3,000-square-foot suite complete with pool table. It is dubbed the Pam Anderson suite because it is where she insists on staying when she visits. Through a series of hallways and reinforced doors is the security room, where staff's eyes are glued to television screens monitoring images beamed in from 1,000 video cameras. It's a long way from where McLeod started in the industry. After a stint as an executive with Playland at the PNE in the late 1970s, he and three partners founded Great Canadian Casino in 1982. But in the early days of charitable gambling, they were only permitted temporary casinos, set up for a few days at a time in hotel ballrooms. Through the 1990s, McLeod was involved in expanding the industry, taking his company public in 1997. But in 2005, expansion put the company in serious financial trouble. "I think any entrepreneur will say you never go straight up. I'm not a stranger to peaks and valleys, but we were in a valley and it was a tough one," McLeod admits. You might call it a series of unfortunate events. First, a dock strike was forcing construction costs for River Rock and the Coquitlam casino to skyrocket. At the same time, the company acquired two racetracks in Ontario and two casinos in Nova Scotia that needed upgrading. "We acquired new things that cost money but were yet to perform. It's like you're carrying around boat anchors for a while until you can get them to float." McLeod says. "When you're an entrepreneur, you want to go for it. And we maybe bit off more than we could chew. We should have foregone something and not put ourselves in that kind of a pickle." The company had come to the point of breaching its debt covenants. So McLeod made a deal with debtors that included an infusion of $80 million into the company, including $50 million of his own money. "That restored our debt ratio," he explains. "We were able to refinance and now we're very happy. We're getting our ratios back and getting our profitability back." It is not only money that McLeod has invested into building this dream; it has taken much of his time as well. He admits to working up to 90 hours a week in the early days. Now he has cut back to 60 or 70 hours, but admits that his biggest challenge is staying away from a workplace that is operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. "There are lots of people working hard here to help me get a life," he says with a smile. "But to be a start-up entrepreneur you have to put that energy in," McLeod insists. "I've cut back a lot. I want to spend time with my wife and kids, but back in the early days it had to be a labour of love because you're starting something new. In our country it was brand new." Back in the hotel lobby, McLeod's assistant is waiting for him with documents to sign. The Blackberry rings yet again; his signature tune is the theme song to Mission Impossible. For McLeod, it seems nothing is impossible. Runners-up Kirk Shaw Facing the biggest challenge of his career, Kirk Shaw is not concerned about the health of his independent TV and film production studio. It's the biggest and fastest growing in Canada. Instead, the health of the Canadian dollar worries the president and CEO of Insight Film Studios Ltd., since 60 per cent of his company's revenue comes from the U.S. Still, Insight has been growing at a rate of 50 per cent a year over the last three years, and Shaw has a long list of projects that need to be completed this year. "I love to see the trucks on the streets. It brings a great energy to the city." Paul Clough Before buying the Queen Charlotte Lodge Ltd., Paul Clough spent more than 30 years at the helm of Imperial Parking Corp., taking it from a small Vancouver company to one of the three largest parking operations in North America. In 2000 Clough turned his fishing hobby into a career and bought the lodge, hoping for a more relaxed lifestyle. "Since I didn't actually know how to run a lodge," he says with a laugh, "it wasn't actually as relaxing as one might think." But sales at the lodge have now tripled, the gross profits have quadrupled and he's added 1,000 guests a year. Winners:

Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 Finalists Slideshow Pt. 1 Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 Finalists Slideshow Pt. 2 Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 Finalists Slideshow Pt. 3 Entrepreneur of the Year Judges' Criteria Gala Event Slideshow: EOY 2007 Winner | Category Winners Gala Event: Winner's Acceptance Speech