Entertainment / Hospitality

Sacha + Jason McLean

Vice-chair; president and CEO The McLean Group of Companies

The evolution of the McLean Group from a real estate operation into an aviation, IT and film-production empire was part happenstance and part vision. In 1996, when then-CEO David McLean fell ill, his 21-year-old son Sacha stepped in and was tasked with “kicking out” short-term film production renters and finding permanent leases for a 30-acre East Vancouver warehouse lot. Sacha, now 39, realized there was a business there—“provided you built proper, L.A.-style studios.” The family teamed an L.A. sound stage designer with a local architect, and broke ground on the first studio in 1999.

Jason McLean, 41, who came on in 2002 to help “clean up” the company’s contract system, took on the task of finding $100 million in financing to complete and expand the studios. “It was a 10-year-plus process, convincing the financial markets that the [film] business was here to stay,” says Jason. Today, VFS is a six-building, 12-stage film production hub, with camera-equipped helicopters at the ready and two related offshoots: Pacific Backlot equipment rentals and Signal Systems production IT services. “It’s like the L.A. model of 80 years ago: everything vertically integrated, everyone under one roof,” says Jason. Last year, the McLean Group launched its own in-house production company, Gun Lake Pictures, which now has seven shows in development.

Entrepreneurial success is about choosing passion projects, says Sacha, but also about putting skilled people in charge so you can focus on strategy. “A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to run a business and grow it at the same time,” he says. “You think you’re invincible—but it’s impossible.” Jason agrees: “There’s a humility associated with growth. When you realize you’re a better owner than manager, you can really get to the next phase of the business.” —Melissa Edwards


Thomas Haas

Owner, Thomas Haas Chocolates and Patisserie

Thomas Haas, 46, is sweet on the unexpected. Ranked among the top pastry chefs in New York? Move to Vancouver and launch a chocolaterie from the basement. Lose two major wholesale clients? Open a 4,000-square-foot retail kitchen in a quiet North Vancouver neighbourhood on his own dime—and then do it again in Kitsilano during the 2008-09 recession. The risks have paid off for Haas, whose two locations produce 20,000 high-end chocolates each week, plus pastries and other confections—and who plans to open a third test kitchen next year. “I follow my gut 100 per cent,” he says. “People can tell me a million projections. But if it feels good, I have never failed.” —M.E.


Sergio Cocchia + Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia

President; CEO, Crew Management Ltd.

In 1985, Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia, 50, and her husband, Sergio Cocchia, 53, envisioned a five-star “staycation” destination at a time when the luxury spa concept was still undefined—but Wendy’s father, who had just handed over management of the Century Plaza Hotel to the young couple, didn’t think the new concept would succeed. “He negotiated a really difficult lease for me,” says Wendy. “It was the best training I could have got as an entrepreneur.” Today, Crew Management claims 10 locations of the celebrity-favoured Absolute Spa, plus three in-house spa product lines and a distribution arm that supplies eight other lines to 2,000 retailers worldwide. A $1.3-million renovation of the hotel and restaurant will be finished by 2015; next up is a plan to franchise Absolute Spa in the U.S. —M.E.

I knew my business was a success when…

Sacha McLean: I watched (for the first time) our helicopter crews changing parts on an energized high-voltage power transmission line—it was a well-choreographed virtual “ballet” of experience and confidence. It made me proud.

I get my best ideas when…

Jason McLean: I’m far away from the office in a tent or a boat. Preferably around dogs. My dogs like to fish.

People tell me the phrase I most overuse is…

Lisogar-Cocchia: “Absolutely!”

The most underrated trait of an entrepreneur is…

Haas: Stamina. It’s a marathon and not a sprint!

If I weren’t doing this I’d be…

Jason McLean: Consigliere to a non-mafia family business empire. Definitely non-mafia.

The person I learned the most from was…

Haas: Subconsciously, my parents, through leading by example.