Entrepreneur of the Year 2017: Investment Services

The annual Ernst & Young list of B.C.'s brightest business visionaries finds a fresh crop of leaders building empires in everything from renewable energy to venture capital to social enterprise

Nolan Watson
President and CEO, Sandstorm Gold Ltd. (Winner)

A financial crisis that has equity markets plummeting isn’t exactly the perfect environment to raise capital for a venture in the commodities sector. But that was what Nolan Watson faced when he founded Vancouver gold mining financier Sandstorm Gold in 2009.

“It was the worst time in generations to try to raise money,” Watson reflects. “I was a 29-year-old guy walking around in that environment trying to raise $50 million,” he adds. “The mining industry is a very capital-intensive business; you have to have the mine or you have to have the money. We had neither.”

Watson pulled it off—a result he calls “kind of a miracle.” Others might call it a vote of confidence. Watson had already proven his worth at Silver Wheaton Corp. (now called Wheaton Precious Metals Corp.), where he assumed the role of chief financial officer at the tender age of 26, becoming the youngest-ever CFO of a New York Stock Exchange–listed company. At Vancouver-based Silver Wheaton, he helped pioneer the business model of stream transactions in silver; he expanded on that approach when he created Sandstorm. The company provides financing to gold mines in exchange for a portion of the mine’s production—a stream—or royalties. “Effectively, what we do is we collect cheques from mines around the world as they mine them,” Watson explains. Today Sandstorm, with 19 employees, has US$50 million in free cash flow and is on track to double that by 2022.

Watson, a chartered financial analyst who once considered dropping out of his UBC bachelor of commerce studies to become a humanitarian, is also a committed philanthropist. In 2005, he founded Nations Cry, a charity focused on providing education in Sierra Leone.

Watson is the first to admit the mining industry hasn’t always had a stellar reputation when it comes to human rights. “I think often—not always—the criticism is justified,” he says. “One of the things that I enjoy about the industry is that if you do things right, you can make people’s lives better. You just have to make sure you do them right.”

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”
Preparation. I think many entrepreneurs think it is exciting and cool to fly by the seat of their pants without having the hard skills necessary for actually starting a business

Manny Padda
Managing Partner, New Avenue Capital (Runner-up)

When Manny Padda began garnering attention with PM Search Partners, the executive search firm he founded in 2010 and still operates, he shunned the spotlight. “I had a search fee of a quarter-million dollars for somebody, and you know, it’s tough to pay a 26-year-old that,” Padda remembers with a laugh. “I did a lot of my work over the phone, so people didn’t really know my age.”

In the early days of PM Search Partners, Padda accepted stock from some of the companies he worked with, quickly building up a multimillion-dollar business portfolio. He expanded into angel investing; today, Vancouver-headquartered New Avenue Capital (NAC) encompasses venture capital, private lending and executive search to offer a one-stop shop for early-stage ventures. NAC’s portfolio includes more than 60 projects globally, with assets in technology, natural resources, real estate and education.

Padda also takes a businesslike approach to philanthropy, tracking how many children are directly affected by donations he makes to educational outreach organizations such as Science World. “I have the goal of educating a million kids before I turn 40,” he says.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I enjoy working in teams where everyone feels valued to contribute their ideas. Regardless of experience or position, I firmly believe everyone learns from one another

Catherine Dorazio + Jeff Guise + Corey MacEachern
Managing Director, Business Development + Managing Director, Chief Investment Officer + Managing Director, Business Management and Operations, Connor, Clark & Lunn Private Capital Ltd. (Runner-up)

Managing almost $7 billion in assets takes more than foresight and careful analysis—it also takes guts. Connor, Clark & Lunn Private Capital, an investment adviser to high-net-worth individuals, foundations and First Nations, isn’t faint of heart.

When other money managers were tiptoeing around the real estate and private infrastructure sectors following the market turbulence of 2007, CC&L Private Capital (a division of $71-billion, Vancouver-based Connor, Clark & Lunn Financial Group) forged ahead. This year it created a new business consisting of investments in private loans to midmarket Canadian companies. Alternative assets now constitute up to 30 per cent of client portfolios, which total about 15,000. Managing directors Catherine Dorazio, Jeff Guise and Corey MacEachern are the firm’s largest individual shareholders, so they’ve aligned clients’ interests with their own.

 “We don’t go through market downturns skipping down the street,” Guise says. “It’s just that we come back to the discipline and process and education and history to ask, ‘Where are the opportunities that are being created here?'”