He symbolically severed ties with the wealthy Forest Hill enclave where he grew up by switching from the local high school to an alternative school where his teachers played in rock bands in their spare time. He sported five earrings, three in one ear and two in the other.
He no longer wears the earrings but for our lunch he dons an engraved silver wave-like object hanging from a black string around his neck, a gift from his wife Erica, and black-beaded bracelets. To complete his casual-chic look, he’s wearing a navy Brunello Cucinelli jacket (roughly $2,000) over a white T-shirt.
He chose this restaurant, Hiro Sushi, because it’s “authentic,” but not a must-be-seen-at hot spot, which isn’t important to him. He uses the word “authentic” repeatedly to describe his business and ones he admires, such as the tony Louis Vuitton. At Hiro, he passes on ordering from the menu and simply asks the waitress for miso soup and “the best and freshest sushi you have today.”
In his younger years, he was uncomfortable with brands and felt out of place at Forest Hill Collegiate because it had “a lot of entitled kids.” Today, students at the school are among the demographic of people who are his best customers. “People want real things,” he says.
He worked summers in the family business, started by his grandfather in 1957, but never planned it as a career. He wanted to carve out his own life and his parents discouraged him from going into it. “They said it was too hard and too challenging, ‘You should go get a profession, become a doctor or lawyer or journalist.’ ”
After high school, he travelled through Europe with a girlfriend in a Citroen AX, learning to use the stick shift. They slept in his car while his peers usually stayed in youth hostels. “I definitely like to do my own thing and march to the beat of my own drum,” he says.
By now at Hiro, we are on our second of four full plates of sushi rolls, his favourite being one with anchovies. It’s the most obscure and different, he explains in between mouthfuls as he finishes another dish.
At the University of Toronto, he studied English and ran a small firm with two friends on the side from his parents’ basement, tallying statistics for sports pools and other organizations in the pre-Internet age. After he graduated, he planned to travel and write short stories but first worked for his father to earn some money.
A turning point came after he convinced his father to set up a booth at a trade fair in Germany, partly to satisfy his itch to travel. But he came to appreciate how much Europeans admired the Canada Goose brand, which the company used in that market. (At the time it used Snow Goose in Canada and also made private-label parkas for other companies.) “Europeans really liked it because it was Canadian.”
He had another moment of discovery walking by the Columbia Sportswear booth. It was a mammoth multi-billion-dollar brand which, only about a decade earlier, had been closer in size to his family’s firm. He saw the potential for the company to expand quickly.
Today, he’s focused on his next steps at Canada Goose. It has launched lighter weight jackets, and this fall will roll out an e-commerce site, in direct competition with some of its key retailers. “Retailers probably prefer us not to do it. But they understand.” He’s also contemplating bricks-and-mortar flagship stores in the future.
One of his biggest challenges is keeping up with high demand. “We’ve had those problems many times and we continue to have those problems,” he says. “But we’re okay with that. It’s way better to have that problem than the other problem.”
The lesson he learned was to invest in technological systems and “infrastructure” ahead of growth to minimize the crises, he says. “We love to push our limits so we’re investing and growing at the same time.”
But he’s aware of the risks of getting bigger. “The bigger you get, the harder it gets. It’s harder to stay authentic and stay true to who you are.”
Having never gone to business school, he’s learning along the way. Describing his younger self as “a quiet kid,” he was even “terrified” of public speaking. But he got some coaching, and “I just forced myself to do it ... What I’ve realized is that people like me by myself. I just talk the way I talk to you.”