As the fish arrives, he chuckles. “When I tell my kids about this lunch they’ll be all over it.”
A family tradition is to periodically hop on bikes and cycle up from midtown Toronto to Fish Joy. The route is like going back in time in Mr. Hudson’s life, from the old-money neighbourhood of Rosedale east, through ravines and valleys that cut through progressively more working class areas of the city, concluding with a long ride under a set of high-tension power lines that angle northeast to the streets where he grew up. The restaurant looks much the same, but for a coat of paint, and “they used to have pictures of fish,” he says.
“I love Scarborough,” says Mr. Hudson, very much still a suburban kid at heart. He was a key fundraiser for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who rode support in the city’s outlying areas to victory, promising to build subways to areas like this.
“I would have loved to have had a subway, when I grew up out here, instead of spending 24 years hoofing it back and forth on a bus.” After the bus, it was a Ford Pinto with rusted out floorboards that he drove to York University, where he was studying. In winter, he would stretch a Hudson’s Bay blanket across his lap.
“That holds you in good stead when you stumble,” he says now. “You say, ‘It’s okay to stumble. I’m just going to pick it up and do it again.’ Having lived eight years in the U.S., it’s kind of a rite of passage. Until you’ve done it you haven’t really learned. In Canada it’s like, ‘Oh my God what did you do?’ You come back far more focused.”
His focus now is on avoiding mistakes. There will be no commercial paper. There will be no huge acquisitions outside North America. He knows his desire to grow is his strength, and his weakness.
“Anyone with enough coffee and the office door closed, will find a way of doing almost any deal,” he says. “I bought AT&T Capital. I bought 20 companies before that. Twenty-one wasn’t so good.”
That hasn’t changed. He is coming off a weekend spent largely in the office, looking at possible acquisitions, with a little time on a buddy’s boat on the side.
“I’m a growth guy. I wake up in the morning looking for growth.”
Knowing that, he now has rituals designed to keep him from doing something rash. When a big lending decision crosses his desk, he leaves it there 24 hours before making a call. And he pays more attention to what his trusted advisers have to say. Key among them is Steven Small, the dental anesthetist who originally staked money to start Newcourt. He was on the Newcourt board, and is now on Element’s.
As Newcourt grew, Mr. Hudson says he “listened less and less. Toward the end I wasn’t a very good listener.”
He is pickier now. Element has looked at 30 deals, and done two. He has his eye on an acquisition in the U.S.
As lunch wraps up, Mr. Hudson offers a tour of his old haunts. His parents’ old house, a tiny bungalow with one bathroom for four brothers, is tucked in behind the restaurant. Not far away is the house where he and his buddies could sneak a few beers. Around the corner is his high school, where the motto is “Nothing without great effort.”
It’s a fitting slogan for a comeback for the kid from Scarborough.
“It’s the work ethic. You don’t take much for granted.”
He grew up in Scarborough, with three brothers. His father was a heavy-duty mechanic.
The 54-year-old lives in Toronto. He has three children, aged 23, 15 and 10.
He went to York University, graduating with an honours bachelor of business administration in 1981.
He began his career as an accountant.
At age 26, he approached one of his clients, a dentist named Steven Small, with an idea for an equipment finance company. That company became Newcourt Credit Group, which in the 15 years from its founding in 1984 to its sale in 1999 grew from scratch to $36-billion in assets.
After that, he moved on to invest in and run Hair Club for Men, then Herbal Magic, a chain of weight-loss centres.
In 2007, he founded Element.
Mr. Hudson chaired the executive committee for Toronto’s 2008 Olympic bid, which finished second to the eventual winner, Beijing.
At the behest of former Ontario conservative premier Mike Harris, Mr. Hudson joined