My family moved to Toronto from Lebanon in 1965, when I was 10. I spent two hours each day learning English. The teacher would give us different TV shows to watch every night—Batman, Bewitched, Bonanza—to help us pick up the language. One of my earliest memories is discussing what “holy cow” meant. I’m still not sure I get it.
My brother ran one of Canada’s first video stores, and we ended up publishing a magazine about the video industry. Then we created a trade show to celebrate the Canadian scene. We helped Universal launch its home-video division and did a lot of work with Disney. Eventually, we became part of Famous Players, which merged with Cineplex.
We changed cinema advertising in Canada to make it more entertaining, just like the movies. We’re mindful of the power of cinema—in some cases, we have 10 times the recall of TV ads. Our content, like the Cineplex Pre-Show, is part of the experience, and our magazine has four million readers.
The whole movie-going experience is still unique. I have large-screen high-definition TVs all over my house, but the sound and picture and atmosphere are not the same. I still want my Twizzlers and popcorn when I walk in.
Social relationships are capital. Take an interest in people not just because they’re interesting but also because personal relationships often lead to business relationships.
My uncle was Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations, and when I was young he would give me art books. Later, I had a lot of artist friends, and when I could afford to buy a piece to support them, I would. Now collecting art is not a hobby, but I’m not sure it’s an investment. It’s definitely a passion. My husband, the artist Jacob Yerex, and I donate quite a lot of it.
I have a big Andy Warhol collection—I knew people who knew him in New York in the 1980s—but it could’ve been much larger. I even gave away some of his prints as gifts. I was always fascinated by how Warhol marketed himself.
I didn’t fit anybody’s idea of what a gay man should be—I was a goalie in hockey and lacrosse, and I played quarterback. It was me wanting attention, probably. You get all the accolades with the shutouts.
I think I’ve found it easier to be a fundraiser than I thought it would be, and I most want to be remembered for using my position to give back through charity work. I don’t know if it’s in my genes or my blood, but I can’t not do it.
I was once pitching Bluma Appel on donating some money, so she invited me to her house. All the ladies were wearing cashmere sweaters, little jackets and pearls. I decided that the next time I went there, I’d fit in—so I wore pearls.
There’s not a lot in the media about Salah the business guy. There are a lot of people who want to put you in a little area sometimes. That’s my beef.
We have a long way to go in terms of diversity. None of the big banks have someone who is openly gay on their board. It’s important to be able to look up and say, “They’re one of us.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.