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Yuri Fulmer: ‘You have to stop listening to people who say no’

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

Yuri Fulmer, 41, is chairman of Vancouver-based Fulmer Capital Partners.

Chairman is really just a grand title for "the guy who decides where the money goes." Our office does private equity and venture-capital-style investing in small and mid-cap private companies, and in some early-stage, high-growth companies. We do this on my balance sheet and in conjunction with friends and family – literally, friends and family. That's not a euphemism.

I'm not a morning guy and I like to exercise in the morning, so I'm not usually at the office much before 10:30 a.m., to be honest. There have to be some perks to working for yourself. My day is mostly meetings, with CEOs and the management teams of the companies we are invested in, to individuals and companies looking for investments.

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I'm a university dropout. I was in second or third year at UBC [the University of British Columbia] doing political economy of the Soviet bloc. It fell apart and so did my university career. So I left and got a job at A&W. They were great to me. I learned how to work in a team, take direction, and listen to people with more experience than me and who were smarter than me.

At A&W, I learned the value of always listening to customers and that the success or failure of the business revolves around your customers. To this day, I insist that we work out how to have the board and ownership of the business have a direct line to our customers, so we can hear their voices, both anecdotally and in data form. I also learned that your employees are the key to being successful, and [so it's important to] try to measurably improve their lives.

I stumbled into my job. I have a long history of owning restaurant companies and I sold two of the three of them in 2009-2010, so I had some money. I was way too young to retire and wouldn't know what to do anyway, so I made a long list of the things I like doing, a shorter list of the things I might be good at, and then a massive list of the things I'm terrible at. Then I sat down to work out what that meant in terms of employment and I landed on this. I was 36 when I finally worked out what to be when I grew up.

There are a million voices of no. Every single time, without fail, that I've wanted to make an investment, buy a business, hire someone, fire someone or do anything significant, 80 per cent of people will tell you why you shouldn't do it. You have to stop listening to people who say no because it is simply outside of their comfort zone.

The best advice I ever received came from my old boss. When I was working for A&W, I had the opportunity to buy a location and work for myself. I was saying no, as was everyone I knew, and my old boss came and talked me into it. It changed the course of my life. I'm so grateful.

I've learned three things in my career. Do what you love and be done with all the rest. Live your life in a place of gratitude and perhaps most importantly, I work on a firm "no jackass" rule. I don't do business with jackasses; have them as employees, landlords or bankers – not in my professional life or my personal life.

I think people think I work a lot harder than I do. I benefit from a great team, and when I work, I'm superfocused and get a lot done. I just refuse to sit in my chair if there isn't anything that I can add more value to than someone else. Leadership isn't about holding down a chair, or it isn't for me, anyway.

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If I could go back, I wouldn't have sold the two businesses I've sold. I don't have any regrets but I actually enjoyed them both in different ways and would like to have continued on with them. I also would have adopted the "no jackass" rule 10 years earlier.

As told to Leah Eichler. This interview has been edited and condensed.

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