Excitement high as Forty Under 40 Awards Gala returns to Hilton Lac-Leamy for first time in three years

Annual awards dinner celebrates outstanding local leaders under the age of 40 who demonstrate remarkable business accomplishments, expertise and community involvement
In collaboration with Rogers TV, OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade present the 2022 Forty Under 40 gala.
Editor's Note

OBJ.social is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors and Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties. Read their stories here.

One couldn't help but nod along in recognition when the AC/DC started to play at the Forty Under 40 Gala that returned Friday night to the Hilton Lac-Leamy.

The gala’s heavy metal anthem song, Thunderstruck, with its distinctive opening riffs, filled the room while rising young entrepreneurs, business professionals and non-profit organization leaders proudly walked across the stage together, waving and smiling to their audience. Meanwhile, the ballroom full of some 600 friends, family, colleagues, clients and event partners clapped and cheered them on Friday night at the Hilton Lac-Leamy.

The pandemic was not at all kind to face-to-face business networking events, which are so important for companies trying to build professional relationships and to meet prospective clients. Having flesh-and-blood people together that evening meant one could really feel the energy and excitement over the return of the in-person Forty Under 40 Awards Gala. The event also marked the 25th anniversary of the annual celebration, a joint initiative of the Ottawa Board of Trade (OBoT) and Ottawa Business Journal, in partnership with their long-time partner, the University of Ottawa Telfer School of Management Executive MBA.

“It doesn’t end tonight; it starts tonight,” OBJ publisher Michael Curran told everyone while speaking on stage with OBoT president and CEO Sueling Ching. “If you’re a recipient here tonight, this is a cohort you belong to. Many people stay connected to a subset of their recipients and they form very close important business relationships.”

Added Ching: “The cohorts from years past have been some of the most important community builders.”

Guests first gathered for an extended cocktail reception before heading into the ballroom for dinner and the on-stage awards presentation, which was supplemented by videos and music to keep things fun and interesting. The evening reached another milestone, as well, by handing out its 1,000th award since the celebration of young business talent was first launched. 

The call for nominations happened this past winter, with a panel of judges reviewing submissions and deciding on the 40 winners. Names were announced in the spring.

Attendees included Len Potechin, founder of real estate investment, development and management company Regional Group. He turns 96 next week.  His grandson, Tal Scher, vice president of asset management, investor and government relations at Regional Group, was a 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient. There were three generations of family leadership in attendance that night that also included Scher's uncle, executive chairman Steve Gordon, and his cousin, president and CEO Sender Gordon. Potechin founded Regional Group in 1958.

 

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From left, Regional Group executive chairman Steven Gordon with his nephew Tal Scher, 32, a 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient and a vice president at Regional Group, along with Gordon's father-in-law, company founder Len Potechin, and Gordon's son, Sender Gordon, president and CEO of Regional Group, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Dr. Rohit Gandhi, an emergency physician at Montfort Hospital and co-founder of online consultation service Rocket Doctor, with his wife, Neeru Gandhi, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipients Stacey Bedford, 39, CEO of Bandzoogle, and Carly Holm, 36, founder and CEO of Humani HR, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Seth Richards, 39, founder and president of Westview Projects, with his business partners Cedar Nisbet, Christian Jennings, Ken Jennings, and Brad Doran-Veevers at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 recipients Brenda Kirkwood, 39, director of post-placement integration at Keynote Search, and Solange Tuyishime Keita, 39, president and CEO of Elevate International, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Michael Leaver, 39, law partner at Kelly Santini LLP, with his colleagues, Lisa Langevin, Mitchell Kitagawa, Sean Bawden, Don Burke and Shawn O'Connor, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Bridgehead Coffee founder Tracey Clark with 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Kate Burnett, president of Bridgehead, and her CFO, Laurie Ouellette, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Nadia Allibhai, 35, a lawyer with the business immigration practice at EY Law LLP, with EY partners Juliet Nicol, Darrell Bontes and Annie Murphy, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Adam Joiner, 39, CEO of BGC Ottawa, at this year's awards gala with, from left, mentor and Lundy Construction president and CEO Sean Lundy, Joiner's wife Alison Telford, leadership team coach Maureen Cunningham and her husband, BGC Ottawa board chair and Ottawa restaurateur Stephen Beckta. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Laura Townson, 38, COO at Iversoft, with Brian Farquhar at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Brian Johnson, partner at Cleland Jardine Engineering, with 2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Brent Weatherdon, 36, manager of special projects, and company co-founder Bob Jardine, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall LLP co-chairman and partner Aaron Rubinoff with 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Conor Cronin, 38, a partner at the Ottawa law firm, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 Award winner Jillian Normand, 36, vice president of land development at Glenview Homes, with managing director and 2019 award recipient Jacob Shabinsky, and Sandro Ricci, president of ASL Construction and a 2021 award winner, at this year's gala, which was back in person following a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Ottawa Business Journal publisher Michael Curran and Sueling Ching, president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade, enthusiastically welcome attendees to the return of the in-person Forty Under 40 Awards Gala held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Recipients kept it humble, recognizing that they didn’t get there alone. Jessey Bird, 38, vice president of marketing and communications for United Way East Ontario, felt like she was accepting her award on behalf of many.

“Honestly, I’m so proud of the work that I do at United Way East Ontario and, specifically, in the pandemic. To be working as a young leader with my team through really challenging times and to be helping people — and then to be honoured for that work — is really special, not only for me but for the whole team.”

Similarly,  Responsible Choice president and CEO Darren Burrowes, 38, saw his award as a group celebration. “It’s an accomplishment that I share with my entire team because I truly believe that there’s no such thing as a self-made individual. You only get to these types of things with the people who were along in the process with you.”

Burrowes was only 19 when he started his designated driver business. He described the experience of going up on stage to collect his award as “weird, in the best possible way. 

“It felt really, really great,” he continued. “I’ve seen so many names that I recognize win a Forty Under 40 and always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to have my name on there?’ I’m really, really lucky that I had close people on my team to nominate me, and I’m really excited to be part of the process.”

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From left, Hayley Robateau, director of marketing and communications and community initiatives at United Way East Ontario, with 2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Jessey Bird, vice president of marketing and communications for the non-profit organization, and Jennifer Madigan, vice president of media and communications at Syntax Strategic, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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Ottawa business coach Steph Kelly from Copper Thread Coaching with 2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Darren Burrowes, 38, CEO of Responsible Choice, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

Riaz Sidi, 37, president of marketing boutique agency Sidi.io, found it exhilarating to be publicly recognized. He said he felt much more comfortable up on stage than he might have a few years ago. “I wasn’t nervous because I felt I actually earned it,” he told OBJ.social afterward. “In the past, I was faking it to make it but I know deep down, when the cameras are off and I’m not recording anything and I’m not talking to my team and not meeting with a client, that I’m putting in the hard work. This award is evidence of that.

“It also shows that the crazy, kooky idea that I had to build a business in my basement has actually materialized into something, and we’re impacting lives and we’re able to hire people and grow companies. That’s rewarding.”

Sidi said he could feel the love from the business community, including clients and partners, during his moment in the spotlight. “They were high-fiving me and shaking my hands as I was heading to the stage, cheering me on and supporting me,” said Sidi, who announced in the spring that he was one of the winners through a 48-second video that he shared on social media of him celebrating with his family over a home-cooked dinner of steak and champagne. His mother is seen in the background raising her glass of bubbly and saying, "Well done, Riaz".

For many, winning a Forty Under 40 is also a clear indicator to recipients that they’re on the right track. “It’s really special,” Shannon Ferguson, 36, CEO of fan engagement, loyalty and couponing platform FanSaves said of receiving her award. “Sometimes, you have ‘imposter syndrome’ in this business; you don’t know if you're really supposed to be here. Tonight felt like a validation. It really shows all the hard work you do is really worth it. Of course, you don’t do it for the awards but it does make it that much sweeter.”

Attendees included many award winners from past years, including André Grzela, owner of Beachcomber Hot Tubs in Orléans. He became part of the Forty Under 40 club in 2020, shortly after pandemic restrictions prevented large in-personal gatherings such as the Forty Under 40 Awards Gala from happening. “I didn’t get to party and have fun with the other recipients,” he explained of why he decided to attend this year’s awards gala. “I wanted to be able to celebrate in real life.”

Attendees were encouraged to participate after the awards presentation in a mini charity casino that offered them a chance to win prizes while raising funds for the Ottawa Network for Education’s Junior Achievement program.

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2020 Forty Under 40 recipient Nathan Hall, CEO of Culture Check, with 2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Riaz Sidi at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 recipients Shannon Ferguson, 36, co-founder and CEO of FanSaves, and Kayla Isabelle, 29, CEO of Startup Canada, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 recipients Cody Sorensen, 35, director of M&A at Welch Capital Partners, and Corey Ellis, 26, co-founder and CEO of Growcer, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, 2022 Forty Under 40 recipient Shane Currey, 34, partner and financial advisor with Currey Insurance and Investments, with Rob Imbeault, COO of Forage Hyperfoods, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips  
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Forty under 40 alumni included Andrew Reeves, principal architect at Linebox Studio, and his wife, Melissa Reeves, COO of Linebox Studio, who are, as far as we know, the first married couple to both win Forty Under 40 awards. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Tim Burns, co-founder and COO of skincare company Bushbalm, with Bushbalm co-founder and CEO David Gaylord, a recipient of a 2022 Forty Under 40 Award, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips   
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2022 Forty Under 40 Award recipient Pierce Ujjainwalla, 37, co-founder and CEO of Knak, with his wife, Emalie, and his co-founder and COO Brendan Farnand and his co-founder and CTO Pat Proulx, at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips   
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Sueling Ching, president and CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade, with board chair Ian Sherman at this year's awards gala, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips   
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2020 Forty Under 40 Award recipient André Grzela, owner of Beachcomber Hot Tubs in Orléans, made up for the lack of an in-person gala in 2020 by celebrating at this year's event, held Friday, June 17, 2022, at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Photo by Caroline Phillips

caroline@obj.ca