Ahead of this year’s Forty Under 40 celebrations, OBJ is sharing stories from this year’s recipients of achievements, obstacles and inspiration – as well as the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
In this group of Forty Under 40 profiles, we meet this year’s recipients from the tourism, transportation, retail and media sectors:
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Michelle Coates Mather, vice-president, Syntax Strategic
Business: Public relations and public affairs consulting
Biggest business achievement: Supporting a diversity of clients achieve their communications and public affairs objectives while providing trusted advice to overcome brand and perception challenges.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Returning to work following a six-month maternity leave with optimism and a desire to help Syntax grow its business offerings against the backdrop of COVID-19.
Biggest influences: My parents.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Never assume you know how a colleague is feeling or coping. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to employee well-being, especially in times of crisis.
Charitable involvement: 21st Century Workforce Committee
First job: Grocery store cashier
Advice I’d give the younger me: Take advantage of every opportunity you can to learn and grow through experiences that challenge and fulfill you. Worry less about the titles and promotions.
Favourite pastime: Spending quality, undistracted time with my family, including my three wonderful young children.
Gareth Davies, founder and CEO, Maker House Co.
Business: Retailer selling a curated collection of furniture, homewares and gifts from Canadian makers.
Born: Brampton, Ont.
Biggest business achievement: Founded a retail startup and social enterprise that’s grown to $1.5 million in annual revenue, employs 10 people, sources products within Canada and has donated more than $100,000 to Ottawa community organizations through the #CraftChange Fund.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Pivoted from an immersive, tangible in-store shopping experience to an e-commerce model during the pandemic while maintaining overall sales growth of 28 per cent.
Biggest influences: My mother, who was always passionate about shopping local and supporting artists before it was trendy.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: That what we do as a business is essential to people’s lives.
Charitable involvement: Parkdale Food Centre
First job: Hockey referee
Advice I’d give the younger me: Share your ideas, foster partnerships, keep dreaming and be patient.
Favourite pastime: Playing guitar for my two kids.
Kelly Haussler, manager of destination development, Ottawa Tourism
Business: Destination marketing and management
Biggest business achievement: A tie between helping to develop Indigenous Tourism Entrepreneurship Training and being asked to be a keynote speaker in Kuala Lumpur for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Biggest obstacle overcome: COVID-19. I continue to work with my fellow Ottawa Tourism colleagues to ensure our destination is well-positioned and competitive once restrictions are lifted and we’re able to welcome visitors back.
Biggest influences: My amazing parents! From starting out as a marine biologist, to moving halfway across the world and back again, to changing career paths into tourism – throughout it all they have been my biggest cheerleaders.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Adaptability is key – situations can change quickly and the most effective thing you can do is be ready to roll with the punches.
Charitable involvement: The Indigenous Tourism Collaborative of the Americas
First job: Retail clerk at Gap
Advice I’d give the younger me: Trust your gut and don’t be afraid to speak up.
Favourite pastime: Travel
Nick McRae, president, Roxborough Bus Lines Ltd.
Business: Passenger transportation
Biggest business achievement: Taking Roxborough Bus Lines into its third generation as a family-owned business and expanding the company from a two-location, 120-employee operation to five facilities that employ more than 650 people.
Biggest obstacle overcome: Navigating major labour shortages. During these instances we never once compromised our service commitments or safety protocols.
Biggest influences: My father. He taught me that a strong work ethic makes it possible to achieve your goals and that leading by example brings out the best in your team and attracts the best team players.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Life can change in an instant and employers must use tools that work best for their team. Despite being apart, we learned that a well-informed team is a resilient team.
Charitable involvement: School Bus Ontario
First job: Bus washer
Advice I’d give the younger me: Never be afraid to ask questions. Listen to the opinion of others. Above all, once you make a choice – stand by it!
Favourite pastime: Golfing, skiing and spending time with family
Christopher Redmond, director, Distant Red Pictures
Business: Film and television
Born: Blairmore, Alta.
Biggest business achievement: Making a living exclusively directing film and television series in Ottawa, including a $600,000 feature film and two seasons of an original scripted comedy series.
Biggest obstacle overcome: I was laid off twice, and both times it felt like getting dumped from a relationship. Freelancing, however, led me to the career I always wanted, but was afraid to pursue.
Biggest influences: Directors such as David Cronenberg, Bruce MacDonald, Don McKellar and Sarah Polley inspire me to be able to make a meaningful career without leaving Canada.
Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: When the co-lead actor of Stittsville on Patrol backed out for fears of shooting during COVID, I rewrote the series to be about a single character. That sharpened what I liked most about the concept, which wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.
Charitable involvement: Burundi Film Center
First job: Fence painter
Advice I’d give the younger me: Write everything down. Your career will depend on having a well of ideas, and you never know what will lead to the next one.
Favourite pastime: Going to the movies