Meet Ottawa’s 2021 Forty Under 40 recipients: Tourism, transportation, retail and media

Editor's Note

Each year, the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Board of Trade recognize the accomplishments, professional experience and community involvement of 40 of the region’s rising young business stars.


Looking for the full list of recipients? Click here to see all 40 names. And please join OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade in celebrating the 2021 Forty Under 40 recipients.


Ahead of this year’s Forty Under 40 celebrationsOBJ 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:

Michelle Coates

OBJ360 (Sponsored)

Michelle Coates Mather, vice-president, Syntax Strategic

Business: Public relations and public affairs consulting

Born: Ottawa

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.

Forty Under 40 broadcast promo

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

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

Kelly Haussler, manager of destination development, Ottawa Tourism

Business: Destination marketing and management

Born: Ottawa

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.

Forty Under 40 broadcast promo

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

Nick McRae, president, Roxborough Bus Lines Ltd.

Business: Passenger transportation

Born: Ottawa

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

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


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