Toronto’s Office Tower Boom

Why businesses are trading suburban office parks for downtown highrises

IT TURNS OUT THAT PETER MENKES was onto something in 2005 when he bought a swath of deserted land south of Union Station with the kooky idea of developing office space. As early blueprints were being drafted, Telus signed on to be his anchor tenant. The telecommunications giant had been looking to consolidate its 15 GTA locations, preferably somewhere cool, and pushed for an edgy and eco-forward design. By 2009, Menkes’ 30-storey Telus House had surfaced and spurred a wave of office tower projects now rising from waterfront brownlands. Count them: PwC’s glass-encased building on York, the nearby Bremner Tower under construction, and, south of the Gardiner, RBC’s WaterPark Place III and another Menkes office building on lower York Street that will stretch the boundaries of the Financial District. Continue reading


The Return of Frozen Yogurt

Why fro-yo’s making a comeback 

ALEX SHNAIDER WASN’T LOOKING FOR NEW business opportunities when he first strolled into a Menchie’s. It was last spring and the Toronto tycoon was busy enough juggling the varied dealings of his multinational holding company, The Midland Group, while also fending off a legal challenge from disgruntled investors in the Trump Tower, the 65-storey hotel/condo Shnaider started developing in 2004. It was Shnaider’s first foray into luxury real-estate, and with it his first step into the limelight. Until partnering with Donald Trump on one of the swankiest real-estate deals in the country, Shnaider was a largely unknown, yet savvy young investor who quietly made his fortune in high-stakes commodities trading in post-Soviet republics. He flipped cheap steel-mills and factories in the Ukraine, bought the national electricity distributor in Armenia, and made billions by age 36. Today, the 44-year-old Russian-born entrepreneur is known, in the way billionaires are, for his indulgences—the cars, the yacht, the private jet—for buying a Formula One racing franchise, for his longstanding reign as a steel magnate and maybe the next king of frozen yogurt. Continue reading

Making Bicycles in Motor City

A Calgary entrepreneur sets up shop in business-friendly Detroit

TO CONVEY THE SPIRIT OF HIS PLAN to make bicycles in Detroit, Zak Pashak feels a tour is in order. At the wheel of his worn Toyota Prius, the 32-year-old entrepreneur narrates as the sprawl of Detroit unfolds, revealing a city broken but not dead. We pass the obvious blights symptomatic of a long-depressed city: rampant vacancy, overgrown land and lots of people sitting on stoops with nothing to do. But there are also signs of life, including a patch of downtown streets that people have taken to walking again and new businesses spun from an emergent entrepreneurial spirit. Local leaders are hoping these seeds will help to pull the city out of its 40-year funk. It was partly this spirit, partly an “irrational fascination with Michigan” and partly a need for change that drew Pashak to the Motor City from his hometown of Calgary two years ago. Continue reading

Embracing Office Romance

Why bosses need not fear love among the cubicles

IT’S THE INFAMOUS DISASTERS THAT PRESERVE the chill around workplace romance: Bill Clinton and the intern, David Letterman and his assistant, former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and the communications staffer. Even here in the real world, there’s no shortage of gossip about the CEO and the underling, shunted to a dreary regional outpost under mysterious circumstances. But what about a 25-year-old marketing manager and his colleague down the hall? They’re around the same age, they’re into the same music and they understand each others’ lives better than any outsider could. Need their employer fear these flying sparks in the vicinity of the serious business of work? Continue reading

Maple Leaf Foods Goes Lean

After surviving the kind of tainted-meat tragedy that brings companies down, Maple Leaf Foods is now fighting to stay alive in a par-dollar world.

IF MAPLE LEAF FOODS WAS A SCHLUBBY middle-aged guy, he would have recently told his buddies he was finally going to lose that 20 pounds, move out of his mother’s house and take control of his life. It’s the sort of bold and overdue makeover the food giant announced in October that will see it shed aging meat factories, modernize operations and catch up to its leaner, more productive U.S. competitors. The $560-million investment—the largest in the Canadian food industry—is the third and final phase of a sweeping $1.3-billion restructuring strategy the company launched in 2006, which has since reached every corner of operations, from hog rendering to baked goods and now, finally, prepared meats. Continue reading

Getting the Most Out of Perfectionists

Perfectionism is that unoffending weakness oft-cited in job interviews, but managers beware.

THERE’S ONE IN EVERY OFFICE: the guy who’s forever working but struggles to meet deadlines; someone who nitpicks her colleagues’ work but won’t let anyone near her own until it’s gleaming. Perfectionism is that unoffending weakness oft-cited in job interviews, and a quality lately glamorized by all the frothing tributes to today’s most famous perfectionist, the late Steve Jobs. Continue reading

Investing in Oil & Gas Juniors

How to pick stocks in Alberta’s jumping junior sector

BEFORE FOUNDING Oil and Gas Investments Bulletin, a subscription-based newsletter about oil and gas juniors, Keith Schaefer worked for 20 years in the mining sector, helping public companies raise exploration capital. Now, on the other side of the fence, he spends his days reading charts and analyst reports in order to decide which, among the hundreds of juniors, he’s willing to throw money at. Schaefer prides himself on his plain-language approach, characterizing the current investing climate as “a little crazy.” “There are so many juniors right now, so many management teams and so much money being poured into this sector.” Continue reading

How Bosses Really Feel About Mat Leave

Employers talk honestly about parental leave

TEN YEARS AGO, WHEN OTTAWA INCREASED parental leave from 10 weeks to 35, bosses across the country quietly panicked. Combined with 15 weeks of maternity leave, the legislative change meant that companies would have to reserve a mother’s job for a year. In an anonymous survey conducted in Alberta at the time, anxious employers predicted heightened workplace tensions and potential discrimination against young job seekers. “People in childbearing years will be at a disadvantage when it comes to new positions opening up,” warned one, while another admitted, “We have learned to avoid hiring people we feel will be having families.” Continue reading

The Rise of DavidsTea

Has a pair of Montreal cousins created the Starbucks of tea?

FOR PURVEYORS OF A TYPICALLY SOOTHING, grandmotherly beverage, the DavidsTea head office is buzzing with young, overly cheerful go-getters marching around with purpose. Periodically, they congregate at the office’s fully stocked tea counter to brew their favourite blend or discuss the merits of matcha, a powdery green tea that must be whisked like a French sauce. Currently, there is more staff than office space, so the company is spilling into another building nearby, while expanding its warehouse for the second time. Since launching its first tea shop in 2008, DavidsTea has been consistently bursting its seams. Last year, the chain went from eight to 40 locations across the country, from Vancouver to Halifax. This year, at least 20 more will open, signalling a concerted push in the company’s quest to dominate the burgeoning retail tea market. Continue reading

Better Working Through Living

How companies are luring staff with new work-life balance perks

AS THE CORPORATE WORKPLACE GETS YOUNGER and more mobile, companies are figuring out that keeping staff happy will require more than simply good pay and vacation time. Increasingly, employers are also ensuring their people are exercised, well-fed, entertained and given ample autonomy – all in the name of work-life balance. Along with flex-time and parental leave, today there’s on-site gyms, massages, concierge services and even rules about after-hours email so people don’t feel tied to their Blackberry. Continue reading