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Lesson #5: Pride Can Power Your Company
Schwartz might have spent a better part of his early years living, studying, and working in the U.S., but ask him where he is from and he will proudly say he is a Canadian. “I went to school in the United States, and I lived in the U.S. for seven years after that,” says Schwartz. “I wanted to come back to Canada. I would say that at least half of the professional staff here have all been educated in the U.S. and worked in the U.S. but wanted to come back to Canada.”
The fact that most of Onex’s senior executives are Canadians has helped serve as a unifying force throughout the company. “We are a very Canadian company,” says Schwartz. “Our head office is here. All our senior people live here and want to live here. We have a group in New York of quite senior people as well, but the bulk of the management team are Canadians who want to live in Canada.”
Despite the company’s proud Canadian roots, Schwartz acknowledges that there are problems in the country that are forcing many of its youngest and brightest out. “We need an environment that fosters entrepreneurship and encourages young people in the new economy,” he says. “If those people are there and want to stay in Canada, there would be lots of venture capital money for them. Money will follow the people and the ideas, not the other way around.”
Schwartz and his Onex team are proud of the legacy they are leaving, as well as the lesson they are teaching, that companies do not have to relocate to the U.S. to be successful. In fact, staying in a country with so few similar competitors has actually helped push Onex to the top.
Being based in Canada, as Onex has shown, is in no way a limiting factor to being able to do business on the world stage. “We’re a global business for sure,” says Schwartz. “Our revenues last year were $15 billion and my guess would be that maybe $1 billion of that was in Canada. The rest of it was around the world.” To critics who question Schwartz’s patriotism as a result, he replies, “Does that make us a Canadian company or does that make us a company which is headquartered in Canada? I think we’re a Canadian company.”
Today, as Onex’s international success has become more solidified, Schwartz says he wants to increase its presence back at home, in Canada. After all, since no business is operated directly under the Onex branch, few Canadians have ever heard its name. And that is something Schwartz wants to change. “We would like to make a major Canadian acquisition,” he says. “We would like to have a business that operates in Canada and provides either goods or services to Canadians.”
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