Cloud 9

At Harry James Financial we were very early adopters of cloud services. A very expensive albeit leading-edge technology called thin desk was presented to us which leased the hardware while all of the servers were hosted offsite. Our rationale was simple, we wanted the best for our clients in order to protect their information while ensuring we could be up and running the next day after a catastrophe like a robbery or fire. It was an excellent service and worked very well so when my close friend Paul Hubert was moving into this space I was happy to partner on our new company called Cloud 9. Again I focussed on marketing while Paul (truly one of the smartest guys I know) worked his magic on developing, streamlining, and packaging the services. It was never my intention to hang in for the long haul so Paul bought us out early in the game. His company is thriving and I am proud to have played a small part.

Visit Cloud9 website

Live Real Factory Markham

The live real factory was born out of the ashes of our restaurant Marca on Main. After we shut down operations, I was close to renovating this space into offices. I had a hard time thinking about ripping it out though because the space simply has an incredibly warming embrace and almost magical feel. Everyone that enters the factory has the same experience which I put down to my wife and Joe’s build and design talents.

One night I was reflecting on the next chapter of my business journey which involves workshops on work-life balance as well as one called retirement’s a lie that breaks down the myths & preconceived notions that aging must mean decline. I hopped into bed and a few hours later woke up with the epiphany that I should convert the kitchen of the restaurant into a stage and that I should rename Marca on Main the live real factory.

The purpose of the new space is to celebrate, educate, inspire and motivate everyone at every stage of life and to recognize that time is our most valuable asset, the only asset worthy of being locked in a vault. Thankfully the vision has been embraced and the live real factory continues to share the philosophy with all those that enjoy being in the moment.

Take a 360 tour of the Live Real Factory

Marca Restaurants

While our restaurants were a failure, Marca continues to hold a very special place at harry james enterprises. We owned a beautiful commercial location overlooking the Cobourg Harbour. My wife and I always thought it would be a great place for a wine bar or boutique restaurant. We were real estate investors not restauranteurs so when builder / developer / restauranteur Joe Ferrara walked into our lives and saw our vision we were happy to have him sign a lease. He however had other plans, he wanted us to partner with him. “Partner with you? we don’t even know you and we are not in the habit of marrying people we don’t know. If you like the space lease it but no thanks to the partnership”.  Well Joe, who’s personality is best described as a combination of red bull and double espresso, wouldn’t let up. “Just come and visit my Mara restaurant in Whitby, we are different” I was thinking you are different all right. Regardless we visited Whitby, got to know each other, opened Cobourg and two other restaurants and proceeded to lose a lot of money over the next 6 years.

How could I let that happen? It’s much easier than you think, somehow you always convince yourself next week is going to be different; this Chef is going to be different; we just need to persevere and build a loyal clientele. Finally, you break out of your delusion and start to make some sane business decisions. The reality is however as we were losing money in the restaurants, we were making money in our true sweet spot, real estate. We were building, renovating and innovating left, right and center. Maybe we had to be successful at real estate to feed our cash hungry restaurants but regardless the partnership worked.

With Joe’s incredible talent and creativity in building, my pretty good skills at finding value and negotiating deals and my wife’s incredible gift of decorating and design we literally built a real estate dream team on top of three sinking restaurants. Marca was eventually changed to harry james enterprises and the rest as they say is history.


Padgett Business Services

I took a step of faith and bought out a client’s business because he said he wanted to retire. As time went on I noticed the clients were leaving, apparently retirement didn’t agree with him so he got a cheque from me as well as the clients I bought that continued to do business with him. It was a small deal and I simply put it down as bad judgement on my part. I didn’t sue him or make a big deal about it because it would have taken too much time and energy from my main gig. Everything doesn’t always work out and sometimes people take advantage but it shouldn’t you stop from doing deals. Also for those of you thinking well you should have had everything in writing, you can’t legislate or mandate character and integrity. When trust is involved, If someone wants to rip you off, they’ll find a way.

Play It Again Sports

Many years ago a very successful executive shared his dream with me to own his own sports store, he was passionate and sincere. I jumped in and suggested a partnership to make it happen. At the time it wasn’t clear to me that the skills to be very successful in the corporate world didn’t necessarily give you what you needed to excel in the very ambiguous and unstructured entrepreneurial world. He tried to tell me numerous times but I didn’t listen and paid the ultimate price of having to shut it all down. By the time I tuned into the real problem and what was needed it was simply too late. Always be aware that employees and entrepreneurs exist in two different worlds. Two very different skill sets in my humble opinion. One path isn’t better or superior than the other, they are simply vastly different. Both can offer incredible rewards but assuming one skill set can be seamlessly transferred from one side to the other can be a financially fatal mistake.

HJ Group

When I sold Harry James Financial I didn’t think that any of my kids would want to come into the business. Regardless I was a big believer in letting them create their path and their own success before they would entertain coming into anything that I started. I think if the perception is kids are handed something it ultimately becomes a burden for them. My son Justin ended up going into and focussing on an aspect of the business that wasn’t my main forte, employee benefits. He worked in the west end of the city where nobody knew me, my reputation or practice. His work ethic and single minded focus on becoming an expert in this area attracted a lot of attention and it wasn’t long before some of the top brokers in the city were seeking him out to join their team.

We met for lunch one day as I was helping him analyze the exciting opportunities laid before him when he casually asked me “why don’t I build my business under the HJ Group banner instead?” To say I was honoured would be an understatement but I quickly warned him the perception would be that I brought him into my business other than the reality that he was bringing me into his. Thankfully that didn’t deter his vision to bring HJ Group to a new level.

Visit HJ Group website


Harry James Financial

I cut my teeth working as a Corporate Trust Officer at Canada Trust in the early 80’s. In 1984 I launched out into a career that anyone with a pulse qualified for, selling life insurance. Not glamorous but rewarding on many levels from sitting under the best speakers and mentors in the world to leaning into my fears to see what I was made of and what I could accomplish in sales.

Throughout this time I developed an idea that objective financial advice, dispensed by salaried educated, experienced advisors would be fully embraced by potential clients. On this basis Harry James Financial Services was birthed in 1993 and opened on Main Street Markham under the franchise name Ross Dixon Financial. It worked! Ultimately harry james financial was acquired by a public company in 2007 for the largest multiple that any financial services firm would sell for at that time. The original objective of the acquiring company was to take the model  across Canada.

Kawartha Rock Quarry

We started the quarry in 2007, like many entrepreneurs with a vision and the faith that it would somehow all work out. We started from scratch with a licence, no systems, processes, reputation or clients.  As a matter of fact none of us had any experience in the quarry business whatsoever. Now colour, character and consistency is synonymous with Kawartha Rock custom cut and dimensional stone. A stellar reputation and a client base filled with loyal customers that know the people behind Kawartha take pride in their craft.

For all the right reasons my good friend and business partner George Griffith took full ownership of the quarry in the spring of 2020. To be candid it was hard, most entrepreneurs will tell you when you give up one of your businesses it’s like putting one of your kids up for adoption (ok not that bad but close). For 13 years I handled marketing, finance and administration while George ran equipment and operations. We had a lot of ups and downs and some pretty tense moments along the way but we always had each other’s backs and we always put our staff and customers first, it was never a debate.

It became clear however during the harsh shutdown of Covid that some significant changes were needed in order to protect our staff, stakeholders and customers. Mr. Griffith and I worked out an agreement that was a challenge for both of us but our guiding light was to do what was best for the future of the company. It is interesting how so many of us just use the financial thermometer to determine success.

In the case of the quarry I take great pride in seeing that logo knowing that our original vision is being carried out everyday under the leadership of someone that cares and has the intestinal fortitude to step up and do the right thing. Even when you move on in business your original contribution can and do live on. The website for the best custom stone and service in the industry is right here, like the product, this company is rock solid.