Heroes of the year

Written by Ian Portsmouth

One crazy airline

Michel Leblanc, President, Jetsgo Corp.

Launching an airline in the shadow of 9/11 sounds like a crazy idea, but Leblanc did it 18 months ago with Montreal-based Jetsgo. Even crazier, the discount carrier has thrived ever since. Jetsgo operated three planes back then; today it flies nine. It served five cities at startup; now it serves 16. Revenue passenger miles (a key metric for airlines) totaled 118.1 million in September, up 344% from the same period a year before. What’s driving the growth? More apparent insanity, including a hassle-free frequent-flier program and attention-getting promotions such as $1 seats. Even so, Leblanc has claimed Jetsgo is profitable, thanks to money-saving practices such as outfitting flight attendants with leather jackets (which save on dry cleaning) and electronic-only tickets. “We are a lean and mean organization,” boasts Leblanc. In today’s airline business, that’s not crazy at all.

Fight the power

Stephen Moranis, Chairman, Realtysellers Ltd.

Buying or selling a home is one of the most stressful experiences in a person’s life. At least Moranis is making it a little cheaper. In late 2000 Moranis co-founded the Toronto-based firm, which performs the services of traditional real estate agencies at half the usual price. (For instance, Realtysellers charges a 1.25% sales commission on the price of your home.) “We have saved our clients millions of dollars,” he says. “Unfortunately, not everyone in our industry is pleased.” He’s referring to the Toronto Real Estate Board and Canadian Real Estate Association, which Realtysellers sued in August for $25 million. Among the allegations: TREB and CREA raised commission minimums for agents using the electronic database through which almost 90% of homes are sold, thereby shutting Realtysellers’ agents out of the system. The case has yet to be heard, but let’s hope the result allows Moranis to cut more costs from the real estate equation.

Against all odds

Rita Tsang, President & CEO, Tour East Holidays (Canada) Inc.

Rita Tsang’s revenue will drop 18% to 20% this year from last, and for that she should be proud. After all, her Toronto-based company arranges travel between Canada and Asia; during the SARS crisis, its business dropped by more than half. But Tsang responded with the same moxie that helped her grow Tour East into a $256-million-a-year operation. For instance, she developed health-and-wellness packages for destinations within Canada that now account for 5% of sales. She also acted with charity, retaining all of her permanent staff at full salaries in the first two months of the crisis, despite reduced workweeks. (Federal workshare subsidies covered the next two.) And she upheld Tour East’s sponsorship of the International Dragon Boat Festival, even as other backers bailed. “It was a huge cash layout for us,” says Tsang, “but the city needed something to cheer.”

One to watch

Bob Young, Owner, Hamilton Tiger Cats

“We’re going to sell out the stadium with people who are going to fly in from Halifax and California and North Carolina just to see the brilliant Ticats,” declared Lulu Inc. CEO Bob Young after purchasing the beleaguered team in October. Surely he jests, but he’s serious about revitalizing the world’s oldest professional football franchise. Having made millions as the co-founder of Red Hat Inc., which popularized the Linux operating system, the Hamilton native shouldn’t fall short of the funds or business smarts needed to turn the team around. Already he has built a website ( that features his weekly diary and has promised to fix the little problems that sully the fan experience, such as long concession-stand lineups and the messy pigeons that inhabit Ivor Wynne Stadium. Better yet, he’ll take inspiration from all sources — as should every enterprising CEO: “We’re going to look around and steal the best business ideas from everywhere we can find them.” PROFIT — and thousands of Ticats fans — will be watching.

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