Rich 100: Right-hand man

John Risley and property manager Forbes Rafuse share a devotion to pastoral life.

A shared devotion to pastoral life — in this case, a very well-funded life — and almost 15 years working together has resulted in a rare camaraderie between multi-millionaire John Risley and his property manager Forbes Rafuse.

Risley initially brought onRafuse in 1995 as a handyman, and since then the role has developed alongside Risley’s estate, Lobster Point. “You learn to trust your gut,” says Risley. “Shortly after I hired him, we got this property that we now live on. We’re all in it together.” Rafuse, adept with the mechanical, electrical, and animalwork that a “complex organization” like Risley’s property requires, has become a stalwart employee and manager of 15 people, explains the co-founder of seafood company Clearwater Foods LP.

Rafuse, who was raised in the town of Chester, N.S., where he currently lives on Risley’s estate, didn’t know he was applying for a gig with John Risley when he responded to a job advertisement. “They were very discreet in the newspaper,” he says. But he was interviewed and offered the job in short order. “[The Risleys] were impressed by me, I guess.” Asked if he’s regularly made aware of Risley’s considerable wealth — estimated this year at $855 million — Rafuse bristles. “No. They’re very nice people to work for. You wouldn’t know that they have money.”

Although Risley has given Rafuse the go-ahead to “spend money as if it was his own,” Rafuse takes a conservative approach. “When I buy things for the property, I always have to justify it to myself, ask if I need it or not to do the job properly.” Such pragmatism probably helped Rafuse’s role widen so significantly, as did the 10 years he spent supervising steel ship painting in Lunenberg, N.S. Risley says, “He’s turned into a project manager, in addition to a day-to-day manager of what goes on on the property, because we’ve always had a number of projects, straight through from building the house to building barns to managing a herd of cows.” Though he’s overseen big projects, like the construction of a greenhouse, Rafuse says taking care of the cows is his favourite part of the job.

Says Risley, “He’s never stopped growing, he loves doing what he does, to the point where I’m not sure who actually makes all the decisions. I have to ask him for permission to do things; it’s not the other way around.”