- GARY MILAKOVIC
DARCY HULSTON, Co-Founder & CEO of Canoe Financial
"A different kind of company"
Darcy Hulston, Co-founder & CEO of Canoe Financial, runs a different type of financial management company. Canoe is different for many reasons.
The culture is strong. The staff really cares about the business. For example, unlike some monolithic organizations, most employees own equity in the firm. As a result, they turn the lights off when they leave at night. It’s a small, symbolic act. They prefer directing company resources to the important things, like client experience and service, rather than paying to keep an empty building lit.
They are also proud of their hands-on, “high-touch,” client approach. Some say that this is contrary to the direction of the market, which is trying to automate as much as possible. Not Canoe.
And that’s something they’re proud of. When someone calls Canoe, they reach an actual human being.
Not only is Canoe Financial employee-owned, but the biggest difference is that all the partners are invested in the funds they manage.
It is a pragmatic approach to money that Darcy learned incredibly early in life.
Darcy grew up on a mixed farm. His father, Dale worked hard every day, and it’s him he credits for his work ethic.
Working on a farm you learn quickly that you also need to be versatile. You need to be an accountant, a money manager, a medic, and a mechanic. You can’t just look at problems from one angle, and most of the time you must do it on your own. You need to be self-sufficient.
“My Dad was extraordinarily successful. He was a humble, hardworking guy, and he built a solid operation. I remember in grade ten the bank came to see my dad and tried to convince him to borrow money to expand the farm. They had a considerable number, an amortization schedule, and showed him how we could add land and new tractors to service it. He asked me, ‘Darcy, how much is this going to cost me?’ I worked out the interest over time and showed him. He looked at the bankers and said, ‘for the interest I’m paying you, I could buy a tractor, so why would I pay you to get three?’ It was simple math, but they had no response.”
How his father invested his money, how he went about insuring the crop, and working through the commodities market, was an incredibly valuable lesson for Darcy. How his dad managed and approached risk was unique and it still holds value, even to this day.
Darcy has managed his father’s investments for almost three decades and his guiding principle is simple: don’t lose any money. If you don’t lose, you win.
Those grade ten lessons from the farm are foundational to Darcy’s work at Canoe.
The team, and Darcy himself, feel a heavy weight of responsibility in their work. There is no greater responsibility than being trusted to manage people’s money or retirement accounts.
It’s something Darcy is conscious about every single day.
“I honestly wake up in the morning, concerned about client accounts; about my family’s accounts; my father’s, my friends,’ my aunts’ and uncles’. They’ve trusted me, and with that trust comes immense pressure. I am not sure people understand how passionate we are about our work, or how much pressure we self-inflict. Passion isn’t a slogan. It’s not in our job description. It’s just who we are.”
There’s also pride in their successes and the successes of clients.
When a client uses their investment to make a purchase, enhance their lives, or build their livelihood, the team at Canoe celebrates that win. It’s why they do the work that they do.
Canoe has become one of the fastest-growing independent investment fund companies in Canada. In just over a decade in operation, they already manage $12 billion in assets and have won multiple awards.
In 2017, Canoe was named Fund Company of the Year. For any business in the industry, it is an incredible honour. For Canoe, however, the recognition is even more impressive because, prior to 2017, the award had only once been given to a company with fewer than ten years in operation.
That recognition by Lipper was important to Canoe. It was important to Darcy.
“We worked hard to be the best and we knew we were good at our jobs. We felt as though we had a stronger offering than most of our domestic competitors, but to have it validated was a professional highlight.”
With success, though, comes pressure. Every time Canoe is given another award (they’ve won an investment award for one of their strategies every year they’ve been in existence) or cross another asset milestone, it adds just a bit more weight of responsibility to the organization.
It’s something Darcy feels acutely.
“As we grow, I’m keenly aware of what it means for our company. What it means to the people who’ve trusted us with their money or retirement. It means we need to be perfect. I demand it of myself, and I demand it of our partners. The market demands it too.”
More than just profit
There is a lot about Darcy that many may not know.
He’s made a commitment to be better at golf. It’s a work in progress. It’s a long-term goal, though, so there’s no pressure at all.
What isn’t a work in progress is his success at raising money for cancer research. Darcy lost his grandfather to the disease at the age of twelve, and it was a traumatic experience for him. He recalls saying to his mother, who was a registered nurse at the time, “I’m going to grow up to be a cancer doctor and I’m going to cure it!” Her reply was, “well, you’re not really much for science, maybe you could do well at raising money?”
Little did she know how prophetic that comment would become.
He started with daffodils, proudly raising $50 dollars. Since then, he’s been a lifelong volunteer with the Canadian Cancer Society. He has been a board member, served on fundraising committees, and hosted numerous fundraising events.
All told, Darcy’s raised close to $20 million for the Canadian Cancer Society, plus of course the $50 from the daffodils that got him started.
Giving back to the community is in Darcy’s DNA and something that’s infused into the culture at Canoe. His partners and staff are equally passionate about making a difference, many supporting worthy causes with the backing of the company.
“It’s stuff we don’t need to brag about. It’s just who we are. It’s who I am.”
Gary Milakovic is a veteran writer with more than a decade in the public sector and corporate communications. He has covered a wide spectrum of topics and his work has been featured by large and small organizations across Canada. Gary is passionate about communication, his writing often focuses on uncovering the “story behind the story.”
Darcy Hulston President & CEO at Canoe Financial
421 7 Ave SW Suite 2750, Calgary, AB T2P 4K9