Patrick Dovigi on how he started a billion-dollar company

Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they are doing now is not what they originally intended. Making major professional changes, even mid- to late-career, can often lead to more satisfying and successful outcomes. That’s what our series The Pivot is all about. Each month, we speak with founders, business leaders, and entrepreneurs about how and why they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here we speak with Patrick Dovigi, the founder and CEO of environmental service provider Green For Life.

“In Sault Sainte Marie, playing hockey is like drinking water,” says Patrick Dovigi. The founder and CEO of Green For Life, a waste management company, grew up playing hockey on an ice rink his father built in their backyard. “I laced my first pair of skates when I was two years old.”

But Dovigi wasn’t just another kid from the neighborhood who played brilliantly – he had the physicality and calm but passionate demeanor befitting a goalkeeper, and at the age of 14 he left Sault Sainte Marie for Waterloo to join the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Elmira Sugar Kings, lives with a bat family and attends high school nearby. By the time he turned 18, he was called up to join the NHL as a goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers. He spent two years blocking shots at the Gateway to the North before being shipped off in 1999 to join the Detroit Red Wings.

In 2001, after playing professional hockey for 15 years, Dovigi had lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Between the constant travel and lack of choice in where he lived, Dovigi began to dream of a quieter life. “I was a piece of meat,” he says, referring to being at the mercy of other people’s attitudes. “I wanted to do something where I would control my own destiny.”

Dovigi’s father, a business teacher who had an interest in several sports bars in Northern Ontario, had an entrepreneurial streak, which inspired Dovigi to become his own boss – something that would give him the desk he so desired. So he enrolled in the business management program at today’s Toronto Metropolitan University.

His first job after school in 2004 was at Standard Mercantile, a small investment bank where he was responsible for assisting operations and gathering information about various companies in which the bank planned to invest. “Then one of the investments we were taking care of went horribly wrong, and I got sucked into starting to fix things,” he says.

“Working hard and facing setbacks are things that you learn when you play sports and that teach you how to become a better leader”

It turned out that the company they had invested in had violated a number of environmental permits, causing a two-week fire at a dump. The owner of the facility was eventually fined and sent to prison. “He only had 1,000 tons of waste on site, but in the end he had over 100,000,” says Dovigi. “He collected a bunch of progress and literally left us with a bunch of trash. It was a total disaster.”

This experience actually gave Dovigi a crash course on the ins and outs of waste management. The cleanup lasted two and a half years, and by the end he realized the industry was full of opportunities for improvement. He aspired to create a company much larger than the one he had assisted to date. His big idea: buying up and consolidating the many mom-and-pop companies operating in the category.

In the summer of 2007, he founded Green For Life with $10 million in seed funding from investors David Kassie and Barry Goldberg at Canaccord Genuity Group. (Dovigi had met Goldberg years earlier when he was playing hockey with his son Sean.) From day one, the company wanted to be “a one-stop shop for all of our customers’ waste needs,” collecting municipal, industrial, and commercial waste. collect. , cleaning rainwater from underground parking garages and collecting used motor oil from car dealerships and lubricant stores.

While he never aspired to expand outside of Toronto, the 2008 financial downturn presented an opportunity to move to Western Canada through strategic acquisitions of companies such as Envirowest and Smithrite. In 2014, the company began expanding into the Maritimes and in 2017, Green For Life entered the US market, which was like rocket fuel for growth. Today, 65 percent of the company’s business in the U.S. GFL went public in 2020, which Dovigi described as the “next logical step” that gave them access to incremental capital to fund growth.

“My original goal was to build a company with $40 to $50 million in revenue and here we are, $7 billion in revenue later,” he says. Green For Life has over 20,000 employees and Dovigi’s net worth is estimated to be over $1 billion. He now focuses on giving back and supporting philanthropic causes, such as donating $5 million toward the establishment of the Dovigi Orthopedic Sports Medicine Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital, the first dedicated sports medicine wing in a Toronto hospital.

According to Dovigi, building a business from the ground up is a lot like playing professional hockey. “It takes all sorts of things to make a successful team. From the coach to the general manager, to the training staff and the players, you all work together to win,” he says. “Working hard and facing adversity are things you learn when you play sports that teach you how to become a better leader.”

Does he ever miss pro hockey? “A little,” he admits. “But I’m quite happy with the life I have now.”

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