Hungarian Entrepreneurs in Canada
by Eva M. Tomory
Eva Tomory was born in Pécs and left Hungary in 1974. She received her M.B.A from York University. Currently she is studying for a PhD. in Business Administration at the University of Pécs. For twenty years she was an instructor at the University of Toronto’s Chair for Hungarian Studies and has been Secretary of the Hungarian Studies Association of Canada. Eva has also participated in the publishing of the Hungarian Studies Review for a number of years.
Entrepreneurship is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon. How entrepreneurs behave and what their personality traits are have been the subject of much research and debate since the mid 1940s. In looking for some common threads between entrepreneurial personalities, what entrepreneurs do, and the impact they have on society, one generally accepted description of entrepreneurship has emerged.
“Entrepreneurship is the ability to create and build something where others fail to see the opportunity to do so. It is the willingness to take calculated risks, both personal and financial, and to move in a direction in pursuit of one’s objective.
The positive externalities of entrepreneurs’ assuming risks can be considerable for an economy. Entrepreneurs are the primary contributors and mobilizers of resources to develop business ventures in the economy. Among the many benefits arising from their activities are the creation of employment, the increased output of both goods and services in the economy, and the advancement of skill levels that provide for continuous industrial expansion. In their capacity as employers, entrepreneurs create career opportunities and present the potential for upward social mobility for an ever increasing number of individuals in an economy, providing the foundation of healthy and viable economic communities.” (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2004. p.6)
Canada is rich with examples of entrepreneurs and their successes. Successful Canadian entrepreneurs have come from all walks of life, diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, and their successes have been recognized throughout history in a variety of ways.
Hungarian entrepreneurs stand prominently in this group and have made a valuable contribution to both the Canadian economy, and to building the Canadian identity that we know today.
The following provides a brief overview of some of these outstanding Hungarian Canadians and the contribution they have made to their adopted country.
Leslie Dan: Pharmaceutical Entrepreneur
Leslie Dan survived the Second World War by using a false identity paper. He came to Canada in 1947, all alone, when he was 18 years old. In order to earn money to study pharmacy, he worked odd jobs; in a restaurant, in a lumber camp, and in a tobacco field. Leslie Dan became attracted to the manufacturing end of pharmacy during his studies at the University of Toronto. His first company in the 1950s filled prescriptions for fellow immigrants to send drugs to relatives. At that time in Europe, there were huge demands for certain types of drugs: for example, tuberculosis antibiotics. In 1965 Leslie Dan recognized the need for less expensive generic medicines and started Novopharm. In 2000, Leslie Dan sold Novopharm to Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical. When he sold his company, sales at Novopharm were $750 million, and it employed 3,000 people in three countries: Canada, the United States and Hungary. His efforts are now focused on developing cancer drugs through Viventia, a biotechnology company. In 1985, through Novopharm, he established the Canadian Medicine Aid Program to send drugs to the Third Word. Leslie Dan helped to finance the construction of the new faculty of pharmacy building at the University of Toronto that bears his name. (Olijnyik, 2004)
Frank Hasenfratz: Canadian 1994 Entrepreneur of the Year
Frank Hasenfratz came to Canada as a young refugee in 1956. He began working in the machine shop of a company whose products included fuel pumps for Ford Motor Co. Almost a quarter of the pumps were defective, which frustrated Frank Hasenfratz so much, that he quit the company and landed the contract to supply the pumps himself. It was a bold move for a young breadwinner with two small children. In 1965, the sectoral free trade introduced under the Canada-U.S. auto pact came into effect, and Frank Hasenfratz began getting substantial contracts from Detroit (Pitts, 2005). From this humble beginning, his company, Linamar, grew to over 11,000 employees in 5 product development centers and in 36 manufacturing locations in Canada, U.S.A., Mexico, Germany, Hungary, South Korea and China. For his contribution to the Canadian economy, Frank Hazenfratz received both the Ontario and Canadian 1994 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in the Manufacturing/High Tech category.
Robert Lantos: Chetwynd Award for “Entrepreneurial Excellence” in 1991
Robert Lantos left Hungary in 1956 and came to Canada in 1963. He graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. from McGill University and with an ambitious vision to put Canada on the map as a world leader in the entertainment business. In 1972 he co-founded Vivafilm, a distribution company that imported foreign films for exhibition in the Canadian market. Then, in 1975, he added RSL Entertainment, a production company that produced feature films. In 1985 he co-founded Alliance Communications Corporation, which subsequently absorbed both Vivafilm and RSL. Since then Alliance has grown exponentially to become Canada’s largest production and distribution enterprise with a succession of hit television shows and feature films. In the mid-1990s Alliance was considered to be the biggest truly independent film company in North America (Johnson, 1996). In 1998, after his vision was realized, he sold his controlling interest in Alliance. He now focuses on the creative aspects through his boutique production company, Serendipity Point Films. The history of Robert Lantos is the history of the Canadian film and television industry. For his achievements Robert Lantos received the Canadian Film and Television Producers’ Associations’s Chetwynd Award for “Entrepreneurial Excellence” in 1991 and the Ontario Region’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 1995.
Peter Munk: Canadian Business Hall of Fame
As a teenager, Peter Munk fled Nazi-occupied Hungary with his family and later immigrated on his own to Canada. As the founder of Barrick Gold he turned a small Canadian producer into one of the world’s largest and most respected mining companies. Peter Munk’s mining career started in 1983 by buying a stake in an Alaskan placer mine and half the Renabie mine in Ontario. His company’s gold production that year was about 3,000 ounces and revenues totaled less than $2 million. Peter Munk turned his attention to a Nevada heap-leach project. By the mid 1990’s Barrick expanded beyond its North American base to South America, and in late 1990’s to Africa. In 2000, Barrick produced 3.7 million ounces of gold and generated US$1.3 billion in revenue. In less than 20 years Barrick became first among all gold miners in terms of market capitalization (Cumming, 2002). Peter Munk has been inducted into both the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame, and received The Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship in 2002. Peter Munk helped to fund the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, and in 2006, he announced his donation of $37 million to the Toronto General Hospital to support the Munk Cardiac Center.
Anna Porter: Canada’s Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs - 2004
Anna Porter was among the first wave of successful Canadian businesswomen to choose her career path and climb to the top (Kingston, 2005). Anna Porter left Hungary as an adolescent after the 1956 revolution. Her most important mentor was Vili Racz, her grandfather, who was a publisher in Hungary. Following in his footsteps, Porter started her career in publishing in the 1960s as a junior editor at Cassell and Company in London, England. She fell in love with the industry, and came to Canada in 1969 to work for Jack McClelland at McClelland & Stuart. In 1981 she founded Key Porter Books. She was part owner of Key Porter Books, Doubleday Canada and Seal Books, and the most powerful person in her field. Anna Porter’s success as a publisher is attributed to her approach to writers. She is a personal publisher who values the freedom of writers and their writings (Konotopetz, 2005). In 2004, Anna Porter sold her majority interest in Key Porter Books to H.B. Fenn & Company, and in 2005 she stepped down as publisher. Anna Porter pioneered the cause of women entrepreneurs by breaking the “glass ceiling”. Anna Porter was ranked number 43 in 2004 on the list of Canada’s Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs (Profit, 2004).
Andrew Sarlos (1931-1997): Bay Street Financial Guru
Andrew Sarlos left Hungary after the 1956 revolution. He became a Bay Street investor, who was very willing to take risks. “It is the risk that makes the market an exciting place to be,” he told to Peter Newman (Newman, 1997). He was a gambler and enjoyed both losing and winning. “If I was in the market only for the money, I would have quit long ago. I am an advisor but, I must confess, I don’t always take my advice. If I had, I’d be much wealthier” wrote Sarlos in his autobiography (Sarlos, 1993, p.211). But Andrew Sarlos knew how to play the game. In 1977 alone, the value of stocks in his investment trust, HCI Holdings Ltd., more than tripled. His attitude built him an unparallel reputation that he was more interested in making money for others than for himself. His investment philosophy helped him to secure a client base that comprised the wealthiest businessmen in North America.
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