Meet Ottawa’s 2021 Forty Under 40 recipients: Professional and financial services

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Editor's Note

Each year, the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Board of Trade recognize the accomplishments, professional experience and community involvement of 40 of the region's rising young business stars.

Looking for the full list of recipients? Click here to see all 40 names. And please join OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade on June 23 in celebrating the 2021 Forty Under 40 recipients.

Ahead of this year's Forty Under 40 celebrationsOBJ is sharing stories from this year's recipients of achievements, obstacles and inspiration – as well as the lessons they've learned along the way.

In this group of Forty Under 40 profiles, we meet this year’s recipients from the professional and financial services sectors:

Roberto Aburtro

Roberto Aburto, partner, Gowling WLG

Business: Law firm

Born: Toronto

Biggest business achievement: Rose to partnership quickly and helped build one of the largest municipal law teams in eastern Ontario.

Biggest obstacle overcome: Overcame ferocious competition to rise as one of the prominent municipal law teams in eastern Ontario.

Biggest influences: My family drove me to be community-oriented and to strive for excellence.

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Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Be gentle to yourself and to others. Everyone is going through various challenges – we will not always be our best self every day.

Charitable involvement: Lifesaving Society of Canada

First job: Paper route before being a janitor at a waterpark

Advice I’d give the younger me: Pace yourself. It is a marathon.

Favourite pastime: Swimming

Cynthia Benoit

Cynthia Benoit, CEO, CB Linguistic Services Inc.

Business: Sign language linguistic services

Born: Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que.

Biggest business achievement: Founding a consulting firm that has grown annual revenues by 750 per cent over the past four years and employs four full-time deaf employees, three part-time deaf employees and more than 60 deaf and hard-of-hearing freelancers across Canada.

Biggest obstacle overcome: Being agile and making my business grow while facing a highly unpredictable environment when the pandemic hit.

Biggest influences: Dr. Alex Iantaffi, who literally changed my career trajectory. He inspired me to be my best, and showed me what a healthy working environment should look like.

Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Agility and the team’s mental health and overall well-being truly matters.

Charitable involvement: Canadian Deaf Sports Association

First job: Dishwasher at a cafeteria

Advice I’d give the younger me: Never stop learning, find yourself different types of mentors, stop holding yourself back and enjoy the journey!

Favourite pastime: Kayaking

Matt Carr

Matthew Carr, president, Gifford Carr Insurance Group

Business: Property and casualty insurance brokerage

Born: Ottawa

Biggest business achievement: Took over and managed the business when my dad was terminally ill. Then took over the business during a pandemic. In both cases, I grew the business the following year.

Biggest obstacle overcome: The passing of my father, and taking over the company in the pandemic.

Biggest influences: My parents, who taught me the value of hard work, as well as Jim Mahood, who forced me to challenge my thinking from different angles.

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Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Own it. Making decisions and trying to get consensus at the start of the pandemic was difficult with things changing hourly. I ultimately had to make decisions, move forward and adjust if necessary.

Charitable involvement: Gifford Carr Gives Back Initiative

First job: Greens crew at a golf course

Advice I’d give the younger me: The same thing my dad always said to me: “It’s better to be seen than heard.” I’d add, “Always do the right thing, no matter the cost.”

Favourite pastime: Relaxing with my family and friends at the cottage, or golfing

Elnaz

Elnaz Kanani K., senior manager of data and artificial intelligence, Deloitte

Business: Business consulting firm

Born: Tehran, Iran

Biggest business achievement: The network of people around me.

Biggest obstacle overcome: Re-starting my life as an immigrant – adjusting to the new culture, language, values and rules has been a fun, yet tough, curve.

Biggest influences: My PhD supervisor, Prof. Georges Zaccour, at HEC Montreal. He showed me how to be a better person and was the reason I kept going in difficult times.

Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Seeing how the world changed overnight reminded me of all the things that are sometimes taken for granted.

Charitable involvement: Cornerstone Housing for Women

First job: A data entry clerk at a small company. It forced me to practice patience on a daily basis!

Advice I’d give the younger me: Don’t take life too seriously. And that it’s OK to be different and go off the typical and proven path for success and happiness.

Favourite pastime: Reading books, especially novels by Jane Austen, plays by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt and poems by Rumi. I also enjoy keeping a diary of my random thoughts and life events.

Chris Murray

Chris Murray, principal, FoxNRTH

Business: Helps businesses get started, change direction and focus.

Born: Ottawa

Biggest business achievement: Successfully creating both the first commercial supply chain of cannabis into the U.S. in 2017 and the first commercial supply chain of psilocybin in 2021.

Biggest obstacle overcome: When the Trump administration closed the doors on the cannabis industry, I refocused on key criteria in controlled substances law, established key relationships and received approval from the same administration to import controlled substances.

Biggest influences: My father taught me the importance of always learning and critical thought. My mother taught me the importance of relationships and empathy.

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Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: Health literacy should be taught in schools.

Charitable involvement: My core work with FoxNRTH encompasses involvement in social justice and equity work.

First job: Videoflicks, renting out movies

Advice I’d give the younger me: It’s going to get weird. Stay the course.

Favourite pastime: Spending time with my partner and kids

Emilie Wilcox

Emilie Wilcox, managing partner, Baiame Consulting

Business: Professional services

Born: Peterborough, Ont.

Biggest business achievement: Joined Baiame Consulting in 2016 as its second employee and grew revenues by approximately 450 per cent since then. 

Biggest obstacle overcome: Although COVID-19 caused uncertainty around business development and the company’s sustainability, revenues increased by 60 per cent and the workforce grew by around 150 per cent.

Biggest influences: My dad always taught me that I could do anything a man could do and do it better. My business partner, Claire Lake, offered me a partnership in Baiame before I had proven I was ready. Without either, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Biggest lesson learned during COVID-19: The continued mental health of employees should be in the top three objectives of all organizations.

Charitable involvement: Blue Sky School and Impact Hub

First job: Assistant at the local library, shelving books two nights a week

Advice I’d give the younger me: You don’t have to be perfect at everything – just live your values and the rest will fall into place.

Favourite pastime: Travel, hiking, exploring beaches and outdoor concerts