Photos by Lia Crowe
From his home tucked in Kelowna’s south slopes, overlooking Okanagan Lake, Elroy Gust lives and works with gratitude for the life he’s crafted. Getting to where he is today did not happen by accident. From the very early days of his career, this CEO had a clear vision of where his path would lead.
“This is just where I always saw myself,” says Elroy, referring to his drive for success—something cultivated in his humble Manitoba farming family roots.
Happily married with three grown children, he’s founder, president and CEO of Newlook Capital. The private equity firm is based in Ontario but now more than ever, Elroy manages Newlook from his home office three time zones away.
“I don’t mind the schedule, a lot of people in Kelowna have this schedule. You roll out of bed and by 6 am you’re on your first call. Then by about 1:30 to 2:00 pm your phone stops ringing because the work day is over back east. I really like the lifestyle.”
Elroy’s home office didn’t always boast lake and mountain views. For more than 30 years, he enjoyed the hustle and bustle of city life. From his start in the commercial lending department of a Lower Mainland bank, to buying and selling multiple companies, to founding Newlook Capital, Elroy has learned important lessons every step of the way.
“With my first job as a commercial lender, I started to understand how things work from a lending perspective,” he explains. “When I worked with my dad and my brother, we had a warehousing-logistics business in Toronto. I grew it, became president at 29 and then, when I turned 30, I decided it was time to sell and I made my first million.”
That taste of success—of building something with your own grit, determination and wherewithal—ultimately spurred Elroy to form Newlook Capital. Over the course of a decade, the company has grown to more than 700 employees in both Canada and the United States. Newlook owns more than a dozen companies and continues to have very active and strategic acquisition plans.
“This year we will buy another four businesses and I would say we’re talking to about 15 in total right now.”
Elroy has removed himself from daily operations, by design, working on select projects and dealing directly with the executive management team.
“The business will continue to grow,” he says. “We’ve really built the fly wheel, we’ve built the culture, we’ve built the machine. Now it keeps going, keeps growing whether I’m involved more or less.”
Elroy is always ready and willing to fly back east if needed (he spends at least a few days a month in the Burlington office), but his days of being a regular, weekly commuter are done. COVID-19 played a hand in that.
“I had already become intentional with my travel, but when COVID happened, I stopped travelling back and forth altogether. I got rid of the condo in Burlington and set up in Kelowna full time. So far it’s worked out well using Zoom.”
COVID-19 hasn’t had a huge economic impact on Newlook Capital’s business holdings, as all were deemed essential services. In the early days of uncertainty, though, Elroy found himself in a new role—that of mentor. His knowledge and experience allowed him to guide and support operating partners who were nervous and overwhelmed with the rapidly changing business climate.
“The biggest thing for me was changing their mindset from being defensive to offensive. For me to get engaged with the people who are at the ground level running the businesses and get their mentality to shift, that I could have that impact on someone, that was really cool for me.”
It also allowed Elroy to look at what’s made him successful over the years and what advice he would give to young people working in any career field.
“Recognize what you are good at. Really understand that and quantify it,” he says emphatically. “I recognize what I am not good at and then I partner with people who are good at those things to make sure that I’m just working on my strengths.”
With four years of Okanagan living under his belt, Elroy is pretty comfortable in his new schedule and laid-back surroundings. He says the most notable difference between Burlington and Kelowna is how he answers the question, “What do you do?”
“When people in Kelowna ask you what you do, I had to recognize they’re not asking you what you do for a living, they don’t care. They’re asking, ‘do you snowboard, do you ski?’ That’s the focus here,” he chuckles.
Elroy has become an avid skier (even though he almost threw in the towel during his first week of lessons). He spends summer afternoons on the lake and ample time socializing with friends.
“I joined a business leaders’ group and have met a lot of great people, many who are in similar situations, working remotely.”
Elroy seems to have achieved the perfect balance between work and lifestyle. It makes a final question about retirement almost unnecessary.
“I don’t think I’ll ever retire. I can manage how many days I’m working and how much effort I’m putting in.”
That is a privilege that’s earned through years of commitment and, in the case of Elroy Gust, one that will be savoured for years to come.