Age: 31

Having built a successful business with True North Mortgage, James Laird took a big step when he branched out on his own. Now approaching his second anniversary with his firm, CanWise Financial, Laird’s calculated risk has paid off. “I had some ideas on how to grow the business, but they were not being taken advantage of, so I decided to go out on my own,” he says. “So far it has gone better than expected. I’m ahead of all my targets, and I have opened offices in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver with 26 full-time staff.”

It’s been a steady rise for Laird, who started in the business at a time when the housing market was in crisis. “I entered the industry in 2008 as the big recession occurred, so it was an interesting time to get in for sure,” he says. “Since then, the Canadian housing market has been on an unprecedented positive run. The industry is very competitive because of that. Technology has also changed how clients want to interact with their brokers. It means that you have to understand your business model much better.”

CanWise Financial has thrived under these conditions, but that’s not to say its founder believes the sunny days will last forever. “All good things must come to an end,” Laird says. “It’s impossible that house prices will continue to appreciate as quickly as they have been in Vancouver and Toronto. When will it end? I really don’t know. But it’s a cyclical industry, so we will go through a downturn at some point, and you have to be prepared for that.”

But even if the market falters, brokers will still have plenty to keep them busy, according to Laird. “There is about $1.2 trillion of mortgage debt in Canada, so even if there are no purchases next year, that still needs to be renewed and refinanced. That makes us a little more recession-proof than our colleagues in real estate.”
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