Many entrepreneurs will tell you that what they are doing now is not what they did in the beginning. Making major professional changes—even in mid- to late-career life—can often lead to more fulfilling and successful results. this is our series spindle About Each month, we talk to founders, business leaders, and entrepreneurs about how—and why—they changed course and found success in an entirely different industry. Here, we talk to Patrick Dovigy, founder and CEO of the environmental services company Green for Life.
“In Sault Sainte Marie, playing hockey is like drinking water,” says Patrick Dovigy. Founder and CEO of green for life, a waste management company, grew up playing hockey at the rink his father built in their backyard. “I put on my first pair of skates when I was two years old.”
But Dovigy wasn’t just another neighborhood kid playing shitty — he had a goaltender’s physicality and calm-yet-passionate demeanor, and at age 14 he signed a contract to join Elmira of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. left Sault Sainte Marie for Waterloo. The Sugar Kings live with a billet family and attend a nearby high school. By the time he turned 18, he was set to join the NHL as a goaltender for the Edmonton Oilers. He spent two years blocking shots at the Gateway to the North before leaving in 1999 to join the Detroit Red Wings.
By 2001, after playing hockey professionally for 15 years, Dovigy had lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Between frequent travel and a lack of agency in where he lived, Dovigy began to dream of a more settled life. “I was a piece of meat,” he says, referring to being at the mercy of other people’s draft decisions. “I wanted to do something where I could control my own destiny.”
Dovigy’s father, a business teacher who owned stakes in several Northern Ontario sports bars, had an entrepreneurial streak that inspired Dovigy to become his own boss – something that would give him the agency he wanted. . So he enrolled in the business management program at what is now Toronto Metropolitan University.
His first job out of school in 2004 was at Standard Mercantile, a small investment bank, where he was responsible for supporting operations and To collect information about the various companies the bank is planning to invest in, “Then one of the investments we looked at went horribly wrong, and I got sucked into fixing things,” he says.
“Working hard and facing adversity are things you learn when you play sports that teach you to be a better executive.”
It was revealed that the company he invested in had violated several environmental permits, which led to a two-week fire at the landfill. The owner of the facility was eventually fined and sent to jail. “They were supposed to have only 1,000 tons of waste on site, but in the end they had over 100,000,” Dovigy says. “They collected a bunch of receipts and left us with literally a pile of trash. It was a total disaster.
From this experience, Dovigy basically got a crash course on the ins and outs of waste management. The cleanup took two and a half years, by the end of which he realized the industry was full of opportunities for improvement. He had a desire to build a much bigger company than the one he was helping. His big idea: to buy and consolidate the many mom-and-pop businesses that operated in the category.
In the summer of 2007, he founded Green for Life with $10 million in seed capital from investors David Cassey and Barry Goldberg at Canaccord Genuity Group. (Dovigi had met Goldberg years earlier when he played hockey with his son, Sean.) From day one, the company aimed to be a “one-stop shop for all of our customers’ waste needs”, serving municipal, industrial and Used to collect commercial waste. , cleaning storm water from underground parking garages and collecting used motor oil from car dealerships and lube shops.
While they never had ambitions to expand beyond Toronto, the financial downturn of 2008 presented an opportunity to move into Western Canada through strategic acquisitions of companies such as Envirowest and Smithrite. Then 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 is in the US GFL, which went public in 2020, which Dovigy described as the “next logical step”, giving them access to incremental capital to fund growth.
“My initial goal was to build a business of $40 to $50 million in revenue and here we are later, $7 billion in revenue,” he says. Green for Life maintains over 20,000 employees and Dovigy’s net worth is estimated to exceed $1 billion. She is now focused on giving back and supporting philanthropic causes, like her $5 million donation to create the Dovigy Orthopedic Sports Medicine Clinic at Mount Sinai Hospital, the first dedicated sports-medicine wing at any hospital in Toronto.
According to Dovigy, building a business from the ground up is a lot like playing professional hockey. “It takes everyone to build a successful team. From the coach, to the general manager, to the training staff, to the players, you’re all working together to win,” he says. “Working hard and facing adversity are things you learn when you play sports that teach you to be a better executive.”
Does he ever miss playing pro hockey? “A little,” he admits. “But I’m very happy with the life I have now.”