In previous Top 40 years, there have been plenty of business people who enjoy the thrill of snowboarding, but Matt Singer is the first Top 40 snowboarder who loves the rush of business.
“Business is an activity that isn’t any different than snowboarding, riding a bike or playing hockey,” he says.
The convergence of shredding and dealing came early for Singer, who strapped on his first snowboard, a 135 Burton Safari Swallow Tail, in 1986 while he worked at Inside Edge Ski and Snowboard Shop in Edmonton. From that nascent beginning, Singer embarked on a life where he made his passion his business. In 1994, he launched his first retail venture, an innovative outdoor store called The North Wall in Banff.
In 2000, he sold that store and used the proceeds to underwrite his travel to Tibet and New Guinea. These travels led to his decision to branch into filmmaking. He created Madzu Productions and two documentary films: Tibetan Farmers Adyenture Hotel and Wah! Pigs, Police and Penis Gourds.
The films were shown in various festivals and theatres across Western Canada and Wah! Pigs, Police and Penis Gourds premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival in 2003.
Then, in 2005, in what he calls a good old school leveraged buyout, Singer bought Mission Snow and Skate, using previous business experience and a great business plan. That convinced the bank to lend him the extra money he needed to close the deal. And once again, he was making a living doing what he loves.
Clearly it works for him, as Mission hit double-digit growth, despite increased competition and a levelling off of the number of boarders and skaters that should have caused his business activity to hit the downslope of the bell curve.
Maybe the adventrepreneur picked up a few tricks when, in 2003, he headed to the University of Calgary to get his MBA. The uniqueness of his life path wasn’t lost on Singer, as he spent his days in classrooms surrounded by sundry professionals — engineers, economists and marketers.
“The majority of the people in my class came [to their MBAs] from a job, and left to go to a job. I was probably the only one who arrived without a job and left without a job,” Singer laughs, shaking his head at the memory. “But I think what I imparted to them was the perspective of taking risks, and putting it all on the line.”
Singer also believes accepting risk isn’t just about investments or bold plays in the board-room, but also something he thinks companies don’t take enough chances on — hiring.
“You have to surround yourself with great people who don’t always come in the same package,” he says. “What I have is being able to see the greatness in a guy with dreads down to the middle of his back, or a 28-year-old guy who still wants to work in a skateboard shop.”
Balancing his love of business is Singer’s unabashed love of the community. His drive for charitable work, which includes serving as a director on the 17th Avenue Business Revitalization Zone, or as a committee member of the Young Leadership division of the Calgary Jewish Community Council, is something he credits to his parents and the tacit knowledge that giving back is what you have to do do.
“At some point, you gain the understanding that your business is your platform into the community,” says Singer.
And when your platform is skateboarding and snowboarding, and if you’re Matt Singer, you use it to co-found the Anti-Gravity Project, a six-week learn-to-ride program that teaches disadvantaged youth to snowboard. Singer provides instructors, equipment and funding for wannabe riders from Calgary and surrounding areas so they, too, might experience the same rush Singer enjoys.
Why he’s the top: Matt Singer is a serial entrepreneur, and his focus on the community and charity are proof of a life in balance.
The key to his success: “There aren’t any secrets to my success, it’s just a willingness to always find business fun,” says Singer.