Business people are often applauded for their financial savvy but not often enough their leadership and good nature.
As he walked out of his office, Matt Cardwell strode with the stance not only of a long-time hockey player, but of a man who holds a single determination in his mind and strives with clear purpose to accomplish his goals.
It is this focus, his greatest strength of character, that led him to be celebrated for his work by his patrons, his community, and even then prime minister Stephen Harper, by his mid-thirties.
Cardwell, who is the owner of the Royal Oak pubs in Whitby, started his business as a young man with his fist location in 2010.
He was recognized by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce in 2012 with the Young Entrepreneur award and still remembers that time of his life fondly.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he says. “In 2012, I was fortunate enough through the Whitby Chamber of Commerce to be nominated at the Peter Perry awards for the young entrepreneur of the year award. Basically, its recognizing anyone that’s under 35 and has done a good job in being an entrepreneur and starting a business, and being a community guy…it was a really special night.”
While successful now, Cardwell had his doubts when he first entered the pub business.
Cardwell says the Royal Oak group owned thirteen locations in Ottawa at the time. While they had never allowed partners before, he still managed to get the opportunity he needed to start his dream.
“With anything in life, certainly entrepreneurship, you need an opportunity,” says Cardwell. “So, I was privileged enough to get the opportunity, and then I had to move to Ottawa for almost two years. To learn. To train. I spent almost two years in Ottawa … And fortunately enough, I pressed them enough, where they felt that we could go ahead with the project.”
A self-described Whitby boy, Cardwell said those first few years of business were tough and “inwards driven” because he didn’t know if he was going to make it and achieve success.
“After a couple years I felt more comfortable and really, more people were approaching me within the community for assistance and support,” Cardwell said. “I really answered the bell… I really dove in the deep end when it came to community and community events. To me it became such a passion of mine as it is today.”
Cardwell got involved with the community through his love of sports, specifically hockey. He played seven seasons of hockey for the Sr. AAA Whitby Dunlops and retired after the 2010-2011 year.
His team honoured him by adding his #23 to the Hall of Fame, a space shared by one of his heroes, Bobby Attersley. Much like his hero, Cardwell went into business and then into local politics following his retirement from hockey.
His philanthropic work involves putting money back into the community through senior sport teams, minor league hockey teams, and the Children’s Wish Foundation. He remains an active alumni and sponsor for his former hockey club as well.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper presented Matt Cardwell with the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award for Emerging Leader at a ceremony in Toronto in 2015.
However, it wasn’t until the 2014 municipal election for West Ward Councillor that Cardwell felt his work had breached a new threshold for value to the community.
“Whether it’s taxes or it’s gridlock on the roads, whether it’s garbage pick-up. Strange issues when you knock on doors, but that really opened up my eyes,” he says. “I have done what I can behind the scenes to make sure that those things are being advocated for and being helped, and I continue to do that to this day.”
Cardwell encourages the possibility anyone can become a successful entrepreneur at a young age, but he recognizes it may not be easy.
“I was lucky, I had a wonderful opportunity at the age of thirty that not a lot of people would’ve had. It wasn’t easy, I had to move away from home for two years, I had to slave away in a kitchen and do some training, and really do some things I never thought I’d be doing. I want them to know that my door is always open for them if they want to come and talk about a pathway to success…and to tell them to get involved in their community.”