Joshua Dawson has built a business out of granting wishes

The Magic Man

Joshua Dawson has built a business out of granting wishes

If you met him in a dark alley, chances are you’d wonder if you were awake or dreaming (possibly even having a nightmare). Yes, there’s something distinctly surreal and mildly sinister about the big blue guy in the bright red suit. But rest assured: if the Experience Genie suddenly pops into your life, he’s there for one reason and one reason only–to make wishes come true. From luxury sports car rides and indulgent spa getaways to flights in fighter jets and hot air balloons, a day with the Genie is the experience of a lifetime.

Out of costume, the Genie’s alter-ego, the decidedly more approachable Joshua Dawson, explains the evolution of his unique business model. In 2001, Dawson founded a company called Big Day Out that organized unique corporate events and activities. Though he enjoyed what he was doing and achieved considerable success, he sold the company after his father was diagnosed with cancer. (He says he couldn’t work full time and spend the time he wanted with his dad.) Over the course of his father’s illness, Dawson says his favorite memories are of the days when he and his dad did special things together, things which took his father’s mind off the illness. From that ‘a-ha’ moment was born the Experience Genie, a benevolent wish granter for chronically ill patients and survivors.

Dawson, who paid out of pocket for the first eight or nine dream days he organized, describes it as a win-win for all concerned. Businesses pay to be part of dream day activities, with the fee based on local media rates. Media attention is integral to the Experience Genie’s success: the big blue guy with the even bigger heart, combined with the recipient’s heartwarming story and the surprise element (the recipient doesn’t know they’re getting a ‘day’ until the Genie makes his appearance), makes for irresistible media fodder.

On the first-ever dream day in his former home town of St. John’s, NL (the divorced father lives in Montreal to be close to his sons), Dawson surprised 18-year-old cancer survivor Angela Mary Butler with a day that included: a private boat tour with Iceberg Quest charters; a chance to test the ship simulator at MUN’s Fisheries and Marine Institute; a cooking class at Bistro Sophia with Chef Gregory Bersinski; a massage and overnight stay at Spa at the Monastery; and, a Genie-chauffeured cruise in a Ford Mustang (courtesy of Cabot Ford Lincoln). Angela received a day to remember, and the participating companies received good news coverage in multiple media outlets.

“When I’m putting on my costume, I like to think my dad is watching and that he’s proud of what I’m doing,” Dawson says.

Since Dawson founded the Experience Genie in 2009, he has organized and delivered approximately 30 dream days–but it’s not enough. His goal is to make hundreds of dreams come true each year, something he can’t do alone. Which is why he’s considering cloning himself via the franchise model; He hopes to have 10 genies in 10 countries within two years.

While he notes that he has little interest in making money, it’s also true that he wouldn’t be able to continue the Experience Genie if he wasn’t generating revenue (it is his job, after all). After a year in business, Dawson is making enough money to cover expenses and there’s talk of him becoming a reality TV star as well. He’s filming a pilot with hopes of selling it to a major television network later this year.

Asked what else he might have in store, Dawson’s impish nature reveals itself. “My mom hasn’t experienced a dream day yet. I can’t wait to surprise her with one some day, when she least expects it.” One suspects his father would approve.

Sobeys Building New Head Office

National retailer remains committed to Pictou County

After 64 years at 115 King Street in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, national grocery retailer Sobeys is moving its corporate headquarters—all the way to the property next door. The 55,000 sq. ft. three-storey office building will be built on land immediately north of parent company Empire Company Limited’s office on the west side of King Street.

The existing head office was never an ideal location: it was originally constructed as a food warehouse in the 1930s. The new building will include more efficient space allocation, improved meeting and teleconferencing facilities, energy efficient natural lighting, and solar hot water technology and heat reflective roofing to reduce the reliance on air conditioning in summer months.

A number of Nova Scotia firms have already been awarded contracts associated with the design and construction of the corporate office: Anwyll Fogo Architects & Interior Ltd.; Campbell Comeau Engineering Ltd.; F.C. O’Neill, Scriven & Associates Ltd.; MEC Engineering & Construction Services Ltd.; and, Ekistics Planning & Design.

Construction is expected to start early September 2010 and be completed by September 2011. The current head office building is being demolished and converted to a parking lot for Sobeys Inc. and Empire Company Limited employees.

Tourism Up in PEI

Minister pleased with early indicators

It’s far from final, but early traffic numbers for PEI’s 2010 tourism season have Minister of Tourism and Culture Robert Vessey in a positive frame of mind. “Prince Edward Island experienced one of the busiest July starts with events like the Canada Day celebrations, the Cavendish Beach Music Festival and LIVE! with Regis and Kelly. The overall June numbers do show strength with large increases in air traffic and a slight increase in bridge traffic compared to last year,” said the Minister in a published statement.

Numbers indicate that room-nights-sold for June are up two per cent and occupancy is up almost three per cent. Early July numbers indicate that bridge traffic is up 8.4 per cent, while air traffic is up 6.3 per cent and ferry traffic is down three per cent. From January to July 2010, air traffic is up 0.9 per cent and bridge traffic is up 5.7 per cent, while ferry traffic is down 9.3 per cent.

Thom MacMillan, president of the Tourism Industry Association of PEI (TIAPEI), anticipates the trend will continue due to the Fall Flavours and Shellfish Festival scheduled to take place this fall.

A more complete picture of this past summer’s tourism season will be available when the July and August performance indicators are released sometime between September and October.

From Harare to Halifax

Artrepreneur translates $20 investment into global dance empire

Mufaro Chakabuda is standing in a green field with bells tied to her legs. Two men start to play two drums. Chakabuda begins to move, slowly at first, rolling her chest forward and backward, bending her knees. She steps purposefully side to side, her outstretched arms alternating up and down. Her grin grows as the tempo accelerates. “We’re in West Africa now,” she calls out. “Let’s go!”

We’re not. The field is in Nova Scotia. So is Chakabuda. She’s filming the Afro Dance (Basic) DVD, the latest wing of her rapidly expanding business empire, known as the Maritime Centre for African Dance. After a high-energy, 30-minute dance tour of her home continent, Chakabuda abruptly stops. She stares at the camera for a second. “That’s it,” she says, laughing, and the DVD ends. But Chakabuda’s just beginning.

In 2005, Chakabuda, a native of Zimbabwe and Mount Saint Vincent social anthropology graduate with a love for teaching African dance, invested a grand total of $20 to rent space for her first private lesson and founded the Maritime Centre for African Dance.

Turning dance into an independent business is a rare feat. To do so, Chakabuda set forth on a massive campaign of free work designed to drum up the word-of-mouth buzz that would be critical to her success. Fortunately, her old-fashioned viral marketing campaign was both very cheap and very effective. She found a hungry market in Nova Scotians of African descent wanting to learn about their roots and other would-be dancers lured by the energetic movements. Her business spread to classes, camps, workshops, performances, a DVD, a dance competition and a women’s festival.

While Chakabuda’s energy got the business jumping, a phone call in January 2009 powered it to flight. She had heard that U.S. president-elect Barack Obama wanted a multi-national presence at his inaugural celebrations and one Canadian entry would make the cut. Two weeks before the big day, Chakabuda was invited to Washington.

She and her troop, Fara Dance, performed at the inauguration for heads of state from across Africa and members of the Obama family (though not the man himself) and came home to a transformed landscape. Every media outlet in Nova Scotia ran the irresistible local angle on the global story. MCAD grew by 85 per cent that year and in 2010, business is up a stunning 235 per cent.

Today, 30-year-old Mufaro has danced her way across the country, teaching traditional and modern African moves to more than 100,000 people. She also recently held MCAD’s first event in Zimbabwe, an initial step toward an expansion she is confident will go global in the next five years. By Jon Tattrie

First Lady

Sarah Devereaux tapped to lead Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia

As a teen, Sarah Devereaux was devastated when her favorite teacher laughed at her for wanting to be an engineer. Did he laugh because he didn’t think she was smart enough (she excelled in math and science), or because he didn’t think it was an appropriate career for a woman? Devereaux doesn’t know, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Rather than deter, his derision–coupled with her own desire to “build something” like her teacher/construction worker father–made her even more determined to pursue her chosen career.

Today, the Gander, NL native is one of the leading environmental engineers in Atlantic Canada, a senior environmental engineer in the Halifax office of Dillon Consulting, a councilor for Engineers Nova Scotia and treasurer of the Atlantic Chapter of the Solid Waste Association of Nova Scotia. Her most recent accomplishment was to be named the first woman president of the Consulting Engineers of Nova Scotia (a group of almost 60 Nova Scotia-based companies providing jobs for more than 3,000 professionals in engineering-related services).

Devereaux vividly remembers her first major engineering project, in 1994, while she was still an engineer-in-training: she was tasked with designing a storm water system for Parrsboro, Nova Scotia. The theme of waste management (dealing with garbage or water) flows throughout her career.

She has been the lead designer and project manager for a multi-million dollar, multi-generational landfill, serving 220,000 people in 90,000 homes in northern Nova Scotia. She’s helped 16 Aboriginal communities manage waste in remote, coastal areas of British Columbia. Currently, she is project manager of a multi-disciplinary engineering team investigating opportunities for heat recovery from waste water for the Halifax Regional Municipality.  “The cool project on my desk right now is something called the ‘Green Thermal Utility Heat Recovery from Wastewater’. …We look at the flow going through the plant and figure out the temperature and see if there’s heat we can get out and use for another customer.” Devereaux compares what she and her team are trying to achieve to something already in place: much of the energy used to power Whistler Village in British Columbia during the 2010 Olympics was generated from waste water.

Though she can’t imagine following any other career besides engineering, Devereaux says she also can’t imagine not being a mom to her daughters, Kate (nine) and Emily (12). Asked what she would want her two daughters to know about her, if they were to see this article in the years to come, Sarah Devereaux answers with great conviction: “Nothing ever stopped me from doing what I wanted to do, ever.” Especially not a certain high school physics teacher. By Janice Landry

Holding Pattern

NSCC interim leader committed to stability, progress

For five years, Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair was a transformative presence at Nova Scotia Community College. Her tenure was marked by strengthened linkages between the college, the community, business and government; by program enhancements and infrastructure investments; by expanding enrolments and increased employment statistics for graduates; and by NSCC recognition as the best post-secondary employer in Canada. The most telling proof of her leadership, however, came when she unexpectedly resigned as president and CEO of NSCC this past May (for personal reasons). The team and processes she’d helped put in place ensured a smooth transition for her interim successor.

Don Bureaux, acting president of NSCC, has been with the College since 2004. During his six years with the institution, he has held a number of progressively responsible roles: manager of Administrative Services, Halifax campuses (2004); principal, Kingstec campus (2005); VP, People & Planning (2008); and VP, Academic (2009).

Asked if he was intimidated by the shoes he’d been asked to fill, the soft-spoken Bureaux says “excited” is a more accurate description. “I have a tremendous team supporting my efforts, and a workplace culture that invites staff engagement. Decision making is not a monopoly of the president’s office, and the removal of one person won’t cause our system to falter. Plus, we have a strategic plan in place and our Board (of Governors) has been very clear that they want the College to continue building momentum along its current path.”

Bureaux’s specific goals for the coming year are to continue construction and infrastructure development on all 13 NSCC campuses, update the College’s academic plan and curriculum, and enhance its relationship with various stakeholders. The one question he refused to answer was whether or not he was interested in applying for the position on a more permanent basis. “My focus is concentrated on the current year.”

NSCC’s Board is currently preparing a list of search criteria in advance of inviting expressions of interest in the position. The process is expected to take another eight to 10 months.

Working Renewables

First Nation band council partners with Spanish energy company

Nova Scotia’s Membertou First Nation, the first aboriginal group in the world to become ISO 9001 certified, has signed a North American partnership deal with GrupoGuascor (of Spain’s Basque region) to market the company’s renewable energy technologies, including equipment designed specifically for small rural communities and remote parts of the continent.

Initial marketing efforts will focus on the Pacific Southwest of the United States and the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. In the U.S., vast tracts of sun-filled desert land owned by Native Americans in the Southwest are viewed as prime locations for solar energy developments. Membertou and GrupoGuascor report that excellent relations have already been established with tribal groups in Arizona, Southern California and New Mexico where they hope to develop solar energy farms. In Canada, the initial focus will be on Nova Scotia, where the Provincial Government has unveiled its Renewable Electricity Plan providing for Community Based Feed-in Tariffs to encourage development of renewable energy projects by First Nations and local municipalities. The Province’s goal is to increase renewables by 25 per cent by the year 2015.

Best in Class

MUN communications win international recognition

Memorial University of Newfoundland’s annual president’s report has bested every university in the world, including Harvard and Oxford. That’s according to the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).  CASE represents the communications, alumni and marketing arms of thousands of universities globally.

Last year, MUN won a CASE grand gold medal in the Best Individual Institutional Relations Publication category for its annual report Novel Ideas: President’s Report 2008. This year, a CASE grand gold medal was awarded to Memorial in the same category for Memorial University Z to A: President’s Report 2009. As well, Z to A has been awarded a second grand gold award for excellence in design in the Best Multi-Page Publications and Folders category.

The 88-page booklet contains 26 stories based on words that capture the Memorial experience, each beginning with a subsequent letter of the alphabet as it runs in reverse order. This sequence literally articulates Memorial University’s 2008-09 year using a lexicon inspired by the events and accomplishments of Memorial’s faculty, staff and students.

All of the award winning marketing and communications materials were produced inhouse.

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