Sheldon Barris is both a lawyer and the founder, owner and president of Jorlee Holdings, Ltd., a Toronto company that provides funding for construction and development projects for clients who don’t qualify for financing from traditional lending institutions. Here is our recent interview with Sheldon Barris.
Q: Both as a lawyer and as a business leader, you’ve been known for prioritizing the needs of clients before all else. What does it take to do this consistently?
Sheldon Barris: The reality is that that without clients, none of us has a business. They come to us for help, expertise and advice, and we do everything we can to provide those things. Personally, I derive a vast amount of satisfaction from being able to help them achieve their goals and objectives. But it’s not only me; it’s everyone at Jorlee Holdings, Ltd. I’ve purposely kept my staff small so we can continue to provide developers and builders with the kind of personal attention they’ve come to expect from us. I hire people who are very good at what they do, and each person on staff is extremely knowledgeable in his or her area of expertise. We provide a high level of value to our clients.
Q: These must have been things that you learned early in your career that confirmed your approach to how you treat people.
Sheldon Barris: Yes, that’s true. When I was a young lawyer practicing at Spencer Romberg, I was fortunate to work for Sheldon Esbin, a senior partner at the firm and a truly great leader. You’ve heard the expression about bosses versus leaders, right? Sheldon was the latter. He recruited me to the firm, then he became my mentor and also my friend, and I learned a lot from observing him in those days, not only in regards to the law, but about fairness, ethics and how to treat people — both clients and employees. Early on, I modeled myself after him, and it has served me well.
Q: How do you motivate your staff to not only do great work but also serve as exemplary client points of contact? It seems you’d have to be very demanding.
Sheldon Barris: I think it all comes down to whom you hire and how you treat them. I look for people with excellent professional skills who are also good people. I give them support, coaching and autonomy and let them know that they can always talk with me, whether that’s to run an idea by me, seek counsel or simply discuss a project. I treat them how Sheldon Esbin used to treat me, which is really all the motivation you need for people who are team players. No one wants to be micromanaged or yelled at. They want to feel appreciated and know that they’re making valuable contributions toward our clients’ successes, and toward the growth of our company.
Q: Your charitable nature extends to your philanthropic endeavors outside the office, both locally in Toronto and around the world. Why is that so important to you?
Sheldon Barris: For many years I’ve actively supported many charities and causes. As a person who places a great deal of personal importance on his Jewish faith, I’m fortunate to have both opportunities — and the means — to contribute to a number of Jewish- and Israeli-related causes, both here and in Israel. But I don’t just support organizations and initiatives related to Judaism. I’ve also supported many non-Jewish organizations including the Canadian Cancer Society and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Why is this important? It’s my responsibility. Because I’ve been blessed, I believe that it’s my responsibility to share my blessings with others who need help or support but don’t have immediate access to the funds. It’s nice to be successful, but it’s also humbling when you realize how your success can help others. It’s what you do with your money that defines your character. In my opinion, contributing to society, supporting charitable causes and helping people is the best route people with resources should follow.
Q: Many successful business owners are workaholics. Are you?
Sheldon Barris: I work hard, but I’m also a firm believer in a work-life balance. I work to live, not live to work. Many companies and business leaders preach that but they don’t actually live it. I’m a single father, and even though my children are older now, I’ve always strived to be a good parent. Away from the office I love to travel and go hiking and skiing. Although I absolutely love what I do at Jorlee Holdings, Ltd., I equally enjoy doing fun things, seeing new places and just being happy as a person.