My Best Mistake: Ryan Smolkin Reflects on His New Work-Life Balance


Ryan Smolkin is a self-made entrepreneur whose business career began in Waterloo, Ont. The student of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Business Admin Co-op built a portfolio of rental properties, amassing $4 million in assets before selling the company and eventually launching AmoebaCorp, a graphic design and branding company, which he sold to Toronto’s John St. Advertising after helping create a client list that included Nike, Molson and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Today, the father and businessman oversees the growth of his Smoke’s Poutinerie chain of 43 eateries that stretch across the country. And, on any given day, the F&H 2012 Pinnacle National Company of the Year winner can be found consulting, guest-speaking or “rockin’ out” at his global headquarters in Ajax, Ont.

What was the best mistake you made in your career?

The best mistake I ever made in my short, but insane, career as founder of Smoke’s Poutinerie, was getting too absorbed in work. The good news is my devotion to work helped grow my business from one to 43 restaurants in three years, but at what cost? To reach my goals I was logging 100-plus hour weeks, travelling more than I was home and commuting three to four hours from my office in downtown Toronto to my home in Ajax, Ont. Hard work is necessary for any successful business start-up, but I began to lose sight of the most important thing in the world to me — my wife and twin six-year-old sons.

What did you learn from your mistake?

The biggest thing I learned from this mistake is to balance my work and family life better and never lose sight of the main goal in life — my family. It’s not just about providing financial support and family time; it’s about being there to be a part of their lives.

How has this mistake shaped  future decisions?

This realization is shaping my future decisions, from business travel to expansion plans — which I now discuss with my wife — to the biggest change, moving Smoke’s Poutinerie’s global headquarters to my hometown of Ajax, Ont. Now I have a four-minute commute each day instead of a four-hour commute, which gives me upwards of 20 hours a week with my family without sacrificing work. And, even though the idea of moving global headquarters to the ‘burbs was questionable, it’s, by far, one of the best personal decisions I’ve ever made. Now, I’m well rested and more focused, and I have better quality time at work, with my wife and with my kids.

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