If you walk past the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue in downtown Toronto, you can’t help notice the spruced-up building that bears the name Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre.
An entrepreneur and philanthropist, Miles Nadal was the lead donor in the revitalization of the former Bloor Jewish Community Centre.
When he was a kid growing up, Nadal didn’t have much money. He came from modest means, and as a teenager he received a bursary so he could attend the Y, as it then was. As an eight-year-old, he required a subsidy so he could attend summer camp.
Today, of course, it’s a different story – he’s the man behind MDC Partners, a giant marketing and advertising firm that employs 14,000 people globally and is seventh largest in the world.
The Toronto chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) will recognize Nadal’s lifelong achievements by inducting him into its Marketing Hall of Legends on Oct. 16.
The Hall of Legends honours Canadians “who have dedicated their lives to the pursuit of excellence in the field of marketing. It is meant to honour a body of work and a lifetime of achievements,” states the organization’s web page.
“The criteria for selection is based on those Canadians whose ideas and contributions to marketing and brand building have made a tremendous impact in the Canadian and/or global marketplace,” the organization states.
MDC Partners is the controlling shareholder of some 60 international marketing firms, including Anomaly, Bruce Mau Design, Capital C, CP+B, Doner, Henderson bas kohn, KBS+ and Veritas.
“MDC companies represent every angle of communications, including advertising, design, interactive, e-commerce, product innovation, experiential marketing and branded entertainment, with a diverse portfolio of clients,” the Hall of Legends said.
With a market capitalization of $360 million (US), the company is publicly traded on the NASDAQ exchange. Nadal founded the company and serves as its chair, CEO and president.
MDC has adopted a model of acquiring majority stakes in modest-sized firms that combine an entrepreneurial spirit and a unique position in the marketplace. MDC’s partners retain a substantial stake and have an incentive to continue growth.
“If you want to build a team of giants, surround yourself with people better than yourself,” Nadal told The CJN. “We have an extraordinary team and great management information system.”
In terms of the companies’ size, Nadal prefers smaller, more agile firms. “Scale, multi-national, multi-service, multi-office is a negative,” he told the Globe and Mail last year. “A negative for the ability to drive creativity, innovation, and that kind of nimble performance, because scale and innovation are to some degree mutually exclusive.”
While MDC has shown tremendous growth over the years, its financial statements also show plenty of red ink and no shortage of debt. Last year, MDC lost $85 million, substantially more than the $15 million it lost in 2010 and the $18 million in 2009. The stock price has reflected that, dropping 12 per cent in the year prior to Sept. 27.
Advertising is far from Nadal’s only business interest. His first venture at age 11 was in photography, taking kids’ pictures at summer camp. When he was older, he founded Action Photographics and operated it out of an apartment on Shallmar Boulevard in Toronto.
A man in a hurry, he dropped out of business school and at age 21, with $500 charged to his Visa card, started MDC Partners.
“I was a very ambitious guy,” he told The CJN.
His business philosophy always revolved around being “a contrarian,” he said. Citing one of several aphorisms in an interview, Nadal said you succeed “when you’re greedy when others are fearful and being fearful when others are greedy.”
He once told business students to jump at opportunities when they present themselves. Asked by a student how to recognize which opportunity to seize, Nadal quipped, “Just do enough jumping.”
In all seriousness, he continued, you have to “foresee outcomes and take steps to increase the probability of a favourable outcome.”
In addition to his focus on the marketing space, in 1997 he founded First Asset Management, one of Canada’s largest independent asset management firms, with more than $35 billion under management. That company was sold in 2005 to Affiliated Managers Group, a publicly traded U.S. firm.
Nadal’s philanthropic activities are perhaps even more extensive than his business ones. Besides supporting the Miles Nadal JCC, he’s given substantial sums to the Canada-Israel Park; he’s been named Negev Dinner honoree by the Jewish National Fund; he’s funded York University’s Miles S. Nadal Management Centre; he’s supported creation of a young leadership group at Mount Sinai Hospital. He recently returned from Israel where he gave $1 million to support technical innovation and entrepreneurship at Tel Aviv University.
Nadal speaks frequently at business schools on the subject of entrepreneurship. His message to those starting out: “You’ve got to focus on what you’re really good at. Find things you believe in and do things you really love.”