5 questions with cinema mogul and "Dragon" Vincenzo Guzzo

Sep 15 2022, 3:01 pm

There are few Quebec businessmen as notable as Vincenzo Guzzo.

From his outspokenness to his one-of-a-kind sense of style — which always includes a yellow flower pin —he is, in every sense of the word, unique.

The man people call “Mr. Sunshine” first made his name in the movie theatre business as the CEO and President of Cinémas Guzzo, the country’s third-largest cinema chain. Along with excelling in his primary field, the 53-year-old has not been shy to branch out into other ventures.

Over the past two decades, Guzzo has dipped his toe into the waters of construction, hospitality, and medical philanthropy, which helped make him a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. In honour of his family’s roots, he’s also opened a chain of Neapolitan pizza restaurants called Giulietta around the Montreal area.

But back in 2018, the local figure became one of national prominence when his investor status earned him a chair as a cast member on CBC’s hit show Dragons’ Den. Since then, he’s been diversifying his portfolio and observing Canadian ingenuity.

We caught up with Mr. Sunshine as part of our “5 Questions With” series to discuss his local charity work, advice for young entrepreneurs, and Season 17 of Dragons’ Den, which premieres at 8 pm on Thursday, September 15 on CBC and CBC Gem.

What are some local causes you’ve decided to support over the years?

The long-standing relationships have pretty exclusively been in Montreal.

We’ve been big on imaging departments. For example, the Jewish General has a brand new scanner and I obligated them to keep the old one. I didn’t want the old ones to be dismantled and sold off to the private sector. I said no, it should be available for everybody here and they got twice that got the capability. Same thing with the Shriners Hospital. And the same thing with the Children’s Hospital back when we paid for that imaging department.

We also contribute to the awareness of mental health. We were involved with Bell Let’s Talk because we have to make sure that, you know, talking about mental health is not stigmatized anymore. It has to be like, hey, we all go through something, right? We all went through something during COVID-19 for example, and there should be no shame in getting help for that.

Speaking of COVID-19, what was it like being a restaurateur and movie theatre owner during lockdown?

It was horrible! Because the fact of the matter was that, you know, especially when it comes to the movie industry, we were caught between a hard place and a rock. When Quebec decided to let go of some of the restrictions, California and New York were going through huge restrictions, and they represent 25% of the North American box office, which means that studios would not release movies. So here we are now open, paying the rent, operating, and nobody’s showing up because you won’t have any movies to show then.

…And so, to be in a position where you’re no longer even in control because of these conditions was very, very, very difficult.

We were literally affected from A to Z across the board. And the problem was that we were getting conflicting data from public health and from the Premier’s office in Quebec. So, you can imagine how upsetting that was when one person [was] saying one thing and then the other guy announces something else.

What’s new in the Den this season?

I think you’re going to get a lot of great ideas. A lot of advice.

I think you can expect a lot of laughs with Robert Herjavec coming back. You know, Robert’s a funny guy, and he’s a quirky guy, and he does all kinds of crazy things.

But what you’re really going to get is the sensation that you know, after two years or two seasons under COVID-19 restrictions that, you know, Canada’s entrepreneurs have really come up with great ideas going forward.

Are you optimistic about the future of the Canadian economy?

I’m optimistic about the talent, about the entrepreneurial spirit. What really concerns me is the management of public funds. And because we live in a society that believes that we can afford anything just by increasing income tax or sales tax by half a percent or 1%, it’s worrisome to me that, you know, we’ll just spend the money and we’ll think about where we get the money later.

And sometimes, you know, we see it in some of the entrepreneurs who come to see us that they’re telling us, “trust me, give me a million bucks and don’t worry about it. I’ll show you I can do it.” And so, that’s where my only concern still remains.

But on a human level, I don’t think we have an issue.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a young entrepreneur?

Start. Don’t wait until your plan is 100% perfect. Just do it.

You will learn that even that plan that is 75% perfect, will have to be tweaked. And that’s why it’s useless to wait for perfection before you start. That’s called procrastination.

Al SciolaAl Sciola

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