Donato Sferra of Toronto’s Hillcrest Merchant Partners on Leadership, Innovation, and Hard Work

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Over the past 20 years, Donato Sferra, managing partner of Toronto’s Hillcrest Merchant Partners, has built a successful career in the financial services and investment and banking industries. Growing up in a working-class home, Donato went on to work for some of the country’s most established financial firms. Some of his experience includes serving as an equity research analyst for TD Securities, the Director of Institutional Sales at both Macquarie Group and Dundee Capital Markets, and Managing Director of Investment Banking at Eight Capital. Most recently, along with his Toronto business partner Mark Attanasio, Donato co-founded Hillcrest Merchant Partners, an angel investment firm focused on early to mid-market growth companies.

What qualities do you think are important to have as a leader?


Donato Sferra: You have to be able to understand the value of your team. I have the pleasure of working with incredibly talented, intelligent people, so I know I can trust them to execute the work that needs to be done.

Leaders should also stay passionate about their company and the inspiration for why they founded it. Working hard, constantly learning, taking meetings, really being in the thick of your own business will not only inspire those around you, but from my experience, those are the ingredients for success for any business.

How do you identify trends in your industry?


Donato Sferra: I try to live by the mantra, “Don’t go where the puck is going, go where the puck is going to go.” Hillcrest Merchant Partners is an ideas business at heart, so we try to anticipate trends rather than follow them. One of the more important macro trends that continues to excite us is the cannabis market and the opportunities presented by the legalization of cannabis.

Can you give some advice for young entrepreneurs?


 Donato Sferra: In Toronto or anywhere, you can’t be afraid to take risks! Just because you didn’t come from the “right” kind of family or education doesn’t mean you are less-than. Put yourself out there and take every opportunity that comes your way.

Also, always stay up-to-date with the news, especially in your industry. It helps you notice trends and keeps you in your work mindset. Even when I’m not at work I try to be productive by reading news aggregation sites. I am always on the lookout for new ideas!

How did growing up working class influence your business style?


Donato Sferra: It taught me the value of hard work. I have been working since I was nine years old working as many hours a day as I need to. My parents taught me that if you work hard, you can succeed in anything and I really took that to heart. I would hate to lose out on an opportunity because someone else put in a little more time or effort, so I always put in 110 percent.

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