Meet Corey Shelson, 36, president of 44 North Digital Marketing, and one of our 20 Under 40 Class of 2021 recipients
A 13-YEAR VETERAN of the Canadian Armed Forces and an Ivey MBA grad, Corey Shelson launched 44 North Digital Marketing as a solo entrepreneur in 2015. Since then, he has guided his venture to sustained growth. Over the past five years, company revenues have soared by 860 per cent, and he now employs more than 25 people. Not one to forget those who have lent a helping hand in the past, when American forces withdrew from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 and the Taliban took control of the country, he temporarily stepped away from 44 North and put his talents to work in an advocacy role to support the identification, relocation, evacuation and resettlement of at-risk Afghans, including interpreters, locally employed civilians, at-risk minorities, women’s right advocates, journalists and the LGBTQ2 community. Engaging members of parliament and taking a stand against bureaucratic roadblocks, his efforts helped to influence the Canadian government to form a special immigration program for Afghans who provided an enduring and significant contribution to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
What would you call your biggest business achievement, and why?
Bootstrapping 44 North Digital Marketing from an idea to a 25-plus member team of amazing human beings without ever raising capital or taking on debt. We’ve successfully endured two years of Covid-19 without having to lay anyone off. Our people are number one, and I am proud of the jobs we’ve created and the families we have been able to support over the past seven years.
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What about your biggest obstacle?
When I started 44 North, I had no idea how hectic and emotionally consuming building a company would be, nor the impact that constant stress would have on me and those around me. Add Covid-19, two years of lockdowns, working from home and school closures on top of that, and I hit my breaking point. In truth, I’m tackling it right now, with the support of my family, mentors, business colleagues and medical professionals. It’s scary being vulnerable and change is hard, but I know it’s a necessity for my future as an entrepreneur, business leader, husband and father. So, here I am, seven years into this business, trying to reinvent myself and find a more sustainable way to live, grow and lead. I’m learning that maintaining a stable, balanced and healthy lifestyle is something that is going to require work each and every day, and something that requires prioritization. I am thankful for the enduring support I have received from my wife, Jocelyn — she has stood by me even when it was probably easier to walk away. I would not be where I am today without her, and I stand committed to working every day to ensure that she and my children remain my number-one priority.
What are your favourite pastimes outside of work?
Fishing. Golf. And more fishing.
Where are you taking an old friend for dinner?
Wherever Jamie Shrier is hosting an open mic — likely Poacher’s Arms — then off to Stobie’s for 3 a.m. pizza.
You’re off on your dream vacay — where to?