It was Labour Day weekend in 2020, a time of strict lockdowns when no one knew what COVID would mean for the economy or more broadly, for our futures. But uncertainty wasn’t holding George Armoyan (BEng’83) back. Armoyan, alongside his wife and business partner, Simé, and their sons, Sam (BComm’16), and George Jr., were putting shovels into the ground on undeveloped land in Mascouche, Que.
“We bought the industrial buildings in 2020, had them rezoned, built four buildings and created homes for 525 families,” Armoyan says.
It’s the sort of no-holds-barred attitude that has propelled Armoyan though a career as a developer, investor and entrepreneur. “I have the knack for smelling and finding deals,” he says. “But I do make mistakes. I lose money too, so I play the law of averages and make more good deals than bad.”
Over the course of his 40-year career, Armoyan has played his hand aggressively, taken risks, and battled bureaucracy when he thought it stood in the way of progress. He’s regularly doubled down, and more often than not has been left with the winning cards.
He lives, he says, by a George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) quote: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why Not?’”
It’s an approach that hasn’t won him unanimous praise, but it has earned him loyalty and respect from many, including those he holds in the highest regard—his family, his employees and his peers.
I pinch myself sometimes, wondering if this is a dream or reality.”
“George can analyze a complex situation incredibly quickly. He always asks exactly the right questions and gets to the heart of any matter straight away. He is very courageous in his decision-making,” says business leader and Armoyan’s fellow Dal Innovates mentor John Risley. “During the energy crisis a few years ago, we talked about what the future for oil prices might be and how long the downturn would last. Once he had made up his mind this was indeed nothing but a cyclical turn in the industry, he invested boldly while others were running for the exits.”
A recent bold investment was joining JC Flowers, a private equity fund out of New York, in buying a soured 480 billion rupees ($5.9 billion) loans portfolio in India for 112 billion rupees in December 2022. George and Simé Armoyan’s company, G2S2 Capital Inc., was one of two parties (the second being Exor, an Italian company that counts Fiat and The Economist magazine amongst its holdings) that co-invested in the deal alongside JC Flowers. “I think it was the largest underperforming loan portfolio in India,” Armoyan says, gleeful at having the opportunity to do something he’s always loved—turning around non- and under-performing assets. “It was a good deal.”
Armoyan also bought six hotels in Fort McMurray, Alta., this past December. He now owns 40 per cent of all hotel rooms in that city, and the day before his DAL Magazine interview, was in Fort McMurray checking them out. “I wanted to see what the hell I bought!”
When asked to reflect on how he came to have such huge stakes in both national and multinational enterprises, he simply shakes his head and says, “I pinch myself sometimes, wondering if this is a dream or reality.”
It’s in his DNA
Armoyan says he was born with persistence and tenacity—characteristics he honed out of necessity growing up in Syria in the 1960s and early ’70s. His parents instilled strong family values in him. His father, Sami, was a watchmaker and store owner. But he says it was his mother, Anahid, who had more ambition. Beyond working in her husband’s store, she also drove a car, something exceedingly rare for a woman to do in Syria, then or now. She lives in the U.S. today, and according to Armoyan, “still has the bug to get things done.”
When George was a young teen the Armoyans, who are Armenian, immigrated to Boston, seeking peace and prosperity. George set about learning English, assimilating into the culture, and asking lots of questions as he plotted his future.
“I knew I wanted to be successful. I had the entrepreneurial bug. I knew what I wanted but not how I’d get there. It was through luck and perseverance,” he says. “Also, my goals got bigger,” he adds, chuckling.
Armoyan chose to come to Dalhousie after learning about it from a family friend and calculating the tuition savings it offered versus American colleges. He settled into Lower Sackville, where his family eventually joined him. Today, he travels extensively to Toronto, Alberta, the U.S., India, and elsewhere, and maintains a primary residence in Montreal, yet he still considers Lower Sackville, where his father is buried, his hometown.
He studied engineering at Dal, even though he didn’t plan on becoming an engineer. It was an education that “taught him how to think” and allowed him to flex his strong math muscles, he says. It also sharpened his negotiation skills, which were tested when he took his objection to having to complete a particular required course he felt was repetitive all the way to Dalhousie’s Senate. (He lost his argument and took the course.) Outside of class, his memories of his student days include watching soap operas in Shirreff Hall and hanging out in the Green Room at the SUB.
Armoyan's support and investments
Through financial support and investment of his time and expertise, George Armoyan has been an active player within Dal Innovates programs, mentoring more than 50 companies through Creative Destruction Lab Atlantic. With Armoyan’s guidance, entrepreneurs have been able to focus their ambitions and launch massively scalable, seed-stage science and technology-based companies. These have included:
1. Graphite Innovation & Technologies, which creates environmentally friendly marine coating for seafaring vessels.
2. Energy X, which has developed innovative, in-house technology solutions that generate evaluation-grade energy assessments of building performance at scale.
3. Jaza, a company that is building a network of solar powered charging stations across Africa, where customers swap portable battery packs that power their homes and businesses.
“ Jaza’s development in Atlantic Canada was supported from the earliest stages by visionaries like George Armoyan and the CDL-Atlantic network. They truly make it possible to pursue bold ideas here while igniting a global impact.”
For more about Jaza, see Sebastian Manchester’s alumni spotlight in this issue of DAL Magazine
Learning never stops
His education didn’t stop after Dalhousie. Armoyan’s been participating in the Harvard Business School Executive Education, President’s Leadership Program for over 20 years, and he makes a point of learning something new every day.
He also re-established strong ties to Dalhousie through its Dal Innovates programming, which nurtures innovation and entrepreneurship in students, young alumni and faculty. In particular, he was a founding partner in Creation Destruction Lab (CDL) Atlantic, which is housed within Dal Innovates programs. “I like working with young people…it’s invigorating to see their ideas,” Armoyan says.
Jeff Larsen, Dalhousie’s assistant vice-president innovation & entrepreneurship, acknowledges the influence mentors like Armoyan bring to Dal Innovates. “When you have people of this ilk who are actually engaging and mentoring tech entrepreneurs, well, you can’t put a dollar value on that. It’s the difference maker,” Larsen says.
Armoyan considers himself a late adopter of tech. He says his work in “old economy” businesses like real estate was disrupted by technological evolution, and he at one time questioned whether tech would render him obsolete. CDL-Atlantic pushed him into his discomfort zone. “I wanted to venture into something I didn’t know much about and face my fears.”
He likes giving back to the community and believes in the innovation ecosystem and its necessity in Atlantic Canada. Armoyan’s son George Jr., and his son Sam, who is also a Dal grad, are now working in the family’s businesses and though George Sr. has no retirement plans, he’s delighted to say he now works for them. His family, and creating jobs for thousands of people, are what he calls his greatest achievements. He credits himself only with having street smarts and making good decisions, the best of which, he says, was marrying Simé.
“I’m very proud of the way my wife and I have been able to raise our sons into good, responsible adults,” Armoyan says. “Money comes and goes but children and family are more important.”
This story appeared in the DAL Magazine Spring/Summer 2023 issue. Flip through the rest of the issue using the links below.
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