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An entrepreneurial spirit

by Drew Hasselback

Holden Rhodes invested more than a decade of 16-hour days before he experienced what some might say was ‘overnight success.’

For more than 17 years, Rhodes, LLB’96, practised corporate law with McKenzie Lake Lawyers LLP in London, Ont. And for much of that time, he spent his evenings and weekends helping to build CarProof, one of the city’s most successful technology companies. 

Eventually, his long days and nights paid off. Two years ago, the data company was sold for $650 million to a Colorado firm – Rhodes was its executive vice-president and corporate counsel at the time.

The success may have been hard-won, but it was worth it in the end, Rhodoes noted.

“I was sleeping three or four hours a night and working two full-time jobs,” he said. “I was definitely not the lowest billing partner by any stretch, but it was a very gracious thing for the firm to allow a partner to actively have a second full-time job. Granted, I primarily did it evenings and weekends, but it was 12 or 13 years of grinding.”

Rhodes grew up in Streetsville, just outside Toronto. He briefly studied at York University and then switched to Western. As he neared the completion of his BA in 1991, he thought about going to law school, but realized he had missed the deadlines for Ontario admissions. He still had time to get into a school in England – and the idea was hardly farfetched. His father had emigrated from England and Rhodes held a U.K. passport. He went across the pond and graduated with his LLB from Birmingham City University in 1995. 

Upon his return to Canada, Rhodes contacted law society regulators to determine whether he needed to take any additional coursework before he could qualify to practise in Ontario. He was told he’d need to take a year’s worth of courses at Western Law. This he did, finishing up in 1996. Rhodes then articled with McKenzie Lake, and eventually became a partner with the firm. He would remain with McKenzie Lake until September 2013. 

While his time at Western was brief, Rhodes has since become more interested and involved with the school. One reason is famed Western Law professor Richard McLaren, who also practises law at McKenzie Lake. Rhodes has come to know him quite well over the years. 

“We’d have a lot of discussions. Since my time at Western, I have the most affinity toward him,” he said.

Rhodes was still fairly new at McKenzie Lake when he co-founded CarProof in 2000. 

The idea for the company emerged after another of its original founders unknowingly bought some used vehicles linked to organized crime. The idea was to set up a company that could track a vehicle’s complete history, such as whether it had been through any crashes or had any liens. CarProof quickly emerged as a valuable tool for anyone buying a used car. By 2012, it was on the Deloitte Fast 50 list of tech companies and was recognized as one of the best-managed companies in Canada.

CarProof eventually developed a continent-wide reputation. At one point, the company teamed up with Hellman and Friedman, a private equity firm from San Francisco, to make a bid for a U.S. competitor, Carfax. The deal didn’t pan out, but the private equity firm was impressed enough with CarProof to buy into the company. A short while later, the firm that bought Carfax, Colorado-based IHS Inc., started kicking the tires at CarProof. Those talks resulted in the December 2015 sale. 

These days, Rhodes is free to focus on other business opportunities and interests, among them some recent investments in Killarney, Ont., on the northern shore of Georgian Bay. Rhodes felt a personal connection to the community and wanted to give something back. He bought the Killarney Mountain Lodge in January 2015 and in March 2016, purchased another resort property, The Sportsman Inn.

“That’s been more of a passion thing, than a wise business investment,” he said. “My mother grew up there. Her whole lineage going back to the 1800s was from the town. It’s more a fun, family heritage thing,” he explained.

Rhodes has other projects on the go, among them a London company called North American Brands Inc. He’s interested in commercial real estate ventures, as well. 

“I love seeing businesses and real estate grow. I really get a kick out of seeing buildings come out of the ground,” he added.

The CarProof sale has also opened the door to a bit more work-life balance. He’s the father of four children, aged 17, 15, 12 and 7. He’s also working on his pilot license, which could help shorten his commute to Killarney. 

“I have to be careful about balance,” Rhodes continued.

Rhodes might not be living as hectic a life as he did while juggling his work at McKenzie Lake with his efforts to get CarProof up and running, but he’s not done yet with business. It’s fair to say the Western alumnus is at least a serial entrepreneur, and perhaps, even a deal junkie. 

“I still want to be involved with things,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m addicted.” 

 

Drew Hasselback, LLB’96, is Legal Post Editor of the Financial Post.

 


This article appeared in the Western Law 2017 Alumni Magazine.
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