Now in its 38th year, Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame continues to honour the leaders that enhance our business landscape while being active in the community and mentoring others. This year’s inductees are: Donald A. Wheaton Sr., Dr. Ray Muzyka, Dr. Greg Zeschuk, and Jim Carter.
Donald A. Wheaton Sr.
The Wheaton Group of Companies started with a General Motors dealership in 1955. Today, the family owns one of the largest dealership networks in Canada and has diversified into the financial services business, aviation services, and real estate sectors.
Donald A. Wheaton Sr. joined the family business after graduating from university in 1975.
“The thing that stands out the most to me was starting our finanical services side of our business,” says Wheaton, “specifically, our starting of our bank. We have a bank called The General Bank of Canada. Until recently, no individual in Canada could own more than 20 per cent of a bank. That’s why there is a limited number of banks in Canada. They changed those rules about 12 years ago. At that time, our family decided to make an application for a bank charter and became (and remain) the first and only privately held bank in the country.”
The Wheaton Group is adamant about contributing to the communities in which it operates. We want to give back, not just dollars, but by getting personally involved in making the communities better places to live,” Wheaton says of the company’s support of United Way, University of Alberta Hospital Foundation, YMCA, educational initiatives, and more.
“I’ve been living in Edmonton virtually all my life,” Wheaton continues. “I’ve brought up my family here. It’s a wonderful and safe place to raise a family and do business. Our family is entrepreneurial; in Edmonton, we have the benefit of being a part of the resource-based economy. Business for us in Edmonton is quite good, even though the city goes through the economic cycles. It’s my view that one of the most important things in growing and operating a successful business is challenging yourself to the question of how to keep your business young. We work hard at that.”
In addition to being thrilled about the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame induction, Wheaton has a personal reason for being excited about the honour. “My father was an inductee and a laureate in 2000. My father was there 18 years ago, and now I’m a part of it.”
Wheaton thanks his wife Kim, his business partners, and all those that support the Wheaton Group from coast to coast.
“In my case, I’m a second-generation entrepreneurial family, and we are integrating in the third generation,” he concludes. “We are really fortunate to be living in the part of the world that we do and we have much to be thankful for.”
Dr. Ray Muzyka
Dr. Ray Muzyka, BMedSci, MD, CCFP, MBA, is the founder and CEO of ThresholdImpact and the co-founder and former CEO of BioWare.
While in medical school, Dr. Muzyka, Dr. Greg Zeschuk, and Dr. Augustine Yip collaborated and successfully sold two medical education projects (an acid-base physiology simulator and a gastroenterology patient simulator).
“We realized through the development and sale of those projects that we enjoyed business and developing software, but the medical education market was challenging at that time to find paying customers – so we decided to form, of all things, a video game developer, as that was a hobby for Greg and myself growing up,” says Dr. Muzyka. “After two years of full time rural locum tenens, I worked part time as a medical doctor for a decade in rural ER and family medicine while also serving full time as BioWare’s CEO – my career became my hobby and my hobby became my career. Greg and I jointly ran the company for the next two decades through our first external financing in 2005 via private equity group Elevation Partners, and our later acquisition by Electronic Arts (EA) in 2007. We both retired in 2012 after five years at the BioWare division of EA.”
BioWare is a major brand known globally for games such as Dragon Age and Mass Effect, along with partnerships with Hasbro and LucasArts.
Dr. Muzyka continues, “After a decade in medical practice and, overlapping with that, two decades helping to grow BioWare, I was ready for something new. In my third career chapter at ThresholdImpact, I’m focused on angel investing and providing mentorship to entrepreneurs in technology, medical innovations, and social enterprise.”
He is proud to live, and have grown BioWare, in Edmonton. “Edmonton, Alberta and Canada are all great places to grow a business and build a life. We’re lucky to have strong social support systems in health care and education, a diverse and tolerant society, and a strong rule of law that enables entrepreneurs to thrive.”
“It’s humbling,” he notes about the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame induction, “to be named to such an auspicious list amongst so many legendary business people. I’m honoured to be inducted and feel lucky to have been able to work with so many great people at BioWare and ThresholdImpact over the past three decades.
“I’d like to thank my wife Leona De Boer for her years of support and love, as well as my parents, Alexander and Adelle Muzyka, for helping instill in me a strong work ethic and life-long passion for learning, as well as their parents for inspiring me to become an entrepreneur. Also, I want to thank my fellow co-founders of BioWare – Augustine and especially my long-term business colleague and great friend Greg, and all the great teams across all of BioWare’s studios and Electronic Arts. I’d also like to thank BioWare’s and BioWare EA’s publishing and business partners, and all the amazing entrepreneurs and exemplary fellow investors I’m privileged to be able to work with since 2012 at ThresholdImpact.”
Dr. Greg Zeschuk
Dr. Greg Zeschuk is the co-founder of BioWare and the CEO of Blind Enthusiasm Group.
When Dr. Zeschuk went into medicine, he didn’t realize that he preferred to build things. He did know, however, that he and his friends were very much into video games.
“It was making medical education software that led to the creation of BioWare,” says Dr. Zeschuk. “This was before computers were a career. Today, I would have gone into computer science, but you didn’t see that in the 80s in Edmonton, so we went to medicine. However, Ray and I flipped our hobby and career and started making software. Then we decided to give video games a shot. I joked that we could fall back on medicine if we needed to. It was a wonderful ride. The experience at BioWare was unbeatable and I’m very proud of the product we made. At the end of the day, when it came to making games, hundreds of people worked on the projects. Ray and I are really proud of working with all these teams. Many people [from BioWare] have gone on to do amazing things. Some have started their own companies, some work at videogame companies all over the world, and some work in film at places like Pixar and ILM.”
Dr. Zeschuk continues, “Ray and I sold BioWare to Electronic Arts in 2007, but stayed on for five years. In the end, however, we didn’t like working for a big corporation; we wanted to be entrepreneurial. We left BioWare in 2012. When I knew I was leaving BioWare, I started thinking about my next career; I wanted to try something different.”
Since making a career out of a hobby worked the first time, Dr. Zeschuk decided to build his third career around another favourite pastime: beer.
“Not just drinking beer, but the science and creation of it,” he points out. “My goal was to create something in a neighbourhood, not in an entertainment district or in an industrial area. I discovered that, for zoning, I had to have a restaurant, not just a brewery.” That’s how Blind Enthusiasm brewery, and the restaurant Biera was born.
Professional highlights for Dr. Zeschuk include the creation of Baldur’s Gate (at BioWare) as the game’s success was the point he knew he could quit his day job in medicine. Another milestone was receiving a game of the year award from the International Game Developers Association for Star Wars: The Old Republic.
He concludes, “I love the mindset, energy, and excitement of the people in Edmonton. I was born here and grew up here. I lived in the States for short stints but see and love Edmonton’s can-do, entrepreneurial spirit. I also love the outdoors; Edmonton is a great place to play and a great place to work.”
When Dr. Zeschuk learned about the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame induction, he was fly fishing in Chile. “It feels like I have to retire now,” he jokes about his surprised reaction to the news.
“I’d like to thank BioWare,” he concludes. “Everything we did there was a team effort, just as now at the restaurant and brewery, it is a team effort.” I’d also like to thank my wife, who has been very patient with my antics over the years and very understanding of my need to build and make things. I also thank my business partner and great friend, Ray Muzyka.”
Jim Carter is the former president and COO of Syncrude Canada, and now in retirement, he sits on the boards of five major corporations: Finning International, ATB Finanical, EllisDon Construction, Irving Oil Ltd., and Brand Energy & Infrastructure Services. He is also on the board of SureHire Occupational Testing Services and Crestwynd Exploration Ltd.
“I started at Syncrude in 1979, after being recruited to start the truck and shovel operation to remove overburden,” says Carter. “I worked there for 28 years, retiring in April 2007.”
He has many fond memories and milestones about his time at Syncrude. “The foundational milestone for me was the success we had in bringing big trucks and shovels into the oil sands; that became the foundation for future mining methods.”
Carter continues, “The idea of trucks and shovels led us to the development of double roll crushers and hydro transport (mixing product with water and pipelining it into the plant instead of conveying it). This reduced the amount of energy required for transport and lowered the temperature of the extraction process for the bitumen to free itself from the sand. Once we lowered the temperature, we could have mines located further away from the upgrader.
“Syncrude’s success helped to refine and develop Alberta’s opportunities in the oil sands. We were the largest early player in the business. We were involved in what needed to happen to make oil sands an economically viable opportunity.”
Carter has lived in Alberta since 1974 and thinks, “It’s a wonderful province with a very good history of entrepreneurship and a pioneering spirit. Albertans need to be more vocal in approaching the value that is created in the province. The silent majority should speak out and be proud of what Alberta has done and should declare to the world that we develop our resources in an environmentally responsible way. Hold your head high and do not to go around apologizing for having a resource economy.”
He was surprised and very humbled by his Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame induction. “When I look at my colleagues this year and in the past, I am very honoured. I was delighted to hear about [the induction] and it is something I’m very proud of.”
Carter thanks the people he has worked with in the past and present, and those that nominated him for the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Alberta Business Hall of Fame honour.