Home Month and Year October 2023 JA Business Hall of Fame, Presented by ATB, Introduces the 2023 Laureates

JA Business Hall of Fame, Presented by ATB, Introduces the 2023 Laureates

Nerissa McNaughton

Photos by Production World

Continuing a 43-year tradition of honouring Alberta’s entrepreneurs and visionaries, Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame, presented by ATB, is pleased to introduce this year’s inductees and induct them on October 26.

This highly anticipated gathering brings together senior business leaders from across Northern Alberta to celebrate and honour the achievements of our region’s most esteemed business leaders. The event serves as a platform to recognize their outstanding contributions to the economy, community and future prospects. It also serves as a fundraising initiative in support of Junior Achievement (JA), an organization dedicated to empowering young entrepreneurs.

Expect an exciting lineup of activities at the event, including the recognition of exceptional leaders, showcasing JA’s impactful work, and fostering connections between aspiring entrepreneurs and experienced mentors. This is a unique opportunity to witness the convergence of knowledge, experience and inspiration in one room.

The Laureates are exceptional individuals who have achieved remarkable success in their fields, demonstrated strong leadership abilities and actively support their communities. They serve as an inspiration to the next generation of entrepreneurs.

This year’s inductees are Angus Watt, Blaine MacMillan, Brent Hesje, and Yasmin Jivraj.


(James) Angus Watt

Since 2002, the Angus Watt Advisory Group has been a strong wealth management partner for Canadian families. The Angus Watt Advisory Group, with their outstanding reputation, is part of National Bank Financial Wealth Management, backed by National Bank of Canada, the 6th largest bank in Canada.  Angus Watt Advisory Group founder, Angus Watt, has been in the financial services business for nearly 50 years, including 21 years leading this exceptional group of professionals. Watt takes great pride in his community involvement with the Support Network and the United Way, and he recently helped raise $30 million for the Cross Cancer Institute.

“Someone once said that what we sell is ‘financial comfort.’ It is true; trust, clarity and heart have been the foundation of my, and our team’s, work. People trust Angus Watt Advisory Group because of the clarity we bring to their financial situations, but it is the heart that truly sets us apart. I believe in taking care of our clients as if they are our own family.

“Oddly enough, I did not always envision myself as a financial advisor or stockbroker. It wasn’t until I applied to a firm and was transferred to Edmonton from Toronto that my career path took shape.

“While my son, Jim, now plays a major role in managing the business, I am happy to remain involved, providing counsel and offering guidance whenever and wherever needed. Building on its current success of managing $1.4 billion in assets, the long-term goal of the firm is not just to grow bigger, but to continuously improve. I am so immensely proud of the team, and I look forward to helping ensure a successful transition for the future.

“I deeply value the importance of philanthropy; community involvement has always been a very important part of my personal life. From supporting youth organizations like the Cubs and Scouts to playing an active role in local politics, I truly believe in giving back. Mental health has been a personal area of interest due to a tragic situation in our own family. I do firmly believe that having a vested interest in the causes one supports makes a big difference.

“When I learned I was becoming a Laureate, I reflected on the history and legacy of those who have come before me. Being recognized for my business contributions is both thrilling and humbling. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a lasting impact in the business world. Truly, I would not be where I am today without the unwavering support of my family, and particularly my wife. From attending countless dinners and functions to understanding the demands of this career, she has been my rock. I also recognize that this success is a result of the collective effort and support of my clients, team members, management, friends, community, and colleagues.



Blaine MacMillan

Blaine MacMillan is the President and CEO of Cowan Graphics Inc., a family-owned and operated manufacturer offering a wide range of services including vehicle markings, retail graphics solutions, Architectural Signage, Decals and much more. In business for 78 years, Cowan Graphics has become a leader in the industry. MacMillan is dedicated to supporting the community. He and Cowan have been involved with non-profit organizations such as Sport Central, Cure Cancer Foundation, Kids with Cancer and Youth Empowerment and Support Services (YESS). This commitment to giving back has earned them several prestigious awards.

“Ours is a family business which started in 1945 here in Edmonton. My aunt (Muriel MacMillan) and her then boyfriend (Bud Cowan) started the business at the end of WWII. My dad started at age 23 in 1951. In 1985, the business was owned equally by my mom and six of us kids. We all worked full-time at the business. I slowly bought all of my family out and became the owner.

“I count working with all the incredible people who have been my working partners in the business, past and present, as some of my fondest memories; along with working with my parents and all of the ensuing learning. This has been a journey of patience, trust, hard work and family.

“Other highlights include the unique projects Cowan Graphics has been fortunate to be involved with, including the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary, the 1988 Olympic Summer Games in Seoul, 1989-1998 Superbowl bus wraps for Coca Cola (Atlanta), the 2003 Heritage World Classic, 35 years with the Edmonton Oilers and many more.

I am proudest, however, to be celebrating 78 years of having our family business be anchored here in our hometown of Edmonton, Alberta.

A sense of family is deeply rooted within Edmonton’s business culture and it has made our city incredibly strong, vibrant and caring.  We see it in many ways: event support, volunteering… quiet champions everywhere who go about their community giving without ever wanting to be recognized or acknowledged. As a lifelong Edmontonian, I grew up in this culture and feel very strongly about it.

How do I feel about becoming a Laureate? Actually, I am simply not deserving. I am humbled by the attention and to be joining an incredible group of individuals. I would never have thought I could be welcomed into this group. I feel incredibly lucky and am very proud to call Edmonton home and to be an Edmontonian.

The future sees me working harder to get more of my time back. My beautiful wife Claudine (I could never have accomplished what I have without her support, encouragement and love) deserves more attention, time and fun!


Brent Hesje

Since its inception in 1956, Fountain Tire has been driven by partnerships and a strong commitment to the success of associates, owners and customers. Brent Hesje joined Fountain Tire in 1992. He demonstrates a deep passion for community partnerships, both in his personal life and through his professional role at the company. He actively engages with various organizations, serving on the boards of several Canadian companies. Hesje’s commitment to community involvement extends further as he has dedicated over 11 years to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), serving as a board member, chair, and advisor.

“Fountain Tire was founded by two brothers, Bill and Jack Fountain, in 1956 in Wainwright.

With encouragement and inspiration from my uncle, Brian Hesje, I left Procter & Gamble to join Fountain Tire in 1992. The company was looking for a person to strengthen their brand and to be part of expansion beyond Alberta.

“I chose a career path in sales and marketing as creative and conceptual work always interested me. I liked that Fountain Tire was a business that had the potential to create wealth for hundreds of families through our unique 50/50 local ownership model. Fountain Tire has been occasionally misunderstood as a family business versus a business of many families

“One of the highlights of my career with Fountain Tire has been working with the Executive Team, Board of Directors and Goodyear Canada to expand the company further across Canada. Scaling up our business model, therefore allowing more store leaders to become 50 per cent partners with Fountain Tire, was highly rewarding! Edmonton has been the perfect community for Fountain Tire to enhance and constantly improve our 50/50 ownership model. Many of Edmonton’s great organizations are constantly teaching us by being customers and/or advisors on how to refine our service and product offering. The strength of Edmonton’s post secondary schools has also powered our company through the readiness of so many talented graduates.

“I was fortunate to be part of the 2000 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. Over the three-week study period we learned many things about leadership that are summarized as ‘leadership is not about elitism but about the opportunity to serve.’ Serving this community is a natural thing to do as it has offered so many opportunities for our entire family. That’s how a partnership mindset works.

“As for becoming a Laurate, I feel incredibly grateful and even more surprised when I consider the previous and current recipients. I feel honoured to be associated with Junior Achievement because organizations that teach the societal benefits of free enterprise are so important; and unfortunately, are becoming so rare. Junior Achievement’s mission is very inspiring to me and here at Fountain Tire we believe that we are an organization creating opportunities for people to participate in free enterprise through local and corporate ownership.

“I have enjoyed great mentorship over the years at both Fountain Tire and Procter & Gamble. That mentorship expanded my opportunities to lead. My energy and talents are no longer best suited to the daily activities of leading a business, so I am enjoying the benefits and complexities of serving on boards of organizations where I can offer value. This is freeing up time to be more involved with family life. It is a priority to visit our daughter and son-in-law in London, England. Our son, daughter-in-law and first grandchild live in Edmonton, so we spend lots of time with them.”


Yasmin Jivraj

Yasmin Jivraj is an accomplished entrepreneur and IT professional with over 35 years of experience in technology and business leadership. She co-founded Atlas Systems Group in 1988, which later merged with CompCanada to become Acrodex. Currently, she co-owns Dexcent and serves as a board member for various organizations including NAIT’s Board of Governors, Alberta Blue Cross and Alberta Foundation of the Arts. She has received several honors, including Fellow Member by the Canadian Information Processing Society, a NAIT Honorary Bachelor of Technology degree, a University of Alberta Alumni award and a Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee medal.

“I was born in Tanzania to an Ismaili Muslim family and came to Canada in the 1970s at a young age I graduated from the University of Alberta with a bachelor’s degree in computing science in 1980. After working for the first 10 years and starting a family with two boys, my husband Nadir and I co-founded software development company, Atlas Systems Group.

“After being in the information and technology business for 20 years, we decided to diversify into other businesses. In early 2000, Atlas Systems Group merged with CompCanada to become Acrodex. Under our leadership, with business partner Karim Amarshi and full support of the board, Acrodex extended across Canada and emerged as a leading provider of enterprise-wide IT solutions with 600 IT professionals across the country and annual revenue at $250M. Acrodex was sold to a US public company in 2015. Amongst other businesses, I co-own Dexcent Inc. in Canada and in the US, an industrial automation engineering consulting company and real estate businesses in Canada and India.

“I have been involved with NAIT for many years; first I received an honorary degree in Bachelor of Technology in 2011 and was subsequently appointed to the board in 2017. After serving for five years and leading several committees, I was appointed as Chair of the Board of Governors. When I think about what gets me excited for the future of NAIT, the list is long. Near the top of the list, however, would be the development of NAIT’s Advanced Skills Centre. The need for this state-of-art centre is driven by the evolving landscape and rapid growth of Alberta’s economy, the continuous pace of technology innovation, and the shifting needs of learners and industry. The Advanced Skill Centre is set to transform how NAIT delivers education, specifically in skilled trades and technology-based programs. I am immensely proud to Chair NAIT’s Board of Governors during the development of this generational project.

“I look forward to working with the Board and NAIT leadership as we look toward the future of education and industry, transforming our polytechnic approach to continue to fuel the workforce and economy as we have for the past 60 years.

“I have been involved with the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) for many years, serving on their boards and charing the annual conferences. We continued to see women’s participation rate in the technology workforce remained at 25 per cent and statistics showed that girls generally removed themselves from potential participation in science and math careers by grade 9, Bernie Kollman and I launched a program to try to address this issue. We co-founded CIPS – Women in Technology program that brought 400 grade 9 girls from junior high schools in the Edmonton and greater area, along with their counsellors, on International Women’s Day to spend a day learning about the opportunities available in IT careers. The CIPS Women in Technology program worked successfully by influencing the girls to select math and science in high school for many years.

“We have businesses in many cities in Canada and abroad, but Edmonton will continue to be home.

“I am proud of many things in my life but nothing beats being a grandma, with four beautiful grandchildren.

“I am honoured to be part of this family of Junior Achievement as it is the world’s largest nongovernment organization dedicated to educating young people about business. While I am becoming a Laureate, there were many people who contributed to my journey – especially my husband Nadir who has been with me every step of the way.”


Celebrate the Laurates at the October 26 Gala

Enjoy an unforgettable evening at the JA Northern Alberta Business Hall of Fame Gala on October 26, 2023, at the Edmonton Convention Centre. This event is not only a celebration of excellence but also a source of inspiration for JA’s Company Program students. In addition to the gala on October 26 where each Laureate will be formally welcomed into the Hall of Fame, each Laureate will be recognized on the Wall of Honour, proudly displayed on the second floor of Manulife Place in Edmonton. Don’t miss out on this truly special event that brings together industry leaders, innovators, and visionaries. Mark your calendars and visit janorthalberta.org/business-hall-of-fame for tickets and additional information.