Passion Play

Paul Alofs was a big-time executive – until he gave up the corporate world to follow his life’s calling.

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In the 1990s, there may have been no bigger Canadian music industry player than Paul Alofs. During that decade, the Windsor-born execuitve was president of HMV Canada and BMG Canada, the domestic arm of one of the largest record labels in the world. He also spent two years at Disney, running the company’s 500 stores, and as an executive at MP3.com, just as the music industry’s digital revolution was about to unfold.

Somewhere along the line, though, Alofs wanted something more and it wasn’t another corner office at a global conglomerate. He wanted to make a real difference in people’s lives. “I felt a higher calling,” he says. “I loved my corporate and entrepreneurial life, but I wanted to use my experience and skills in a different way.”

“I felt a higher calling. I loved my corporate and entrepreneurial life, but I wanted to use my experience and skills in a different way.”

He was living in California at the time, but decided to give up his life there and move back to Toronto to find a job that focused less on making money or selling products. In a strange twist of fate, just as he set out to find that calling, his mother was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. She passed away in November 2002.

That heart-wrenching experience helped to solidify his future career path. His neighbor, John McNaughton, the former chairman of the Princess Margaret Hospital, suggested Alofs consider a job leading the non-profit. The opportunity made perfect sense.

“(My family) had no idea how devastating cancer would be and it changed all of us. Working at a not-for-profit in the hospital sector was the last thing I thought I would be doing, but then I met the people at Princess Margaret and have been here ever since,” says Alofs, who was appointed CEO of the Princess Margaret Foundation in September 2003. Since then, he’s helped raise more than $1 billion for cancer research.

While he may spend his days raising money to help save lives, Alofs wants others to do what he did: follow a passion and make a difference. “When your passion transcends your own personal interest, you have truly found your calling,” he says.

In 2012, he wrote Passion Capital: The World’s Most Valuable Asset, which helps people tap into passion to drive business success. In some ways, it’s a reminder to people of why they got into business in the first place. “From what I saw of successful companies or individuals, many of them didn’t start out with financial capital. But they had something. It was passion,” Alofs says. “Passion capital is passion with a plan.”

While his book, which is in its fourth printing, has been aimed at boomers who are looking for more rewarding ways to spend their days, he says he receives a lot of calls from millennials and generation Xers who are also looking at moving into more meaningful careers, driven by their passions.

How can people actually do what Alofs has done? The first step is to think hard about what you’re passionate about. “The advice someone once gave me was, ‘If you can find something that makes you cry and you can do something about it, then that’s the best way to find your career path,’” he says.

Also find a mentor who shares your passion early on in your career. That can be a good starting point for getting on the right path, he says.

When you do find that passion, make sure you do something with it, he says. “Passion by itself is just an emotion. Passion capital is an asset,” he explains. “Thinking that I might be able to do something [to help fight cancer] has driven me forward.”

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