Q&A with Sheldon Barris, Toronto Lawyer, President of Jorlee Holdings, Ltd.

Sheldon Barris is the founder, owner and president of Jorlee Holdings, Ltd., a Toronto company that provides funding for construction and development projects for clients who don’t qualify for financing from banks and other traditional lending institutions. The many projects Sheldon and his team have funded include View Point Estates, located in Bradford, Ontario.

As a leader in the lending industry, clients have come to rely on Sheldon Barris for his customer service, ethics, and discretion.  Despite the substantial growth of his business, Sheldon has maintained a small, professional and knowledgeable staff in order to continue providing clients with the personal service they’ve become accustomed to.

Sheldon Barris, a graduate of both the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall Law School, has a dual background in law and finance. He established his first solo law practice not long after graduating from law school. Months later, he was recruited by no less than Sheldon Esbin, a senior partner at Toronto’s prestigious Spencer Romberg, for a junior position at the firm. Realizing a great opportunity, Sheldon closed his practice and spent the next several years specializing in real estate, finance and corporate commercial law at Spencer Romberg.

In 1992, when Spencer Romberg was dissolved, Sheldon started his own new law firm, Sheldon Barris Barrister, along with a new lending company called Jorlee Holdings. As Jorlee began demanding more of his time, Sheldon withdrew from the Law Society of Upper Canada and devoted himself fully to construction financing.

Sheldon Barris has also been very active as a philanthropist for many years, supporting a wide and diverse range of charitable and faith-based initiatives both in Toronto and around the world.

Your career, both in finance and law, has been on an upward trajectory for decades. What’s your secret?

Sheldon Barris:   I don’t think it’s as much of a secret as it is a rule of life — and that is being loyal and fair to people.  You may make less money in the short term, but in the long term, it pays off to be fair and loyal to all people.  In my business, that includes brokers, borrowers, etc.  It’s important to never become overly greedy.

How do you lead your team?

Sheldon Barris:  I lead by involving everyone.  I always try to think of a win-win for everybody, instead of taking advantage of people.  I am a solution-oriented thinker.  While it’s obviously important to make financial rewards, I don’t reap those benefits unless it’s a win-win situation for my entire team. Otherwise, I try to stay away from situations that don’t involve my team winning as well.  In my business, I do finance that provides a service for people where the goal is for them to become successful as well, not just me reaping the benefits.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Sheldon Barris: What gets me out of bed in the morning is being in the business to make a difference in peoples’ lives.  The work that I do makes a difference because the people who invest money with me enhances the quality of their lives.  And the people who I lend or do financing for, it also improves the quality of theirs.  In turn, I take the money that I make and apply it to charity. I enjoy doing philanthropy work and making generous donations to good causes.  Making money certainly helps to facilitate supporting the causes that I’m passionate about.  Ultimately, I live by the rule that you should be generous to people.  That’s what really inspires me.

From your experience, is leadership in the legal world different than in the financial or lending environment?

Sheldon Barris: Yes.  They are two different situations.  As a lawyer, you are adding skills from a legal standpoint to the business transactions that are being created or in the process of being created, but you’re not really adding business savvy to those.  You are, more or less, trying to complete transactions in the four corners of the law and adding legal input.  The lending environment, however, is strictly creating transactions that would in turn require the service of lawyers.  I’m not minimizing the work that lawyers do, but lawyers are more instrumental in finalizing the business transactions that we do behind the scenes.  So they require two different areas of expertise.

You’re very altruistic. Why is it so important to support all the organizations you do?

Sheldon Barris:  Because my Jewish faith is so important to me, I choose to contribute to a lot of Jewish and Israeli related causes.  That doesn’t mean I don’t want to support all causes. For instance, I’ve been involved with the Canadian Cancer Society and the Alzheimer’s Association. 

Overall, I don’t believe it’s how much money a person makes that defines their character; I believe it’s what they do with their money that defines their character.  I believe contributing to society, getting involved with charitable causes and helping people in general is the best route people with resources should follow.  There’s nothing wrong with having a material enriched life, but if that’s what defines a person – that’s not what defines me.  What defines me is the good causes I can support with the money that I earn. 

Outside of work, you enjoy sports and traveling the world.  Why is maintaining balance important to you?

Sheldon Barris: I don’t live to work.  That’s for certain.  I do work very hard, but I don’t live to work.   Further, my work doesn’t define me.  Yes, it’s what I do with my life but it’s only a part of it.  I take my parenting more serious than anything.  As a single father, although my children are older now, being a good parent has been one of my basic goals in life.  Outside of work, I do a lot of traveling.  I enjoy going on hiking expeditions and also skiing.  One thing is for certain, although I work hard, I don’t get satisfaction out of being a workaholic. 

What social causes are you passionate about and why?

Sheldon Barris: I’m most passionate about helping the state of Israel because I think it’s instrumental for the survival of the Jewish people.  But I’m also interested in doing work for Middle East peace and that’s because of my faith.  I’m interested in humanity in general. I’m not restricted or limited to Jewish causes.  I hope over time to provide more funds to cancer research, alzheimer’s research and the Red Cross.  All charity is good charity and I wish I had unlimited funds to give to every charity out there. 

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