Evan Chrapko

Software and Biofuel Entrepreneur
Turning Point: Dinner with and intriguing stranger at the family farm

img"I was born in the middle of nowhere and always wore rubber boots to do chores." Evan Chrapko is on the phone from Beijing, China where he's working on a huge biofuel deal. He's a long way from the Two Hills farm in northeastern Alberta where he grew up, the son of a visionary farmer who always told him to dream big.

Growing up on a farm meant long hours and hard work but there were rewards that came along with the job too. Every fall hundreds of hunters would knock on their door asking for permission to hunt on their land. Victor Chrapko always said yes but there were two things they had to promise. When night fell they had to come back to the farm house and have dinner with his wife and four children. They also had to talk about what they did for a living. Evan remembers one big, burly guest that dined at their big oak table. He told them he turned car dealerships around for a living. Evan looked at his brother Shane. They wanted to know what the man did that was any different from the struggling owner that was trying to turn a profit. Evan remembers the man sitting back in his chair and roaring, "Your grandmother could run a dealership! Business is keeping your promises, forming relationships and not cheating the customer when they come in for repairs." The man talked long into the night and Evan and his brother Shane carefully took it all in. It was a turning point for Chrapko. "He inspired me. I realized you could have a career in turning around failing companies."

Back on his tractor the next day, Evan began to plot his career path. He decided he would become a chartered accountant and a lawyer. Accepted into the prestigious Columbia Law program in New York, Evan ran into an acquaintance from Edmonton. The man told him about a family of software developers that was about to go bankrupt. Evan flew back to Alberta, contacted his brother Shane and decided to give themselves one month to turn the company around.

Shane was also an entrepreneur in the making. He had a bachelor of science in agriculture and was on the management fast track at Royal Bank but he didn't know a lot about computers. He learned quickly. While Evan manned the operation in Edmonton, Shane drove down to Silicon Valley in California and started selling. He had no money so he slept in a tent at night, then put on his suit the next morning and started making deals. In two years they quintupled the company's revenue. It was time to move on.

Evan and Shane moved to Toronto in 1996 on the hunt for another software company they could turn around. After paying off their student loans, money was tight so they lived in low-income housing and ate Kraft dinner with vegetables grown in their garden. They linked up with a Web-based file delivery and storage company called DocSpace. The first offer came in two months later for 12 million dollars. ìWe celebrated like crazy that night at the Madison pub,í Evan recalls. He went in to sign the paperwork the next morning and found the buyer had changed the terms of the deal. ìI told him that where I grew up our word and handshake should be enough and if that was the way they were conducting business ñ then no thank you.î It was back to sleeping under his desk and eating Kraft dinner but Evan knew there would be other deals down the road. They came quickly. Four months later an offer for $24 million was turned down, then it was upped to $75 million. Finally two years later, they sold DocSpace for $811 million. Evan Chrapko was a very rich man but he was just as happy for his brother and investors. "The fact that we created 40 or 45 millionaires was great. It was nice to reward the investors who had taken a leap of faith in us."

Today Evan owns and operates six companies but he's diversified his portfolio. He's still in software but he has his eye on the emerging biofuels market. His new technology was well received during a recent trip to China, India and Pakistan. "They've got terrible pollution and lots of opportunity to dispose of waste. There isn't enough electricity. I saw mothers with babies in their arms sitting on the steps of hospitals that were shut down because there wasn't any power." Evan Chrapko plans on changing that.

As Evan looks back on his success he seems philosophical. "Success has a thousand fathers. Be grounded and centered in your own self worth and don't let anyone tell you it can'''t be done. Persistence and perseverance are the keys to achieving success and they will take you a long, long way."

As Evan says goodbye from the airport in Beijing you can tell he's proud of his values and his solid Alberta farm roots. Besides, this is one multi millionaire who knows once he's done with the executive board rooms around the world he'll be expected back home. His old rubber work boots are waiting.