Christopher Yeung prefers to be behind the scenes but, as the co-founder and managing director of FirstRock Private Equity (PE) Limited, of late, the spotlight seems to be finding him.
Most recently, with FirstRock PE as a major shareholder in Dolla Financial Services, with Yeung’s help, the initial public offering (IPO) for the company made Junior Stock Market history, receiving a reported $5 billion in subscriptions within just a few hours of opening.
Seated in his office, the polished and unassuming Yeung is asked to explain what private equity is, and in layman’s terms he answers what his company does, “Private equity is investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), providing them with smart capital and helping them use that capital to grow the business.”
It then begs the question, what separates FirstRock PE from other private equity companies? Yeung doesn’t hesitate. He says, “I think it would be our hands-on approach … a more active management approach than other players in the industry. By active I mean we invest and we partner, we follow up and follow through and we sit down with our investees. We don’t forget about them, we don’t just cut a check and walk away and expect returns.” He leans in and continues, “We will work with them, whether it is to find a C-level executive, whether it is to raise capital or whether it is just to recreate or assist with an overall strategy.”
The 35-year-old says he has always wanted to be in this line of work. The Campion College alum left Jamaica’s shores to pursue a first degree in financial economics at Centre College in Kentucky, after which he came home and received a master’s in business administration in finance and banking at The University of the West Indies, where he graduated as valedictorian. And with over a decade of work experience (seven years of which were spent at PROVEN and two at National Commercial Bank) he has had the time to figure out if he is on the right path to fulfilling his passion for helping small businesses and entrepreneurs succeed with their vision and goals. Now he says it is this passion that has driven him to co-found FirstRock PE. “You know it is your passion when it’s not just financial, it’s more satisfaction that’s non-financial. A unique feeling you get when you help others and see them thrive.”
All work and no play would make Yeung dull, so he is quick to point out that while he is focused on business, he believes in work-life balance and likes to take time off to travel. His favourite travel location thus far is Italy, specifically Venice.
“I’m a big gym person,” he says of how he takes care of his fitness and disconnects from work. He then divulges he’s an avid runner, clocking at least two 5Ks a week. I delve into what he listens to while running and he answers, “Drake’s new album Her Loss.” When not listening to Toronto’s most notable Scorpio, Yeung says his other go-tos while hitting the pavements are Bob Marley and Sean Paul.
Where health is concerned, he is adamant that he’s not a man who shies away from the doctor and ensures he gets an executive profiles every year. He is also candid that he is a heavy believer in health insurance because “those rainy days can come”.
As our conversation shifts to his ancestry, Yeung is forthcoming and says he is the product of humble beginnings, “My history is my grandfather actually came directly from China as an immigrant in the ‘30s.” Growing up, it was his grandfather who used to tell him, “There is no such word as quit or can’t.” And it is this sage advice that Yeung has used to strive. “ I knew what I wanted and never stopped going after it. So, no matter the opposition, challenges, or setbacks, I was just persistent and that quality is what has got me to where I am right now.”
Where is that? Well, in less than 24 months, FirstRock PE has almost US$20 million in assets. When they started the company in January 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic with, as Yeung tells it, “Zero dollars.”
He takes a breath and says, “Fortune always favours the brave,” before turning to his computer to introduce another SME he is working on called My Ocean, which is a ceramics company based in The Bahamas. There is also another deal to be closed by the end of this year, but Yeung won’t give us a name just yet.
We conclude by asking Yeung where he wants to see FirstRock PE go in the future and, as he turns away from his computer, says, “SMEs are the backbone of our economy and our mission is to help them. We want to continue to turn family mom-and-pop shops into corporations.”