Colin Hunter: Businessman-Crooner
Paxnouvelles.com – André Désiront – September 8th, 2014
Can you mix business and jazz?
Entrepreneur by day, busker by night… the path chosen by Colin Hunter, founder and chief executive officer of the second largest tour operator in Canada, is particularly uncommon. In the busker community he’s been evolving as a jazz singer within the crooner category. “My first public performance as a singer was at the age of 13 and on the radio,” recounts Colin Hunter. It was in Bombay, the city where he was born and he sang Tony Bennett’s“Because Of You.” He continued to perform at commercial radio stations and at jazz clubs for the next seven years. He performed the same repertoire as his four idols: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.
At the same time, he was also enjoying another one of his passions: boxing. He fought as an amateur for several years. “I have a 30 KO record,” stated Colin Hunter when pressed on the question, deftly sidestepping the issue before we even get a chance to ask how many losses.
After all, he primarily views himself as a winner. He competed as a lightweight (140 lb), but since he became an entrepreneur, he’s been fighting as a heavyweight. Today, he manages a company that employs over 2,000 people with sales nearing $2 billion. Between his early career as a crooner in India and the moment when he took up jazz, there was a very long time lapse in which he learned everything he could about air travel.
At the age of 21, he left India to go to England where he lived almost a dozen years. In England, he worked as the head barman at the Hammersmith Palace, a prominent jazz dominion at the time, then at the British Airways’ head office (then called BOAC), where he worked as an accountant in the department responsible for managing agreements and revenue sharing with other carriers. At night he would take classes at the Institute for Transport Studies.
What about Canada? He recalled that“one of my brothers immigrated to Toronto. I went to visit him and, one day, in the building’s elevator, I met a woman with whom I fell madly in love. I then told myself: I want to marry her, even if to do this, I need to come live in Canada.”
Her name was Joan. Colin Hunter immigrated and married that woman and they had several children (two of whom now work at Sunwing.)
But like any immigrant, he had to start at the bottom of the ladder. “In 1970, I was hired as a reservations agent at Sunflight, the wholesaler that dominated the Canadian market in the seventies,” stated Colin Hunter. “I was earning $90 a week and Joan was making $95. It wasn’t that bad for two, just enough to start a family. But after three weeks, they realized that I had some knowledge of air transportation management and my situation changed. I was transferred to the transportation division and I became the person in charge of negotiations and agreements with suppliers of air transportation, which were NOrdair, Québecair and Pacific Western Airlines at the time.”
When Suntours went bankrupt, he co-founded Adventure Tours and Fiesta Holidays, which would be sold to First Choice, he then became one of the Canada 3000’s key shareholders. But a disagreement occurred when the board of directors wanted to transform the ‘charter’ airline into a regular carrier, that’s when Colin Hunter sold his shares and retired, in 1994.
Incapable of staying put, in 1999, he bought a small Toronto-based wholesaler: Red Seal. In 2002, he used that company as a springboard to launch. We all know the rest of that story.
Meanwhile, he had started to sing again. “It was at the Tianguis in Acapulco, in the mid-eighties, he recalled. My wife, who could see that I missed jazz, bought me a karaoke. So I kept my hand in it, and I kept my voice.”
It was only in 2006 that this passion took a more serious turn. Sunwing was preparing an advertising campaign and a friend of Colin Hunter, who was aware of his talent for song, suggested he sing “Come Fly with Me” and play it onboard. The idea pleased him. He recorded the song with the Starlight Orchestra, a 16-member band and, while at it, took advantage of the studio and the band’s time to record about 10 more melodies. “Come Fly with Me” would become his first album. He has since recorded two more and is preparing a fourth. He performs one show after another, and often, while not always, he is accompanied by pianist Joe Sealy and his band, with which he recorded his third album: Mostly About You.
Colin Hunter was performing at the Upstairs Jazz Bar in Montréal, September 5 and 6. Next weekend he will be at the Bar-Jazz at the Clarendon Hotel in Quebec City. He will be back performing in Montreal at l’Astral, October 3rd and at the end of October he will be taking the stage at the Château Frontenac. Then on November 9th, he will be performing at the Plaza Ocean View in Puerto Plata and on November 27th, he’ll be headlining at Mamita’s Beach Club in Playa del Carmen.
This year he performed at the Hotel Chicoutimi as part of the Festival de jazz de Saguenay, Montreal’s Upstairs Jazz Bar in April and House of Jazz in June, Toronto’s Jazz Bistro in July, and in August at the Festi-Jazz de Mont-Tremblant, bistro Le Sam at the Château-Frontenac, and at the Festival de Jazz in Lévis.
In April 2013, he and his wife, Joan, opened their own jazz club on Victoria street in downtown Toronto: the Jazz Bistro, where music’s great often perform.
When asked if his artistic pursuits hinder his entrepreneurial performances, he responds simple: “Quite the opposite, it stimulates me!”