Fork in the Road – The People, Places and Pivots that Shaped Bruce M Firestone, PhD

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Dec 26
[Another GaVinci Report by Corey Oliver]

Pivot – in the business world it means to shift. To move to Plan B when Plan A isn’t working. It’s the art of recognizing change in a market or industry before the impact of those changes can damage a business or organization. The challenge is recognizing WHEN to change direction. Pivoting to new opportunities while current ones are still delivering is a hard-sell, but that’s one of the secrets to life success. Bruce Firestone didn’t invent the concept of pivoting, but he certainly pioneered it. As a teenager, Firestone was already an over-achiever. He entered McGill University at age 15 and graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering. Like most other young graduates, he was eager to get his career going, start a family and begin the next chapter of his life. Unfortunately, his career wasn’t quite ready for him…at least not in Canada. In 1971, Canada’s age of majority was still 21. As a result, Firestone who graduated at 19 turning 20, was still legally considered a child and after multiple promising interviews with a high-profile corporation, he was eliminated from consideration based on his age. “When the Chief Engineer said come back in 18 months (that is, when I turn 21), I said – that’s not going to work for me. I’ve got a girlfriend; we’d like to get married and have kids, so I need a job NOW.” And thus, faced with the prospect of putting his life on hold for 18-months, Firestone did the only rational thing a young adult would do…he moved to Australia, where the age of majority had just been changed from 21 to 18 by a newly elected and progressive government.

Creating Opportunities

Firestone wasn’t interested in waiting around for permission to begin his adult life. Instead, he could pivot and create his own opportunities, even if they were on the other side of the world. Skill development usually begins out of necessity. Discovering opportunities is a skill. Decades later, Firestone would incorporate this skill into his real estate investment and business coaching practice by helping clients uncover new opportunities and expand existing ones until new possibilities are revealed. However, in 1971 Firestone wasn’t thinking decades down the road, he was simply trying to overcome an obstacle he didn’t expect. Choosing the easy path wasn’t in Firestone’s DNA. Being patient for 18 months or waiting for another opportunity to come along was unacceptable. Instead Firestone pivoted and with $200 in his pocket, he traveled to Australia where he would begin his career as a civil engineer working for the New South Wales Government. Shortly after arriving, Firestone and his future wife were collectively making $3 an hour, eating prawns at all-you-can eat betting clubs in Sydney and sometimes enjoying the great beaches Australia has to offer. While working for the NSW government, Bruce did his Master of Engineering Science at the University of New South Wales part time. A few years after that, Firestone would be studying for his PhD in urban economics at the Australian National University in Canberra and considering a career as a university professor.

But none of that would have happened if Firestone hadn’t taken the reins of his own life instead of accepting an 18-month wait. In doing so, he overcame the first of many obstacles and begun a practice of intentional decision-making that would become characteristic of his personality and coaching practice for years to come.

Sitting Still or Moving Forward

The 1970’s were a turbulent era. Unemployment, the evolution of the tech sector, economic recession and a war in Southeast Asia were all factors that made the 70’s a difficult decade. Because of uncertainty, people “fell” into careers and stayed there. Having a stable career in unstable economic times is valuable and secure. However, stability isn’t a characteristic often associated with most pioneers. Bruce traveled across the world following career opportunities, but even that kind of commitment wasn’t enough to guarantee he would be happy.

Unlike many in his peer group who were settling into career paths, Firestone was looking for another challenge and already considering his next step as a professor. He was getting noticed too…“ I met a man who worked for Howard Hughes…that Howard Hughes! They were doing really cool work and I could have joined Hughes.”

In the years to come Firestone’s coaching practice centered around the mindset of “Making Impossible Possible”. Although coaching entrepreneurs was still many years down the road, Firestone spent much of his first decade in Australia developing this as a mantra for life. Like most good coaches, Firestone’s teaching methods, coaching tools and story-telling are based on experiences and it was during this era that the foundation of his coaching concepts were developed. As the 70’s came to a close, Firestone seemed destined to be a professor, but opportunities kept unfolding differently.

Death, Taxes and Change

In the early 1980’s, Firestone came to another fork in the road. His father’s business, Terrace Investments, wasn’t doing well and the elder Firestone asked his son to return home to help “When your Dad asks you for help and he’s getting a bit older…at least for me it was hard to say no. So, I came back to Canada.”

The return to Ottawa was meant to be a 6-month interlude, but Firestone stayed for the next 30-years. In less than a decade, the younger Firestone grew Terrace Investments from $350,000 in annual sales to $120,000,000. One of Firestone’s first decisions with Terrace would become characteristic of his talent for pivoting at the right time. Terrace and a few partners had invested in a series of Roller Discos in Ottawa and across Canada. These disco dens were housed in warehouses, which were also owned by Terrace and the partners. Although the operating business was doing well, Firestone could see the roller disco business model was doomed and the real value was in the underlying real estate. Therefore, Firestone traded Terrace’s share of the operating business to the partners for their share of the warehouses and thus gained full ownership of the real estate. In the short-term, the decision was tilted toward the partners just as they had warned Firestone it would be. However, Bruce wasn’t interested in the short-term and 18-months later his decision paid off when the roller disco business went bankrupt. But a growing Ottawa tech sector was on its way so quite suddenly, there was a demand for non-conventional office space. Non-conventional because tech companies gravitated towards a new office management style known as “management by wandering around” or MBWA. This unstructured management philosophy referred to a style of business management in which managers wandered around the workplace randomly interacting with employees. Doing so required large, open spaces that were preferably located on a single level. Thanks to Firestone’s timely pivot away from the roller disco business, Terrace Investments now owned multiple properties ideally suited to the needs of Ottawa’s growing tech sector.

These negotiations—trading roller disco for warehouses—would foreshadow much of Firestone’s future career. Combining his ability to evaluate business models and project their future viability against trends on the cusp of becoming new standards, Firestone was able to see past temporary dollars for the bigger opportunity lying ahead. Today, Firestone teaches his students how to optimize their real estate portfolios in much the same way he helped Terrace in the early 1980’s and 1990’s. Firestone’s “New Era Financial Plan” (NEWPIN) encourages his students to develop a personal business for life along with a “mixed best use” highly animated real estate portfolio. The terminology “mixed best use” refers to the drive to find the highest and best use for each property in order to maximize its earning potential.

Because Firestone’s background is in Urban Economics and Civil Engineering as well as traffic and transportation engineering (his master’s degree), he is not bound by “rules” or sacred cows of real estate development or business. Instead, Firestone just did what he did best (and still does today); he analyzed market conditions to determine which audiences are under-served, calculated which trends would catch on and concluded when was the best time to pivot in order to capitalize on opportunities. 

Dreaming Big and Rebuilding

Civil engineers are dreamers because they have to be. Without their dreams and visions, cities wouldn’t exist. Their dreams bring order to chaos as they combine abstract and logic to develop our built environment. Sometimes they’re ahead of their time.

In the late 1980’s, Terrace had grown to a nice size, but when bigger and better financed competitors started moving into their niche space (office building and shopping center development), it was time to pivot once again. At first Terrace went smaller to take advantage of more under-serviced niche markets such as mini office (today, they’re called co-working spaces) and mini storage. The real intention, however, was to do something big and Firestone began reflecting on what larger cities had that Ottawa didn’t – “I asked myself the question what does Toronto have that we don’t have in Ottawa and I thought well they have an NHL team and I said maybe we could get one for Ottawa.”

Firestone’s plan was indeed ambitious. In fact, it was so big it would change not just the city of Ottawa, but the way North American sports franchises used real estate and their own drawing power to leverage themselves as critical anchors within a city’s geography. Firestone’s plan was to purchase a large tract of land (600 acres or nearly a square mile) at low cost, drop a National Hockey League expansion franchise into the middle of it, and drive up the price of surplus land, selling that off to help finance a major league team. Although the plan worked in a fashion (land values went from $12,000 per acre in the early 1990s to over $830,000 per acre by 2019), the process was too slow and thus the team’s obligations became too much to bear. Consequently, Firestone lost both the team and Terrace Investments.

At age 54, Firestone had done the impossible by bringing a National Hockey League franchise to the city of Ottawa. However, the personal cost was obvious. After the team went bankrupt, Firestone was left with a negative net worth and was faced with the chore of rebuilding his life…and rebuild it he did.

He went back to school, got his real estate license, became a real estate broker, and investor, plus he went back to teaching university classes. He also became a world-class author and key-note speaker, and then a real estate investment and business coach helping hundreds of people, families, businesses and entrepreneurs build a more secure present and future.

I tell my clients when bad things happen to you, you have 3 days. The first day you can be mad. The second day you can be sad and the third day you get up, get a bit of exercise and get on with the rest of your life!”


Firestone needed a plan. He knew how to work hard and work smart (sort of), but what he needed was a financial plan to help him plan for his present and his future. Unfortunately, after visiting with multiple financial planners he was disappointed with their depth of knowledge and offerings – “I went and visited 3 or 4 of the top, top financial planners in the city of Ottawa…and the advice that I got from them I thought was absolutely terrible. I mean really bad.”

Instead, Firestone decided he would create his own plan, which he calls the New Era Financial Plan, or NEWPIN. Based on his study of the richest families in Canada, the UK and many other nations, Firestone’s NEWPIN is designed to emulate the methods they’ve used to create wealth and sustain it as well as transfer it from one generation to the next. At the same time as he was developing NEWPIN, Firestone realized his lifelong passion for teaching and mentoring couldn’t be satisfied just by standing behind a lectern…he wanted to be a coach. Helping others build or re-build their lives while you are in the midst of rebuilding your own life is a challenge.

Firestone was determined that his coaching would be life-changing, and he wouldn’t take on just anyone. Firestone also decided that his NEWPIN plan would be part of his coaching practice. After all, if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for others and he knew from first-hand experience his plan was more comprehensive and likely to produce better results than what financial experts were recommending. Firestone’s NEWPIN plan encouraged folks to develop a personal business for life plus a high performing real estate investment portfolio—to join the equity lord “class” so to speak—as vehicles for wealth creation and cashflow.

Many people think a real estate coach is going to teach them how to flip houses, or make no-money down purchases, or any combination of less than useful “get rich quick” schemes…but Bruce doesn’t teach any of those things –  “I’m going to show you different business models in both the commercial sector, institutional sector and residential sectors that will blow your mind, that are very different from anyone else in the world.

Firestone’s coaching is customized for each individual; he focuses on teaching individuals how to take care of themselves and their families for three generations. His real estate coaching is among the best in the world and incorporates Firestone’s decades of experience as a business model expert, urban economics professional, real estate broker, developer and investor. His clients learn strategies to maximize earning potential of their properties by taking advantage of real estate possibilities permitted by city zoning rules and regulations, learning these concepts and applying animation to each property before adding it to their portfolio.

In his first six years as a real estate investment and business coaching, Firestone has trained 400 businesses and individuals with a 98% success rate and has implemented the NEWPIN plan for hundreds of families.

Part of the NEWPIN plan is to invest in 3, 4, 5, or 6 residential rental properties (or more) then pay down your mortgages over10-15 years after which you’ll have between $10,000 – $15,000 a month in independent income through real estate, which is a heck of a lot better than relying on your social security in the US or CPP and OAS in Canada. At the same time, Firestone helps many of his clients develop some kind of personal business for life. These are the (main) twin pillars, in my opinion, of a sound retirement plan..”


Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD

Real Estate Investment and Business coach

Century 21 Explorer Realty Inc broker

Ottawa Senators founder






Title image source: By Leonardo da Vinci – : Home; Picture, Public Domain,

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.