Business Champs League

Many leading Ontario businesses have seen enhanced business performance through diverse and innovative employment practices that include employees who have a disability. When we encounter such champions, it is important to recognize them for their efforts. 

Initiated by his Honour, David C Onley, when he was Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, the Business Champion League was started to both recognize these leaders and foster camaraderie and collegiality among them, providing advocacy and support to ODEN, the business community, and government with the ultimate goal of promoting inclusive hiring practices and employment for people who have a disability. 

These champions are also committed to supporting other business leaders motivated to engage people who have a disability in their companies. They will each share their experiences and journey with any business owner/operator who is interested.

His Honour Mike Bradley – Mayor of Sarnia

Mayor Mike Bradley, headshot - jobs for disabledThe City of Sarnia’s motto is People Serving People. Mayor Mike Bradley believes this statement should include people who have a disability. Mayor Bradley has been a long-time supporter of hiring people who have a disability. He’s also a vocal advocate with his “Mayor’s Challenge.” The Challenge is an opportunity for public and private corporations to step up and hire from the talented but under-utilized pool of employees with a disability. Mike was one of the first inductees into ODEN’s Business Champions League.

Joe Hoffer – London, ON

Joe Hoffer headshot - jobs for disabledGrowing up, Joe and his eight siblings were expected to finish high school and enter the workforce in traditional blue-collar employment. Instead, he went to university, achieving grades that qualified him for law school.

Joe has spent his entire 35-year legal career with Cohen, Highley LLP in London, ON. He has seen the firm go from weathering a 1992 scandal involving one of the firm’s founding partners, to becoming a thriving, highly respected pillar of the London community.

The firm has been recognized provincially for its disability-inclusive hiring philosophy and practices.

Joe is one of the original three inductees into the ODEN Business Champions League. He believes in challenging, championing and advocating when there’s an injustice, inequality or unequal opportunity at play. He’s been a champion of disability inclusion ever since his first hiring experience. For Joe, seeing Cohen, Highley employees who have a disability build successful careers with the firm and lead rich lives, has been deeply rewarding.

He is one of the most sought-after Business Champions League speakers. Joe always makes time in his schedule to share his insights and experiences with other business leaders at events.

At the end of 2020, he’s set to step back from his controlling partnership — giving Joe more free time to pursue other interests and passions, including Business Champion engagements.

Sarah Nishimura – Wallaceburg, ON

Sarah Nishimura headshotAs a human resources professional, Sarah is passionate about what she does. She thrives on seeing people succeed in their roles — regardless of whether they have a disability.

Sarah’s fervour for, focus on and efforts in creating great employment experiences for people who have a disability, saw her become one of the newest members of ODEN’s Business Champions League, in October 2019.

She has worked with ODEN member employment services providers over the last five years to fill roles by matching the right candidates to the business need.

Sarah has been integral in creating diverse teams and an inclusive culture at Mac-Weld Machining in Sarnia by hiring employees who have a disability. She’s been the Human Resources Manager for the business since the end of 2018.

Sarah also helped drive disability-inclusive hiring in retail when she was worked in store-level human resources for Home Depot.

She is a champion of equal employment accessibility. Sarah speaks regularly to her local Human Resources Professional Association chapter about hiring people who have a disability.

She’s also talked about it in promotional videos, and in local media stories during National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

As well, Sarah was a guest panelist on ODEN’s business panel about disability-inclusive hiring at the 2019 Rethinking Disability Conference.

As a champion of and advocate for disability inclusion, Sarah looks forward to the day there’s no longer a need to talk about it. Ideally disability-inclusive hiring will be business-as-usual “that we do that every day and that happens throughout all organizations.”

Matthew Rees – Milton, ON

Matthew Rees, headshotMatthew is the Senior Human Resources Partner for ROCKWOOL Canada. When the company started its inclusive hiring initiative in 2017, Matt spearheaded it. He ardently embraces hiring people who have a disability. Since the September 2018 rollout of ROCKWOOL’s disability-inclusive hiring program, Matt has hired six full-time candidates.

In addition, Matthew helped create a successful onboarding process for new ROCKWOOL employees who are Deaf. In a little over a year, ROCKWOOL adapted all its training materials into American Sign Language. The company has also forged an alliance with E.C. Drury School for the Deaf in Milton.  ROCKWOOL provides training for graduates. It helps ensure they have the skills needed to succeed in modern manufacturing-sector jobs.

Matthew is another newer member of the Business Champions League, becoming part of it in October 2019. He is one of ODEN’s most active and in-demand Business Champions. Matt continually promotes disability-inclusive hiring through speaking at many business-engagement events.

He has been involved with ODEN at the Milton Chamber of Commerce Human Resources Round Table. The peer-to-peer group was created in 2017 for local human resources professionals to discuss issues and share best practices.

Matt has also been a featured speaker in ODEN virtual business panels about the business benefits of disability-inclusive hiring. He is always willing to share his insights and speaker to other business leaders when called upon.

Steve Sharpe – Campbellford, ON

Steve Sharpe, holding glass trophySteve was inducted into the ODEN Business Champions League in 2012 for his efforts in creating an inclusive environment at Sharpe’s Food Market. The independent grocery store was started by his father, Bruce, in the 1960s. Bruce Sharpe had been somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to employment of people who have a disability. He was an early adopter that saw somebody who filled a business need, at a time when society took a much different view of disability.

Steve helped drive increased hiring of people who have a disability across the grocery retail sector. He arranged for Business Champion Mark Wafer, and then-ODEN CEO Joe Dale, to be keynote speakers at a Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers national conference of 500 retailers, suppliers and wholesalers. Afterwards, there were several disability-inclusive hires in the sector.

Steve is humble, modest and even a bit uncomfortable about being a Business Champion. That’s because he’s still not sure whether his contributions live up to the title and role.

The CEO of Sharpe Foods Ltd. has stepped back from overseeing day-to-day operations, to spend more time with his grandchildren. But the Sharpe family business still operates with the same inclusive philosophy of reflecting the community it serves. A large part of the Campbellford community is affected by disability.

Lino Tesolin – Windsor, ON

Lino Tesolin, headshot in store - jobs for disabledVeteran Lowe’s store manager Lino Tesolin is known as a real champion for all he does — Lino was inducted into the Ontario Disability Employment Network’s (ODEN) Business Champions League in 2019.

Lino has been hiring employees who have a disability for over 30 years. He began doing this when he was with Sobeys Inc., and has continued doing so throughout his career with Lowe’s. For Lino, hiring people who have a disability for roles in his stores is simply business-as-usual.

Lino has created a culture in all of his workplaces in which people who have a disability have the same opportunities to advance throughout the workplace based on performance.

He still speaks with other business operators about the benefits of hiring people who have a disability at business meetings; at business engagement events; and with his respective unions. Lino is one of ODEN’s most sought-after Business Champions for speaking engagements.

Lino’s mindset and recruitment practices — and the success stories stemming from them — are helping make Lowe’s a Canadian role model in disability employment.

Lino says the most significant thing he’s learned as a disability employment advocate over the last 30 years is “lead by example; and teach, train and coach with care and genuine sincerity.”

Terry Vos – Port Perry, ON

Terry Vos, headshot - jobs for disabledTerry has been in the retail sector for over 35 years, including more than a quarter-century in grocery retail. Before becoming a franchisee, he worked in management at several grocery stores, in Kingston and Oshawa, operated by Loblaw. Since 2009, Terry and his wife, Christine, have owned the Vos’s Your Independent Grocer franchise store in Port Perry, ON. And for Terry, hiring job candidates who have a disability, has always been business as usual.

Soon after acquiring the Loblaw-brand Your Independent Grocer franchise, Terry launched a hiring campaign aimed at recruiting people who have an intellectual disability. That first initiative resulted in the immediate hiring of three applicants. It was the foundation of franchise business success built on diversity and disability inclusion.

Over the last 25 years, Terry’s intentional recruiting has seen more than 30 staff who have a disability, join Vos’s Your Independent Grocer in successful employment experiences.

Terry is a champion of disability-inclusive hiring because he believes in employment inclusion for everyone. He’s also a savvy business owner who knows, and has experienced, the business benefits of hiring from the still-largely untapped disability talent pool. Productivity, performance, employee retention and workplace safety have all been positive.

Terry is another often-sought-after ODEN Business Champion. He’s delivered keynote addresses on disability-inclusive hiring to other business owners and leaders at events all over Ontario, from Belleville to Fort Frances.

Mark Wafer – Burlington, ON

Mark Wafer, headshot - jobs for disabledMark Wafer has been a member of the Business Champions League for over a decade. He was one of the first Business Champions inducted into the League when it was formed.

As the Chief Experience Officer of the Mark Wafer Centre for Excellence in Equity and Inclusion, Mark is a transformational change leader, equity and inclusion specialist, and disability rights activist. He is a frequent global keynote speaker about disability inclusion.

He is a former multi-franchise owner of six highly successful Tim Hortons locations in Toronto. During his 25 years in the business Mark employed an average of 45 people who have a disability among a staff of over 200, in all areas of his franchise operations including senior management. At any given time approximately 17% of his workforce identified as having a disability.

Mark is an internationally recognized expert on the economics of inclusion who advises governments around the world. He was a member of the federal government’s panel on labour market initiatives for Canadians who have a disability. Mark helped create Canada’s national disability employment strategy.

Mark has received many awards and recognition for his work. He is a recipient of Canada’s Meritorious Service Cross (Civil Division), and the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship. Mark was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame in 2014.

He is a motorsports enthusiast, former race car driver and the 2008 Canadian historic sports car champion.

Previous Winners and Business Champions

Jamie & Scott Burton

Jamie and Scott BurtonDolphin Digital Technology, Kingston, ON

Andrew Bearss

Andrew Bearss headshotMortgage Brokers Ottawa, Ottawa, ON

Brad Duncan

Brad Duncan in uniform with workerRetired London Police Department, London, ON

Virgina Ludy

Virginia Ludy HeadshotFormer CEO, Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), Toronto, ON

Gynette Smith & Chris Riediger

Gynette Smith Chris Reidiger with Tim Horton's workerTim Horton’s, Sarnia, ON

Anthony Taza

Anthony Taza Headshot in front of Costco signCostco Wholesale, Windsor, ON