Nova Scotia seafoood baron John Risley has landed his biggest deal yet — and it has nothing to do with scallops or lobster.
On Thursday, Columbus Communications Inc. — the Caribbean telecommunications and cable company Risley founded 10 years ago — merged with a larger rival, Cable and Wireless Communications PLC.
The deal pays Risley's holding company, Clearwater Fine Foods Inc., $650 million in shares and $350 million in cash.
"I think I'll just count it for a while," Risley said with a chuckle, quoting a member of New Brunswick's Irving clan when asked what he would do with the money.
The merger with London-based Cable and Wireless is bigger than the $500-million sale of his fish oil company Ocean Nutrition in 2012 to Dutch-owned DSM.
Risley said his experience in the seafood business has forced him to look outside the region for business opportunities.
"The great thing about the seafood business is while the product was here, the market was never here," he said Friday from Clearwater's Halifax head office.
"There was no opportunity to start up a traditional cable TV, telecommunications provider in the Canadian market. What are you going to do? Fight with Bell and Telus and Rogers? No thank you very much."
'We will go bankrupt as a community'
Risley also credits Columbus Communications co-founder Brendan Paddick, a Newfoundland businessman who ran day to day operations.
"He's the guy that did all the work. And I feel guilt, I did pretty well or Clearwater did pretty well out of it," said Risley.
"He did well too, obviously."
The two met in 2001 when Paddick joined Risley's attempt to take over Newfoundland seafood company Fisheries Products International Ltd.
Since then, and throughout the rise of Columbus Communications, Risley said he and Paddick developed a level of trust.
"I never second guess him at all. My role is to be supportive. And once he makes a decision it's how to bring resources to bear," he said.
Both Risley and Paddick will have a stake in the merged company.
Never shy, Risley says Atlantic Canadians are too internally focused and that has to change.
"We think about immigration as a threat. Globalization is a threat. We think natural gas fracking is a threat," he said.
"All these things carry risk with them. The issue is how we got to figure out how to manage these risks because we can't put up our hands and say, 'No thank you very much to globalization and no thank you to these opportunities to exploit our natural resources.'
"We have no choice. We will go bankrupt as a community."