Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer | Crain's Toronto

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer

Background:  

Miniature Land is a scaled-down replica of Canada's biggest cities and most iconic attractions set to open in Toronto in late 2017, beginning with tiny but meticulously reproduced versions of Toronto, Hamilton, Niagara Falls and Ottawa.

The Mistake:

I was following my head throughout my career, not my heart. 

I grew up in Europe, and I was in big-box, department-store type of retail in the clothing business. I was asked in 1998 if I would like to switch over to specialty store retail, which is niche, targeted retail. I said yes, and was asked to come and train in Canada for two years to learn the specialty store business. After two years, it was agreed that I would move back to Europe to take over a specialty store group. 

That job disappeared within those two years, though, so I had no job to go back to. I was out of work. I saw an opening, and switched over into investing in new energy technology. I did that for 10 years, when I was invited to move back to London to take over a private equity fund-to-fund and accepted. 

It meant moving the family back to London, and I hated it. I I didn't like the work and I didn't like people. Just by chance, someone from the HR department was in the office, saw me sitting at a desk, and looked at me and said, "Are you okay?" 

He closed the door, pulled a sheet of paper from the printer took out his pen, and asked me five questions. 

The first question was, "Do you like the work?" I said no.The second question was, "Do you like the people?" I said no. The other questions were about the move back to London and what my wife thought of it and such. At the end of the day he said, "Don't go ahead with this. You're going to be unhappy, you're going to be ill." 

Just follow your heart and your passion, and the rest will fall into place.

The Lesson:

That was a game-changing moment. All I was thinking was about this visit I had upcoming to Hamburg, Germany, to a facility called Miniature World, which has miniature versions of world cities. That's what I was focused on, and it just grew and grew to the point that when I went and saw that exhibit I said, "This is what I want to do." I went back to Toronto and met the right people and today I'm building a miniature version of Canada called Miniature Land. 

The real lesson learned is, I finally followed my heart. I hadn't, in my whole career, ever worked in something that I was really passionate about. And you have to experience it for yourself to understand what it feels like, but I am feeling it now. Sometimes I think, "Imagine if I was only 25, and had this type of revelation." But I'm grateful, because if that person had not come into that office, I would probably still be in London and working at that job. 

Just follow your heart and your passion, and the rest will fall into place.

Follow the progress of Miniature Land on Tumblr

Pictured: Jean-Louis Brenninkmeijer. | Photo courtesy of Miniature Land. 

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