John Risley is a distinguished Canadian businessman, widely recognized as a powerhouse in the seafood industry and a key player in information technology. His multifaceted career spans several decades and covers diverse sectors including seafood, biotech, and telecommunications.
Born on May 25, 1948, in Montreal, Quebec, John Risley developed an early interest in entrepreneurship. A self-made man, his humble beginnings were underpinned by an unwavering belief in self-reliance and hard work.
He attended Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he studied Economics. Although he left before completing his degree, the university played an instrumental role in shaping his future endeavors, and it is where he would meet his future wife and business partner, Judy.
John Risley’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to co-found Clearwater Seafoods in 1976 with his business partner, Colin MacDonald. Starting from a single lobster boat, Clearwater became one of North America’s largest vertically integrated seafood companies, recognized for its innovative approach to sustainable seafood harvesting. Over the years, Clearwater expanded its operations across the globe, supplying seafood to more than 40 countries.
Risley further diversified his interests into information technology in 2000 when he co-founded Columbus Communications, a broadband service provider in the Caribbean, Central America, and the Andean region. The company, known for providing a high-quality and affordable telecommunication service, was sold to Cable & Wireless Communications in 2015.
In recent years, Risley’s ventures have extended into the biotech sphere, focusing on developing therapeutic technologies that address global health challenges. He is the director of Annapolis Investments in Rural Opportunity (AIRO), an organization that funds innovative businesses in rural Nova Scotia, fostering community resilience and economic growth.
Risley is a former Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, acknowledging his commitment to sustainable fishing and innovation in the seafood industry. He also holds honorary doctorates from Dalhousie University and Saint Mary’s University for his entrepreneurial contributions and philanthropic efforts.
Additionally, he is well-known for his philanthropic activities. Through the John and Judy Risley Foundation, he has donated millions to numerous causes including education, health, and community development. He serves on the board of several non-profit organizations, including the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and the Canadian Museum of Immigration.
On a personal level, Risley is an ardent yachtsman and a seasoned traveler. Despite his wealth and success, he maintains a low-key social media presence, allowing his work and contributions to speak for themselves. His life’s philosophy centers around harnessing the power of entrepreneurship for social change, exemplified in his investments in sustainable practices, rural development, and health innovation.
John Risley’s life and career present an inspiring narrative of how resilience, innovation, and a deep sense of social responsibility can coalesce to make a meaningful difference. Whether it is his impact on the seafood industry, his ventures in technology, or his philanthropic contributions, Risley’s legacy continues to inspire generations of entrepreneurs and changemakers.
In his personal life, Risley was formerly married to Judy MacDonald, originally from Halifax. Risley’s expansive 32,000-square-foot residence near Chester, Nova Scotia, rests on 91 acres of land previously owned by Joseph N. Pew, Jr., the founder of Sunoco, and enjoys a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean. Risley later expanded the estate by an additional 210 acres. Among the numerous features of the property, there’s a barn housing cows from the Rockefeller family and Dutch Warmblood horses that he exhibits.
In 2010, Sarah Risley, their daughter, married Guy Barnett, a British deckhand who traveled to Canada to work on Risley’s yacht. Risley’s brother, Robert Risley, is well-known in Halifax as a restaurateur, caterer, and hotelier.
After his divorce from Judy Risley (MacDonald), John built a second home in South End Halifax with his girlfriend, Amy Gordinier-Regan (the proprietor of Skinfix), and her two children. Risley has been the owner of a 246-foot megayacht, the Northern Star, since 2009. The luxury vessel has been put up for sale with a price tag of $170 million.
As of 2023, John Risley’s net worth is estimated to be approximately $1.2 billion, placing him amongst Canada’s wealthiest individuals. His wealth is primarily derived from his extensive business ventures, with substantial stakes in Clearwater Seafoods and various investment holdings in information technology and biotech companies.
Throughout his illustrious career, Risley has been recognized with several prestigious awards and honors. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1998 for his significant contribution to the Canadian seafood industry and community development. In 2012, he received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his achievements in the IT sector.
Risley contributed 25 million Canadian dollars to the Ocean Frontier Institute, an oceanic research center affiliated with Dalhousie University. His donation to the institute represents the pinnacle of his longstanding relationship with Dalhousie University and its diverse range of stakeholders, both within and outside the institution.