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How a Montreal resident turned a family business into an industry leader and became one of Forbes’ 30 under 30


Forbes’ 30 under 30 – A Montreal resident who overcame personal tragedy to assume control of his family’s business has been named on the coveted Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list for 2018.

It’s becoming harder and harder for young people to decide what to do with their lives, there are just so many options. Aside from the obvious option to leave school altogether, there are bachelor’s degrees, graduate programmes and internships in an endless variety of different fields and sectors. People can the spend months, even years of their young lives studying to get a place in a school where they may discover that they aren’t in the right place.

That is exactly what happened to one Montreal resident six years ago. David Ouaknine spent years studying finance at Concordia University before he learned that it wasn’t really for him. Slight tweaks are natural in a career path but Ouaknine took a massive tangent when he went from finance student to head of a furniture company. The business had been in Ouaknine’s family since the mid-1980s but David’s hand was forced after the death of his beloved uncle. Without experience or training, Ouaknine took over as CEO of CDI Furniture and began growing the company’s brand.

“We see a good opportunity for our line to grow in the U.S.,” David Ouaknine said back in 2012. “The U.S. market is slowly starting to rebound, and we want to begin establishing a presence now so that we’ll be ready when business comes back.”

Well, back it came as CDI Furniture grew at a remarkable rate. Under Ouaknine’s stewardship, the small family business has transformed into a company of around 60 employees all around the world. CDI – and David personally – has branched out into design and boasts huge names like Hudson’s Bay and Wayfair as its clients. CDI has a 100,000 square foot warehouse and a huge central design and showroom in the coveted Mont-Royal Design district. It’s an inspiring story but, of course, Ouaknine wouldn’t be the first school dropout to achieve remarkable success in the business world. There are obvious examples like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs but are they just well-known exceptions? Well, it appears not.

We may live in the age of the billionaire but it seems that a college education isn’t necessary for admission. To find out just how important school is, Betway Casino looked into the histories of the one hundred highest-earning billionaires on the planet. They found that while college education was achieved by the vast majority of people on the list, it was not a necessity to be on it. Roughly a third of the people on the list didn’t attend college while around 10% dropped out entirely.

Undoubtedly, the latter category would have inspired David Ouaknine the most during what has been an impressive few years. He may not quite be amongst the world’s highest-earning billionaires but he is on another list compiled by Forbes, the 30 Under 30.

Since its first instalment back in 2012, 30 Under 30 has honoured the brightest young talents in a wide variety of different fields. From actors and musicians to lawyers and educators, a wide-reaching net catches young people heading in an unmistakably upwards trajectory. As the years have gone by, the 30 Under 30 has grown rapidly. There are now almost twice as many categories as the original edition but it has remained an exclusive club for young high-achievers in every field. Famous names like Donald Glover, Ansel Elgort and Chance The Rapper were featured on past lists long before their big breaks.


Well, David Ouaknine has joined an elite group of people with his entry in the Manufacturing & Industry category. One of many success stories from the city, Ouaknine has travelled around the world in search of foreign markets and design inspiration but CDI remains a very Montreal business.

“Montreal is one of the most remarkable cities in the world,” Ouaknine said in an interview.

“Its history, art, culture and community have shaped me and have been instrumental in helping me create a brand and organization. I’ve been everywhere but home is Montreal.”

Given his unlikely tale of success, it’s hard not to be impressed by David Ouaknine’s achievements. To transform a small family business into what is now one of the most successful furniture suppliers in the industry is quite the coup. His place on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list is well deserved and spells good news not just for Ouaknine personally but for the whole city of Montreal. Aside from the obvious boost to the local economy, this award puts Montreal design and industry on centre stage for the whole world to see.

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