Imprisoned for his liberal views while studying economics at the University of Budapest, Sarlos was part of the Petofi Circle which became the vanguard of Hungary's anti-Soviet 1956 revolution; he escaped to Austria, and eventually Canada. After qualifying as a chartered accountant and becoming a Canadian citizen, he spent 17 years in administrative positions with Canadian Bechtel and Acres Ltd., eventually heading their merchant banking group. He went on his own in 1974 and became one of the Toronto financial community's most sought-after investment counsellors, running a private trust fund with assets of more than $500 million.
One of the few Canadian financiers with impressive intellectual and international credentials, Sarlos was contributing editor of the Money Letter, served as governor of the University of Waterloo and as well as on the board of Toronto's Central Hospital, Toronto General and Western Foundation and the Canadian Institute of International Affairs. He was also a director of several public companies, including the Toronto Zoological Society, International Polaris and The Horsham Corporation. Sarlos published his autobiography, Fireworks: The Investment of a Lifetime, in 1993 and was named an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1992.