FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Al Norris
February 10, 2015
He attributes much of his success to “being in the right place at the right time.”
He reports directly to Bruce Flatt, CEO of the $200 billion Brookfield organization.
This kid (OK, he was 23) from Scotland who came to Canada in 1980 for a year to check it out. He stayed a little longer.
Al Norris began life in Paisley, just outside Glasgow. His dad was a factory supervisor. His mom stayed home, raising Al and his two younger sisters. His young days were characterized by two dominant factors – a golf game (scratch golfer at 18 – he won the Scottish Amateur) and strong academic performance, entering the accounting profession. His business degree from the University of Strathclyde led to training/articles at Deloitte’s.
Most of my career I knew the company as Carma, a Calgary/Edmonton land development company started by homebuilders. These days, a much larger reach in land development and housing.
As I was waiting for my appointment with Alan Norris, B.A., C.A., Pres. & CEO at Brookfield Residential I perused the Annual Report booklet rather than magazines on that spacious waiting room’s reading offering. The report revealed largesse – the company now known as Brookfield Residential Properties Inc. is far larger in the U.S. than Canada - $3.3 billion in assets. Yet, head office and CEO remain where they’ve always been in Calgary.
Suffice to say a huge amount of Brookfield Residential’s growth here in Alberta, expansion/merger and restructurings making the company a large U.S. player as well as the dominant developer in Calgary and Edmonton – has all been under the stewardship and guidance of his steady hand. …. And his handicap in the computer at Bearspaw has slipped to an 8.
Doing audit work at Deloitte’s he encountered client and future employer Carma. He met his wife Shelley here (she was an accountant at NuWest). He joined Carma/now Brookfield – first as Controller, then CFO and Pres. & CEO in 1994. His early work involved ‘the workout’ function faced by NuWest and Carma (NuWest owned 48%) when financial woes in the 80’s changed the landscape. “It was a very risky move – I never imagined where it would go.”
Under his watch the company has gone through re-structuring, private-to-public, back again twice. Fast-forward through much reorganization, Carma and Brookfield Homes merged in 2011. Today, they are the 4th largest residential land developer in North America with significant activities in eleven markets.
The Norris’s have four children, five grandchildren and a very nice lifestyle made possible in large measure by Al’s significant success. It doesn’t seem to have run to his head – his conversation with me revealed a deep commitment to community, all the ones he operates in, but in particular Calgary where, among other things, Al chairs the board of Resolve Campaign – Calgarians Committed to Change and is heading a campaign to raise $120 million toward resolving homelessness in Calgary.
What has contributed most to your success? “Work ethic, I got from my dad. Sense of humour. Opportunity (thanks for Murray Fox) to get involved in the Carma restructuring. Being straightforward, honest.”
What has held you back? “Not many things. I could have moved for opportunities – loved Calgary – I’ve been reluctant to move.”
“I have a passion for this business and all the people in it. Someday I’ll retire. I’m only fifty-eight. I have a lot to give. Never do I get up in the morning and not want to do what I’m doing. I love the business of real estate, creating communities that people call home.”
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… a shared value system. People who do what they say. Honesty, transparency. I’m not a haggler if I’m being treated fairly.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Al Norris and Brookfield Residential, why do they do business with you?
… when we say we’ll do something, we do it. Respect, decency. I won’t stand for bullying.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… open. Cordial. I give people responsibility. I don’t micro-manage. I work hard and I expect other people to.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t stress about much. I have very good people. I worry about my not-for-profit work, trying to raise $120 million …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… the move to Canada. The move from Deloitte’s to Carma was very risky. I never imagined where it would go. This city has been awesome to me.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… better now! …I’m in early, before 7AM. I don’t burn it at both ends …
… golf. Skiing. We have a place in Phoenix. We travel to Scotland two times a year. Spending time with grandchildren. Holidays in warm places (we had 23 together at Christmas).
What do you read?
… lots of business journals. Crime novels. Daniel Silva.
… BMW 550 FT
… I qualified for university at sixteen (he was a top student) and accounting courses were a fill-in. I got twelve requests for interviews, went to four of them and got one job offer.
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