FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Andre Kerkovius
September 8, 2015
Andre Kerkovius ended our talk with his favourite quote, by Henry David Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
This piece should be titled ‘crossing paths’ or maybe ‘Andre’s been fishing for a very long time and loving it’. When I returned to Calgary sixteen years ago, one of the first transactions I worked on (subleasing two floors in Fifth & Fifth for an Arnett & Burgess Pipelines subsidiary) was the first time our paths crossed. Andre Kerkovius was in-house counsel there so I dealt with on the to-fro of documenting that deal.
Later, on early morning walks in Eau Claire, it was Andre often giving me a shoulder-tap as he cycled by on his way to work. A few years later when I was selling a Chain Lakes area section of land to a Tom Arnett-led consortium, Andre wanted to walk the land. What that really meant was, he wanted to climb the mountain on that land. So, one lovely Saturday afternoon Andre and I, and my late friend Dale Auger (he and Stan Carscallen were the Vendors) climbed that mountain. My first. Since then we’ve stayed in touch. He kept encouraging me to come mountain climbing. This summer I climbed my second mountain (Heart Mountain near Canmore) with Andre leading the way. He made it to the top while I stalled ¾ of the way. During our apres-hike ride back to Calgary I asked for this interview … and here it is:
Andre was born in Edmonton to immigrant parents (refugees from eastern Europe who met at a Mardi Gras party in Edmonton). Mom was a nurse, dad was .. many things, ending his career with engineering and geography degrees, a Masters in Environmental Design and worked in many fields. He has an older brother who works in finance in Calgary. Andre is married, has two teenagers (one of each), two dogs, five horses and three bicycles. Schooling was in Calgary, California (parents exploring opportunities), Calgary, Cranbrook and finished high school at William Aberhart in Calgary. He earned a B.A.(Hons) in Economics from University of Calgary, Law degree from Queens, LLM (in tax law) from Osgoode Hall at York University – which he has followed with a twenty-five year career in private practice and in-house counsel roles in Calgary.
He’s first, an economist, and a cyclist. A farmer, a mountaineer. A commercial and regulatory lawyer, a partner with his wife Coleen McKeon, a compensation consultant, in a human resources consulting firm. He and his wife eloped to New Zealand and met Sir Edmund Hillary there. He has many stories to tell – and some have to be pried out of him. I like his big brain and gentle personality – not a combo I find that often in this city of driven people.
“I look for the golden thread – realizing everything flows to some degree from economics – I really like predicting how commercial relationships unfold over time.”
How many mountains have you climbed? “I started, with my family, when I was eight or nine – and I stopped keeping track/counting about 280." In his pre-kids days he was an active member and general counsel for the Alpine Club of Canada. He’s a former board member of MEC and the Calgary Area Outdoor Council.
Why are you successful? “I need to understand relationships, so I can predict them. I’m curious and enthusiastic in a lot of different things. I’ve been able to do that and explore them thoroughly”.
What has held you back? “Nothing. I’ve still got lots of things on my to-do list ”.
His biography involves lots of geography – and lots of mountain, and some pipelines. While his studies and career see frequent intersections of economics, law, tax and pipelines he says, “I don’t see myself as a tax lawyer.” I don’t see him that way any longer – there is much more to this guy. And yes, I’d gladly climb more mountains with him!
I asked Andre how he sees his business “commercial and regulatory lawyer”. ‘How is business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… I have as much work as I want to do. A steady flow. Last year was extraordinarily busy.
And over the next five years?
… for the next ten years I see lots of opportunity to do lots of what I want to do. In the law business, when oil prices are high, lawyers have way too much to do. When they are low, many will be considering whether it is time for them to retire …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… it doesn’t take me long to decide on things. Intention to produce a good product. I tend to be loyal to people I’ve dealt with before. I pay a higher price for good service.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Andre Kerkovius, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… curious and enthusiastic about people, to want to do - and people will recognize that desire.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I don’t know if I can describe that. It depends on what drives a person. They need to get satisfaction …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t spend a lot of time worrying. Life is going OK in Canada. I know my life objectives and I’m close to achieving them all: working toward paying off my farm and living on it, good relationships with my family, my ability to satisfy my curiosity wherever my curiosity seems to be leading me.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… trying to understand why my parents were refugees – everything is economics! My godfather Hans Bielenstein – he was always around. He was a studious geologist, had a critical and curious mind. Marc Weisberg, a prof at law school, taught me how to write – made me a 1000% better than I was before …
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… climb and hike. I love the wilderness. Climbing, cycling, farm work (9 years so far), skiing, mountaineering, tennis, squash, sailing, playing classical guitar and heavy horses. And a dream to build our own new house. I’m permanently curious. I like to discover new things and immerse myself until I achieve whatever I think my goal is. When I was a kid, I wanted to learn everything about being a cowboy.
What do you read?
… right now, a book on hiking the Kettle Valley Railway. Recently, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier. I don’t like frivolous books.
… 2015 Ford F350 Diesel – the weekend farm truck, and a 1990 Bridgestone MB3 bicyle.
And, the cycling … ?
… I started commuting by bike in 1978. It’s 25 minutes door-to-desk, 8km each way from my home in the NW to downtown. Faster most days than if I drove it. When the weather is not cycling friendly I walk. I've given my parking stall to my assistant.
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