FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Art Price
March 11, 2014
He says he is “highly interested in how governments affect the community”, and he seemed to be gritting his teeth only a little when he said that . . .
On personal private matters he wouldn’t open up much – but on business issues, he had lots to say including a rant on beef and pork issues that could fill a few more pages.
I had fun, was entertained and learned a lot.
From 33 floors above downtown Calgary, he reminded me that the oil & gas industry doesn’t live here – it lives all over rural Alberta. That’s where the operations are, the data collection points, the need for connectivity is out there where all Albertans are – on farms, in small towns, in every corner of the province.
Is he a brilliant visionary, hard working, experienced, well-connected or just plain lucky?
All of those to be sure. Like any success story, he may have his detractors – but few can doubt his accomplishments. He’s competitive but not as combative as his demeanor and business battle scars might imply. Not unlike most accomplished CEO’s, he’s affable and charming.
Getting an interview with Axia NetMedia head-honcho Art Price wasn’t nearly as difficult as one might expect. I asked. He said “sure”. The rest was simple scheduling. We met at his offices, high above downtown Calgary, looking west at the best of Alberta – mountains, downtown oil & gas headquarters and a lot of his customers.
Also Chairman of the family farm-to-table and restaurant Sunterra empire most Calgarians know very well, his big-big-thing is Axia, operator of the Alberta Supernet. I didn’t leave our meeting as an expert – but certainly far better informed about the reality of fibre-optic service in Alberta today.
He mentioned “fresh, quality, local” as his mantra. I wasn’t sure if he was talking about Sunterra or Axia. Perhaps both.
Clearly a subscriber to the notion that what matters is to matter – his focus on making that true for his company, his shareholders and his customers. Art Price isn’t shy, but he’s not a braggart – unless he is talking about his businesses, which he isn’t shy to tell you are fantastic. As for this industry’s traditional competitors, financial institutions … he’ll do some asides that aren’t complementary.
Like most born-on-the-farm, prairie rooted oil & gas good-ole-boys, he’s not shy about calling a spade a shovel.
Born and raised in rural Alberta – he loved machinery and equipment . . . so engineering studies at the University of Alberta were first steps. Rising quickly to become right-hand to legendary Bob Blair at Nova, got seconded Husky (Nova held a large position then) into the CEO role at Husky. Leaving that post after 10 years at the helm, he was still very young - only 40. What was next? More business.
After leaving Husky, Art invested in a start up that led to bringing together several internet content producing businesses – which soon became the Axia we know today. Partners, public company – intersected with the Alberta government recognizing convergence of two things: the huge need for large volumes of fast and secure data transmission on which capacity requirements and cost were growing too rapidly for comfort, and; a real and political need to deliver internet service to every community in Alberta. What began as a project of then Minister Lorne Taylor, became a Request for Proposals competition with 37 entrants. Most were well established industry players. Back then (2001-2) Axia was the new kid on the block. Axia emerged victorious. Why? “We had the right answer.”, quips Price. He adds, “it was digital vs. analog, We founded a business to bring fibre-optic service to be more than between big cities. We built a fibre-optic network.”
Art was born on the farm at Acme (6 boys, 1 girl), graduated from U of A Engineering school, married since 1978, 3 grown children – 2 of whom work at Axia.
I asked Art how he sees Axia’s business, and internet connectivity business generally doing – his business outlook over the next quarter?
… we’re growing every quarter. Digital connectivity isn’t about websites anymore, it’s about how to spread costs over enough customers . . .
And over the next 5 years?
…. growth in Alberta, western Massachusetts, France – markets we are in now, and more growth in many jurisdictions we are exploring. We have a sound foundation in the provincial economy, quality of life and a competitive situation for tax and for business. Regulatory debate – current structure isn’t working, so there is the risk of them messing it up.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… when we have a choice – are the prepared, do they perform? Ethics. Local owners. The whole value proposition – character, quality of service, quality of the commitment. Owners are running it. Accountable.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Art Price/Axia, why do they do business with you, hire you, over your competitors?
… the same fundamental value proposition. They get everything that we say we can provide.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… 24/7 performance of these businesses, teams of people working well. We have a messy financial sector – the gap is widening for small and medium sized businesses. Government policy isn’t linked up with a modern economy – especially in healthcare and education.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my 3 children. They have been, and continue to be, a big influence – their objectivity, their insightfulness. Bob Blair. Also, Li Ka-shing, Peter Lougheed, Pierre Trudeau, and Jean Chretien – I had dealings with all of them, and they had a significant impact. And, a real good friend who asked me, when I was 40 and CEO at Husky, “are you going to do this for the next 25 years?”
Work life balance?
… not really. I golf, ski, work.
What do you read?
… business things, geo-political things. Tyler Hamilton’s book about Lance Armstrong – The Secret Race
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