FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Barry Heck
November 5, 2019
His early ambition was to play in the National Hockey League, his heroes were Bobby Orr and his father, who played right wing for the Claresholm Clippers …
Background - a few months ago, I heard him interviewed in CBC radio about the funding issues facing the sliding track at Canada Olympic Park (COP), explaining the shortfall of $8.0 million of the $25.0 million refurbishment and upgrading costs – a new refrigeration plant, design modifications, and more significantly – operating costs to continue running the sliding track. It seemed to me, from that news report, that the City of Calgary was the problem – and perhaps they are, but it is a bigger problem for C.O.D.A. (a.k.a. Winsport), dealing with legacy assets from the 1988 Olympics.
As I learned when I finally caught up with Barry Heck, CEO at Winsport, the problem is deeper and fundamental to the whole of the COP operations, rooted in the endowment funds from 1988. In recent years, not earning nearly as much as they used to, while costs rise. A few minutes on a radio interview did not give the background/depth required to understand this complex issue – but following up for more information yielded this interview …
Barry Heck was born in Claresholm. Mom, a school teacher, was from Fort McLeod. Dad, a school principal, was from Bodo (near Provost). They met at the University of Alberta. Eldest of three boys, Barry was a good student and a ‘did everything’ athlete. Sports, piano, and being the principal’s kid were the springboard, a Rotary exchange program was the vehicle – a ‘sort of GAP year’ in West Germany, led to University of Alberta, enrolled in the Commerce faculty. The law proved to be a stronger influence – and he earned his LLB, met his wife (Beth Reimer-Heck; they have two grown children). After law school, articling and then practicing with Bryan Andrekson (now Bryan & Co). His work in corporate commercial law, mergers and acquisitions led to being head-hunted to join Viridian, which became Agrium (now Nutrien).
His work as a corporate executive in the Ian Delaney /Sherritt group of companies led to his move to Calgary in 1997 as Sr. VP, General Counsel for Westaim, then CEO, and in 2007 he left to work on his own business ventures, and to sit on some boards. One was as Vice-Chair of Alberta Enterprise Group. Another, was the board of C.O.D.A.. In 2013 Barry led a board initiative to find a new CEO. In July, 2013 the board asked Barry to take on the CEO role, where he remains today.
Why are you successful?
… I define success by values and relationships. Strong values, work ethic – it’s in my DNA, from parents and other influences. I’m not afraid of failure. Everything I’ve achieved has come from having a sense of purpose.
What has held you back?
… I can’t think of anything. We all encounter obstacles, but I haven’t felt held back by them.
How do you see your business – ‘a not for profit community organization operating Canada Olympic Park’ – going forward over the next quarter?
… it’s difficult right now. We are dealing with ‘end of life assets’ in need of renewal, here and in other cities with Olympic legacy assets. The Calgary economy is tight, funding is tight, personal finances are tight …
And over the next five years?
… evolution in sport (e-sports) – single facility sports coming under pressure; we need to adapt to the sports. IOC is changing how they do business. Our freestyle skiing facilities are the best in the world. It’s going to have to evolve – increased funding pressure,
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators, and suppliers?
…I never sacrifice quality for the sake of price. Relationships are most important – integrity, commitment to excellence. I buy good things, but I don’t pay too much. You have to look for good value.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Barry Heck, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… the same reasons. I don’t take short cuts.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… we have a $35.0 million annual budget, 150 permanent full-time staff – and I have five direct reports. I work hard to empower my people. You have to share if you want high expectations to be met. I would say ‘inclusive, a good listener, authentic’. I share the power – it’s the only way I can succeed. I like to hire people who are better and smarter than me.
… it’s a challenge – but I’m getting better at it. I work hard, but it’s a different kind of hard work.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the political situation in our society – in the world, and locally – our social fabric, our deep divisions
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my decision to go on that Rotary exchange to West Germany after high school, opened my eyes and built my confidence – I met about 100 students from all over the world, some of whom I’m still in touch with; meeting my wife and the impact of kids – our family has grounded me; death of my best childhood friend in a farming accident when he was 25 had a significant impact on me; and, leaving the law to work with Ian Delaney’s companies opened my eyes …
… I make time for fun – we travel a lot, active with biking, hiking, golf (23 handicap). We have a place in Canmore – I do a lot of snow-shoeing and x-country skiing.
What do you read?
… lots in my job, financial publications. For pleasure, fiction – still books rather than devices. Newspapers online all week – except Saturday!
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