FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Bill Evans
May 3, 2016
“I always liked building things as a kid …”
I met Bill Evans about twenty years ago, in my Edmonton days, when a client brought him along to see a building that needed ‘figuring out’. We stayed in touch and socialized a little too when I moved back to Calgary in 1999 and worked together on the BOMA Awards committee for several years. But we all get busy and our visits have been infrequent handshakes at industry events, breakfast once in a while. A long time since we’ve broken bread and seriously caught up. We did this interview over an awesome osso-bucco lunch …this is the result:
Born in Montreal. His family was from Westmount 'top of the hill' but he was raised in the Town of Mont Royal 'bottom of the hill - in heart of Pierre Trudeau’s constituency (he met him a number of times), perhaps destined to be a stockbroker like his grandfather, who wanted him to be, Bill charted an interesting path with lots of zig-zags.
He grew up on the ‘Town of Mount Royal’ section of Montreal – middle child of three, his parents met as students at McGill. Mom got her B.A. and focused on homemaking and parenting. Dad became a chemist in the pulp and paper industry and later in pharmaceuticals. They divorced and each remarried. Bill stayed with mom and stepdad (an economist at BMO) who migrated to Montreal from Ontario. Bill was part-jock; skier, track & field – who excelled in math and science, got by in other subjects. In high school he worked on the school paper – writer, editor, publisher. He says, “I had to push myself”.
His CEGEP year and early days at U of Waterloo were focused on computer science and environmental studies – which is a long stretch to architecture and project management. He loved physics competitions – “I never had more fun.”
His struggles at Waterloo – finding “I’m not going to be a theoretical physicist” sent him in a more practical direction. He applied to Architectural and Engineering Schools – got accepted by several, and decided to do a double degree at McGill. He got his B.Sc. and B. Arch. Degrees but never completed the Civil Engineering degree he was on track for – because jobs, work and future intervened.
“I worked great summer jobs and worked part time during school (designing jails didn’t have an appeal – but it was work- for an engineering firm in Montreal). I lived like a pauper for six years.” He also worked as a land surveyor for the Municipal Engineery Department and designed houses – until Alberta beckoned. His first days here, April 1981, were dry and dusty – but friends took him skiing and he was soon hooked and landed. His career path in architecture began at LeBlond Partnership. He had friends at Chandler Kennedy ... and his path crossed with Wade Gibbs and Doug Gage. NEP time. Bill and many others were part of lots of downsizing and marketplace adjustments – freelancing, partnering with his cousin Ross Evans (Evans Consoles) honed his project management skills … then joining Gibbs Gage (hire #5) in its formative days. With Dave Symons and Bob Spaetgens – a new firm, SSE Architects was formed and thrived. As did IDISIS, a software firm Bill continued with after SSE reorganized. “I retired for one day – and within two weeks I was full-on busy under my Browning (his paternal grandmother’s maiden name) Corporation. I didn’t want to take on a large staff. I stayed small, and teamed up with Gary Duke in 2010 to start Duke-Evans. We have a six-person practice. We are a boutique project management and development management firm – with no plans to expand beyond the greater Calgary area. I feel very committed to the Calgary community.”
On the home front, personal front. Prostate cancer survivor (5 yrs ago), married to Teresa (he met her in Calgary), a junior high teacher, their two children (23 & 26) have grown and left the Bragg Creek area acreage. One grandchild so far. “After Teresa recovered from her broken back she couldn’t get comfortable riding – so we sold all the horses. We were also breeding. We had 25 at one time.”
Why are you successful? “because I’ve been humble. I’ve put ‘being there for my clients’ ahead of personal gain. I’ve put responsibility to my current clients ahead of marketing to future clients.”
What has held you back? “I’ve always accepted the hand I was dealt. I’ve sought to have a balanced life – and though I’ve been called a workaholic, and I’ve had to restrain and retrain myself to have a family and a life.”
How do you see your business – project and development management business for the real estate and buildings industry – going forward over the next quarter?
… fewer opportunities. Big guys are cutting their fees to stay alive and keep their people. We have to ‘stick to our knitting’ – perform according to our personal business promises.
And over the next five years?
… it all continues to evolve. The more sophisticated buyers of service will seek out the higher level of expectations and NOT buy the project management role as a commodity. The industry will grow as many organizations, public and private, will have ceased doing these functions internally.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… depends on the services; value proposition, trust. Cost is important but not at the top of the list.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Bill Evans, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because they want me – a small operation and a promise from an individual to an individual, not the promises of a large organization to another organization.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I like to lead by coaching – as I’ve enjoyed other people who’ve led me by coaching me.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I sleep really well.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad’s dad – though he was born with a silver-spoon in his mouth he understood the world very well, helped me approach life in a very positive way. Wade Gibbs – he came from a humble background and made a lot from nothing, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other approach to helping clients get what they need, better, faster. I’ve always had a fear of failure – but it has been a positive thing, pushing for excellence …
… I still ski a lot – downhill, back-country, cross-country, mountain biking, road biking, ½ marathons (many), marathons (Honolulu, Kelowna) and training with Teresa – were are doing the Dublin 2016 Marathon. I’ve done lots, lots, of volunteering over many years – and I loved it, but I’m “fresh out” …
What do you read?
… not enough! If I find the first chapter doesn’t really grab me, I set it aside. I like personal development books, autobiographies. I loved ‘Younger Next Year’. It changed my life.
… well, we sort of have a fleet … 2011 BMW 535, Honda S2000, 2015 Audi Q5 (Teresa’s car) and a 2015 Prius, Ford 250. We sold all the horses …
… depending on who you ask! I don’t have a lot of idle time. Theatre, opera, music, work/business. I’m really excited about ‘Contemporary Calgary’, a project – with funding to be finalized – for a $25 million re-purposing of the old planetarium which was a 1967 Centennial project...
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