FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Bob Demulder
November 4, 2014
There are two kinds of real estate (science and policy are not the first words that usually come to mind).
We have that which we alter (improve, build on, develop) and that which we preserve in its natural state while protecting it from undue harm (farming, ranching, hunting, fishing, resource development), just for looking at it.
Folks who do this protection and preservation work range from government folks doing their jobs, philanthropists giving back and giving away, farmers and ranchers blocking development while protecting habitat and landscape for future generations. And, to some degree, tax accountants giving clients advice on how to best marshal their situation AND to do good.
The place where many of these issues and forces converge is with an organization that has been in the news a fair bit lately around some major gifts of Alberta’s now-protected lands – the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
Bob tells me my definition of protection/preservation is too narrow. NCC is focused on conserving 'working lands' where ecological systems are allowed to function while allowing compatible human land uses (like farming and ranching).
Like most boys growing up in western Canada, Bob Demulder played hockey. That’s where our similarities end …
Bob wasn’t so sure he would have lots to tell me that was interesting, but he was being modest. Understanding what drives the guy who drives this organization’s work in Alberta is – in my view – as important to understanding that work as anything else.
I went looking for ‘interesting’ and ‘commitment’. I found both:
His mother was a nurse, his dad a pathologist. He’s the baby in the family with two older sisters – one an agronomist, one a nurse. They all were raised with a love of and much time spent in the wild outdoors, and it seems their careers followed a path well laid by their parents.
Bob Demulder was born in the UK. When he was five his parents came to Canada – first to Hamilton, then Edmonton and settled in St. Albert where Bob attended Paul Kane High before studying forestry at the University of Alberta. B.Sc, Forester … career path began at the Alberta Forest Service, Alberta Forest Products Association, Alberta Chamber of Resources – working with industry and government stakeholders - through progressively more demanding/rewarding positions, until he took on his current role – Regional Vice-President – Alberta, at the Nature Conservancy of Canada seven years ago.
What contributed most to your success? “I am brutally honest. I make sure that people who do the work get the credit because our team makes me, and our organization, look good. My parents have been great mentors.”
What has held you back? “I was never a goal setter. I had no master plan.”
His words, “matching my passion with my job” stood out. Clearly science and policy drive his day-to-day. Love of the outdoors and passion for the work seem to drive him even more.
I asked Bob how he sees his businesses – private land trust, in the conservation business – generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… we are doing alright. We just took on the Waldron. We have a few more projects in the works in southern Alberta and we are looking at a large parcel in the Edmonton area right now.
And over the next five years?
… groups like ours will be more involved in helping both governments and the private sector working out offsets for development. That involves combining citizenship with some dealmaking both on crown land and private land and working more with the Eco-Gift Panel at Canada Revenue Agency. Conservation easements are the legal tool but there is a lot more to stewardship and ongoing preservation than cultivation, draining, subdivision ... lots to do! We are very involved with ‘species at risk’, adapting and protecting habitat to support those species – and working with stakeholders to see those species as an asset rather than as a detriment.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… quality. Stuff (and people) that works. Same with business partners. Our suppliers are located in the communities where we are active wherever possible. People who have a passion for the outdoors and our work are not hard to find!
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Bob Demulder and Nature Conservancy of Canada, why do they do business with you, why have they chosen you and your organization over other causes?
… we are credible. We try to under-promise and over-deliver. We are a good corporate connection. We are less-so advocates, but more-so facilitators. We are steward of what we can be …
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… I’m probably hard to read at first. Mentor. Supporter. Demanding. I keep an open door.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… am I providing the right direction for my daughter? It is an eye-opener working for a not-for-profit – helping/struggling people understanding funding requirments.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my parents showed me an appreciation for the outdoors; a high school biology teacher, Roy Gauchey (he had a forestry background) moved me from the back row to the front of the class and told me to listen and to shut up. He developed, in me, a desire to learn.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… still on the clock when I am playing! The need always exceeds the capacity to deliver if you are passionate.
… travel. I get to see a lot of Canada in my job. Hiking. Fly-fishing. I’m an outdoors guy. Downhill and back-country skiing. Motorcycling. Hanging out with my 18 yr. old daughter.
What do you read?
… I like Wallace Stegner’s Wolf Willow. I’m a Bill Bryson fan. I like fiction grounded in science.
… horses, for work and recreation. And a 2006 Nissan X-trail
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