FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Brian Heninger
August 6, 2013
A summer morning on the deck of Brian Heninger’s summer home at Chestermere where he’s been waterskiing (yes, he owns a Toyota boat) on that lake since he was 14, began with “I don’t know what anyone would want to know about me” and ended 2 ½ hours later when I really had to go to another meeting. His love of cars is apparent. As is his love of family and his faith.
I first met him a few months ago when I was covering opening of the MormonTemple in North WestCalgary – he was chairman of the Public Affairs Committee. I got my parking pass from him. That made sense to me - car guy, parking passes. I guess he did more than that. Interviewing him seemed to be a task of slipping in business questions between his car-biz anecdotes but at the end of our time it was clear to me he weaves his faith and church involvement into every conversation.
He brags easily about 14 grandchildren, and 5 children. Not so much about his earlier work habits. “I’m a workaholic. If there’s something on my plate, I can’t leave.” He tells the story, “I made a deal with my wife when we were first married – that I would work really hard for 5 years and then have more time for family. After 15 years she tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘your 5 years are up’. I have a much better relationship with my 2 youngest children than I do my first 3.
His comments on life, his dad (the late, colourful and often notorious Jack Heninger), car business and how he navigated to get to here and now was revealed to me through a story-teller’s charm and humble revelations of real events. Among his father’s exploits, the most notable was his chance meeting with Toyota folks in Toronto in February 1968. Jack bought one, drove it back to Calgary and fell in love with the car. Heninger Toyota has since been the primary moniker in a long series of car businesses founded by Jack, mostly along Macleod Trail. Most Calgarians know the name, synonymous with the Toyota brand but car business and Macleod Trail locations substantially pre-date the Toyota franchise obtained in 1968.
Brian’s summer jobs working for dad and working for others taught him a love of sales but many of his jobs in his early career were more rooted in parts, service and administration than selling new and used cars which became his passion.
When we came back to Calgary in January 1969 with freshly wed Sandy in car, a car that wouldn’t start the next morning – and he had no intention of working for his dad. He had better offers from two of his uncles, but he was ‘negotiated’ with. And there was a car involved. The rest folds into Henninger Toyota history. These days Brian’s card still says President but his role has shifted to minority ownership and his long standing key employees have taken reigns of the day-to-day operations.
Second eldest of 5 children, he’s the only one that went into the car business – which was not his intension. His enrolment at BrighamYoungUniversity in Business was disappointing. It was largely focused on accounting. “I’m not good at math. But I’m a calculated risk taker.”
His explanation of why he didn’t win the by-election for the Tories when Ralph Klein stepped down, “the voters wanted to send a message”. He admits, looking back, to being glad he didn’t win because he would not have had the family time he’s been enjoying so much . .
I asked Brian what qualities distinguish preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers.
I asked what distinguishes him, why his customers choose him over competitors.
. . . integrity, they care deeply about their customers! “I don’t want people to work for money. I want them to work for accomplishment and satisfaction. Money is a by-product.”
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
. . . humanity slipping from a society of integrity. Too much compromise, too much expeditiousness.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my mother. I miss her every day. She was about doing it right, being honest, leading by example. And N.Eldon Tanner, a former Pres. at TransCanada Corporation. I met him through our church. I got to watch him in action. And a summer job at Happy Valley Esso where I learned how to sell, earning commission on sales of air filters and fan belts.
I asked Brian how he sees Calgary business, from a car dealer’s perspective over the next 90 days and over the next 5 years?
. . . he deferred to his managers as ‘better ones to talk to about that’ after spending more than 2 hours telling me how good things have been for a long time
Work life balance?
… we live in Mayfair and have our summer home 20 minute away in Chestermere. We travel a fair bit, mostly to California and Utah – 6 of those grandchildren live in the U.S.
What are you reading?
… my Book of Mormon every day, the Old Testament (I’m cramming for finals). I never read fiction. Driven, autobiography of Larry H. Miller.
… I really like my wife’s car. A 2008 Solara convertible. My primary vehicle is a Highlander. I’d rather drive a used Toyota than a new anything else. (He also admits to a collection – not a large one, 7 prized vehicles, each with a story. All vintage Toyotas.)
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