FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Brian Kozak
June 28, 2016
Who is Brian Kozak? I knew his name, a bit of his history and his reputation – but we’d never met. I went looking, found him, asked for this interview …
I knew he’d left (retired, but not really) First Capital Realty last fall (he was Exec. VP Western Canada), and wondered, ‘what’s he doing now?’ … that searching out proved worthwhile.
Divorced, twin 18-yr.-old old daughters. He lives near them, his ex-wife, and his ex-dog. He’s making a new life in his post-First Capital days, he’s started a company, Geraldine Developments Ltd. I inquired if it was named for an influential woman in his life – he advised, “it’s the name of a lake near Jasper that I’ve always loved”.
In the beginning – born in Edmonton. His mom, a teacher. His dad, a teacher and principal. One younger brother, a urologist, lives in Calgary. A Harry Ainlay High School grad, University of Alberta – B.Comm. (Finance & Marketing) – his first job was as an assistant to Graeme Young followed by commission work as an agent – with income volatility he didn’t like. Then development work at Canadian Tire, then Safeway, First Capital and now on his own. Not a one-trick pony, but he’s never strayed from retail commercial real estate. Given resiliency of that sector in Alberta, perhaps a good choice.
Why are you successful? “I’m uncomfortable talking in those terms. So much of what I’ve done was ‘just work’. I used what I had in my toolbox, but I loved to ski – the rest was just work. Understanding and knowing I did the best I could – not always, but I wanted to be. Travel helped me see the world differently and relationships I developed early in my career. Making a difference because of what I did. Because I wanted to be …”.
What has held you back? “Nothing. Well, I suppose I got myself worked up in early days – the pressure and demands of being on the agent/deal treadmill.”
I inquired about his exit from First Capital. Left, or pushed? “I, we… had a really good run. A new CEO. I was Dori’s guy. Dori’s gone …”
Did I get a sense of him? I think so. He told a story of grocery shopping recently with his girlfriend; “I like to get in, get out, 15 minutes tops. She wanted to take our time – more than an hour. Makes me cringe. I have to get better at that.” Well, if you are truly retired, that should come easy … but it seems a slower pace is not in the cards for him.
How do you see your business – real estate investing and development in Calgary – going forward over the next quarter?
… the economy is questionable – for everybody. People will consider selling quality assets. I have some things on the go, some property under contract I want to complete … we’ll see.
And over the next five years?
… I’m a bit on the fence. Alberta could be tough, and we need to diversify. Is oil & gas healthy?
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… responsiveness, service, taking an interest in my business. I’m not price sensitive – I want to get things done.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Brian Kozak, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… trust and finding that I say what I’ll do and do what I say – and deliver.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… creating a sense of urgency. I never want to do anything by half-measures. Dynamic I think. Getting everybody’s input – team members are clear they have a say, and we all need to own it. Giving people the opportunity to succeed. Management by long rope …
… I did. Work hard, work smart. It’s about getting things done.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… that my daughters will find their way, find success in life.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… some teachers who showed interest in me (third and eigth grades … and in high school), encouraged me. When my dad died I got a letter from someone who worked with him, was encouraged by him – that letter had a huge impact on me in terms of how I deal with people I’ve worked with. I had some great mentors – Graeme Young (Avison), Earl Brown (Safeway), Ken Silver (Canadian Tire). And Dori Segal (First Capital), his pursuit of doing the right thing – though he was perceived as difficult to work for.
… outdoors. I grew up hunting, fly fishing, camping – still enjoy those. Surfing (just came back from surfing in Portugal), skiing, triathalon (do OK in my age group – have raced in Budapest, London, Chicago). Fitness. I’m enjoying serving on the Board of Challenger Park – looking for more volunteer board opportunities.
What do you read?
… historical fiction writers – Conn Iggulden, James Michener, Jack White – you get a sense of story, and you learn something.
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