FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Bruce Graham
December 2, 2014
We’ve met in a different context before – so it was nice to turn the tables, to be the guy asking the questions …
He’s a Calgarian with three pairs of cowboy boots, and he admits to strumming a guitar on occasion, but who is he?
Bruce Graham is easy to find but his organization website and his own linked in profile are skimpy on details. He talks, as good leaders do, more about team – his team – than about himself.
I set out to learn more … my purpose was not to get ‘the view’ from his chair, but moreso to capture ‘who is in the chair’.
Our conversation was a pleasant tug-o-war. I wanted to learn more about Bruce and he wanted to tell me more about Calgary Economic Development, and most specifically the recently released 10-year Economic Strategy building on our energy. I think we both did our jobs well. I’ll let the link to the strategy speak for itself, and here is what I learned about Bruce Graham one fine day in November.
We met recently, at the end of a hectic week when oil prices were much better than they are today … but the outlook was no less unsettling. One might expect the President & CEO of Calgary’s Economic Development Authority to be chagrined or grimacing – but he wasn’t. Upbeat, but not over the top. Confident but not brazenly so.
So, where does his story begin?
Born and raised in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario. His mom, a teacher … his dad, a community planner. Eldest of three children, Bruce attended the University of Waterloo where he earned a Bachelor of Environmental Studies. He got his MBA from Laurier. His planning and economic development career were significant if not meteoric stepping stones – Kitchener – a brief foray into commercial real estate with Cambridge Leaseholds, then back into the public sector – Niagara Region, Scarborough, amalgamated Metro-Toronto, in the late 90’s where he spent five years as Director of Business Development … and then the lure to come west, but he didn’t need much encouragement.
Bruce, his wife and daughter visited Calgary, visited his sister in Invermere on vacation skiing trips – so Calgary was on his radar screen. Then a head hunter came calling … Bruce arrived in Calgary in his current job in 2003. What did he find? “There isn’t a better city in the country. The DNA we needed was already here. A reorganization had set the stage for us to play more offence than defense.”
What has contributed most to your success? “Fortunate to have great people, business-minded community. I had skills and experience my predecessor didn’t have. I aspired to create an organization that performs as well as our city does economically. Great ingredients – in terms of board and staff, executing a plan. Creative juices and community engagement.”
What has held you back? … "I’ve spent my whole career in economic development – and I get to do it in the best place in the world – so I’ve not had the private sector opportunities to be entrepreneurial, to fulfil aspirations to build something great …"
Closing comments? “We are in a state of evolution – we are building a self-sustaining film studio, we have re-written our economic strategy. With many stakeholders we have identified a lot of actions. We need to take that strategy to the next step – implementation. That’s my focus.”
I asked Bruce how he sees his businesses – running an economic development authority; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… shifting .. for the next 12 months – businesses are challenged by recruitment and retention as we seek continued tight labour markets, commodity prices – getting a pulse on how industry is responding. Implementing our strategy …
And over the next five years?
… two things are certain. Implementation of our strategy and community engagement. We have a great new board chair (Steve Allan). We are headquarters city, airport expansion – and expansion in air freight will build our city’s strength in logistics and supply-chain. Inland port – we want to be a foreign trade zone.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… values, integrity, trust, aligning our brand with suppliers and partners who are aligned with our values.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Bruce Graham and Calgary Economic Development, why do they do business with you?
… lots of global interest, supply chain solutions, energy, connections, respect, attitude.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… collaborative, consultative – we don’t do everything by ourselves, we have to leverage our resources.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… watching commodity prices. Growth is challenge, but lack of growth is a bigger challenge.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Bill Thompson, an instructor at U of Waterloo – his planning class, one of the few I excelled at. My first job in Kitchener, in economic development. Art Smith. When I arrived here he took me under his wing. Mentoring me on the importance of the role, held me accountable for the importance of the work.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… I struggle with it through the week, less so on the weekends! We have a vacation property … My wife Kathy is working again now. She has taken great care of the home front.
… thinking about economic development 24/7! Ski, golf, bike, playing at Windermere, water sports. Delivering the ‘oath’ when white-hatting visitors to Calgary.
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