FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Christine Zwozdesky
July 18, 2017
Too often I think we form an image of someone by their job/profession or where they work without understanding what is beneath the surface – and I’ve found that interviewing people is fascinating, because they open their vests and let me in. Even more profound when I interview someone I know and I realize, perhaps like an iceberg, all I’ve known is the 10% visible on the surface as in this case:
Gracious, kind, open – these words describe her, but I found I knew ‘only a small sliver’ of her. For many people, asking ‘who is Christine Zwozdesky?’ might generate a confused look – or they might make reference to her well-known husband, former Speaker of Legislature Gene Zwozdesky, but outside the circles of commercial real estate world (BOMA, Brookfield, U of A etc. ) she’s not so well known. In the Alberta real estate industry RECA is the licensing/regulating body – headquartered in Calgary, she’s the chair, the big cheese/le grande fromage. For me, she and Gene are old friends of more than 30 years. On one of her recent trips to Calgary I caught up with her for an interview at the RECA office …
Born in Edmonton – Christine Faryna – baby sister of three siblings, mom was a stenographer, stay-home mom and later worked in her optometrist dad’s office. She grew up in the Strathearn neighbourhood (she and Gene built a new home on that same address). She attended high school at Victoria Composite, not for the arts programs but to take Ukrainian as her second language (for easy credits – she’s Ukranian! … but her teacher was a newly minted one and band-buddy of her brother, Gene Zwozdesky). Following high school – with no clear career path in mind she enrolled at University of Alberta where she earned a B.Sc. in Home Economics. Her focus was clothing and textiles. She was working part-time at Eatons in those days – and her former store manager and legendary/icon of Canadian commercial real estate, Lorne Braithwaite (by then he had moved over to Oxford Properties) came to lecture her class one day. That reconnection proved valuable. In Sept. 1975 he called – working at first without a job description, then called 'Tenant Coordinator', then Property Manager, then General Manager Edmonton Centre on a six-year run with a side trip to Le Chateau Stores, marrying Gene (they reconnected at a barn dance where he was playing bass in the band – he ‘rescued her’ from the drunken hordes). Guy Scott was setting up a Commercial Division at Qualico – recruited her to be Property Manager. Then SunLife came knocking – Property Manager, Edmonton.
Then 10 years off – at home, two children and working in Gene’s musical productions company – then back to real estate work! Her path zig-zagged – to Westcorp as GM (three years), to Brookfield as Portfolio Manager, toDeloitte’s, to Cadillac Fairview and then to O&Y as a portfolio changed hands and was split up, two years at Deloitte’s running their Property Tax Practice, back to Brookfield – and then she set up her own consulting firm Alexson Solutions Inc.. She’s done Development Appeal Board work, planning and property management consulting … and then Craig Moore from Westcorp days came knocking – and recruited her to handle commercial leasing at University of Alberta where she toiled under the radar for nine years. She’s been on haitus since April of this year – pledged to keep that status until her role at RECA Board Chair ends this November. Oh yes, long service to our industry at BOMA, CREW and RECA. She’s done a lot …
Her life has spread far afield, in terms of diversity – not so far in terms of lifestyle. She still sports the phone number she’s had since she was two, and the same address, not so much a chest-thumping Edmonton proponent as a person focused on doing much good work under the radar and letting others take the credit. Not bad for a home economics major without a particular career ambition …
Why are you successful? “My upbringing – lessons in being self-reliant. If I didn’t know the answer I knew I could find the answer. When I was very young, people had to count on themselves to move along. So, I would say self-reliance and coping skills.”
What has held you back? “The only thing that held me back were my own choices. For instance, I was unwilling to relocate when opportunities were available.”
How do you see your business at RECA – the real estate regulatory business – going forward over the next quarter?
… I think they are evolving. We have a very successful past – of RECA regulation over the last 20 years and we are widely regarded as a leader. We’re in great shape leading the industry.
And over the next five years?
… we’ll still be a creature of regulation and legislation. It’s possible the regulatory side of our work will expand (ie: licencing condominium managers). In some jurisdictions (ie: BC) there has been a feeling that government needs to be the regulator. I see greater success for the industry in self-regulation – but the industry will be in a state of flux. The objective to ‘protect consumers’ is not going to subside. I don’t know exactly how technology will form reconstruction of our industry – but I wish I knew!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I gather all the information first and analyze it. I probably over-research and over-analyze. I’m detail oriented. More information makes for better decisions. In terms of people, it depends on the situations. I tend to be loyal to people, products and suppliers I’ve had demonstrated success with.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Christine Zwozdesky, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’m trustworthy and reliable, and I have a lot of experience that will serve them well.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… collaborative. I like the best outcomes, win-win results.
… I’m getting there, but still very busy with RECA, BOMA, CREW Edmonton, church work (St. John’s Ukrainian Orthodox).
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… relationships. All of them! Trying to make the best of connections. Reading people wrong. That I’m putting my best effort forward with everyone.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Lorne Braithwaite – he changed my path, got me into real estate. Lots of mentors along the way who encouraged me, particularly in those early days at Oxford – Harold Brandt, Chuck Hogle … and many others. It was early days for women in management and that experience was hugely important …
… looking after my grandchildren, millinery (she makes hats for fun, and for profit), golf (high handicapper) and travel …
What do you read?
… trade publications, love reading books, but can’t seem to find the time …
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