FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Clark Grue
January 29, 2019
After a prompt ‘yes’ from him, it took us a while to get calendars coordinated – and I’m glad we did because this so timely when the City of Calgary is on the cusp of several major capital planning/prioritizing decisions regarding meeting and convention facilities – the intersection of expansion of BMO Centre at Stampede Park in conjunction with an expansion of Arts District renovations/expansion, a new arena and Victoria Park/East Village interfaces – our city’s convention facilities operation is both hub and spoke in this complex equation – so interviewing Clark Grue, Pres. & CEO at the Calgary Telus Convention Centre has been helpful to my understanding of what is happening. Thanks Clark, for sending me away slightly dazed but not confused by educating me about how integral our hotel industry capacity and airlines/airport logistics factor into the world of ‘why people have conventions in Calgary and how Calgary stays competitive’. Thanks also for being so open-vest about everything we discussed ..
It began in Alberta for Clark, in Edmonton. Born fourth of five children, he has four sisters. When he was six, his accountant father’s career took the family to Surrey, BC. Mom’s career was homemaker and later office work. Growing up his interests were music and sports – he attended private school, graduated from Kings School (high school) and went on to Trinity Western University. He describes himself as a people person first, a jock and a singer – but not so strong academically. And he’s tall, so the obvious ‘basketball’ was his main sport interest. While earning his degree in Business Administration at TWU he began working for MTF (Mainland Distributors) and he formed an acappella singing group: ‘Heart, Mind & Soul’. In answer to ‘what genre’, he answered “think Nylons”. And he met his wife Cheryl at TWU (married 30 years, 4 daughters, 2 grandchildren). Life in Abbotsford and work were going well for the young family but a move to Toronto for the musical career was necessary/pivotal and instrumental in Clark’s career path. The musical group stayed together for ten years but as members' family needs grew more conventional employment beckoned. Clark joined Network Innovation as Sales Manager – a satellite communications and connectivity business – serving the mining industry. His work involved extensive travel, particularly to Africa. In short, he started building relationships around the world ..
A crossroads of opportunity arrived – choice of moving to Kelowna to rejoin MTF or a transfer to Calgary as VP of Sales, and both were compelling. He chose Calgary. Lucky us. In 1999 a newspaper advertisement / and headhunter meeting - the opportunity was to open the British Government’s Trade Office in Calgary (it was Britain's first). That five-year gig opened a lot of doors, key among them the first people he was ‘suggested to meet’ by Ian Kydd were influential meetings with very well connected Calgarians – Ron and Marg Southern and Doug and Lois Mitchell. In 2004 the British government converted the trade office to a full consulate operation, but not before Clark had established many connections and learned a lot about international trade. His next step wasn’t far – he joined the office of Calgary Economic Development’s trade operation working with Bruce Graham and Michael Brown, with Clark selling Calgary around the world.
What came next – an opportunity with Tim Komzyk and Lois Mitchell in 2007, to form Rainmaker Global Business Development as Pres. & CEO, established ten offices around the world and he continues as a Director of that firm. The firm was started as a ‘bring people to Alberta’ venture but, particularly in 2014’s downturn, a re-think was needed and the firm plays that role of ‘bringing people together’ in many markets.
In November 2016, headhunted again, Clark took his current position as Pres. & CEO at the Calgary Convention Centre. He understood the needs, saw an opportunity to lead and energize the organization – and to make it more than a venue. His vision, as Calgary prioritizes capital projects for meetings and events, is for the convention centre operation and role to the hub of the wheel in marketing Calgary’s capacity to host events – melding the complex elements of space, hotel capacity and flights. He has travelled extensively ‘looking at other places’ and mentioned Boston and London, UK as places who are getting it right better than most and he sees partnering of convention centre/arts/arena/Stampede and Victoria Park redevelopments as something powerful unfolding …
Why are you successful? “because of the people around me – people who have influenced me, and of course my wife. Work ethic – I’ve been working since I was 13. I’ve never felt ‘entitled’ to anything, and I’ve never felt anyone else would take care of me – so I’ve had a sort of built-in fear.”
What has held you back? “further education is one I suppose. I didn’t value getting and MBA as much as I should have. I plan to get an I.C.D. certification – because sitting on some boards is something I expect in my future.
How do you see your business – meetings and conventions business – going forward over the next quarter?
… our industry is growing 5-7%/year globally. We’ve turned the corner here – much busier for 2019!
And over the next five years?
… technology is changing how people meet – and the meeting or convention is now much more about ‘the experience’, the people you meet, the speaker you hear first hand. Successful operators will vertically integrate and work with others to coordinate the ‘at the convention’ experience with the ‘away from the convention’ experience.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… return on investment! Will I get the desired value out of the decision? We have moved to an RFP procurement process here and we have a good budgeting culture …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Clark Grue and his crew at Calgary Telus Convention Centre, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… because of the value they are getting from us. We’re delivering value and exposure our clients will value. We’ve shifted to a value-selling approach. Trust. I’m here. I’m a start-up and growth guy with a strong reputation.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I have 130 staff – of which five are direct reports. Collaboration – I’m not a dictator unless I have to be. I have the right people in the right roles. That makes me approachable, but perhaps a bit intimidating. My role is to be visionary – not micromanaging. I think they would agree …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I sleep through the night just fine. What I worry about – I am very concerned about the world we are leaving to our kids …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… starting the music group was my first entrepreneurial venture, it taught me so much; packing up and moving to Toronto, chasing that dream, strengthened us as a family; Ian Kydd, with the British Consul-General office in Vancouver who hired me to set up the British Trade Office here – had a tremendous influence on me and my success.
… family things, we like to travel together – we took a trip with everyone to Europe last summer. I used to coach basketball. We are big Flames fans.
What do you read?
… not much fiction – I like Grisham novels. John Maxwell books, Blue Ocean Strategy, and I’m reading and loving Stephen Harper’s book ‘Right Here, Right Now’.
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