FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Dave Howard
November 3, 2015
I’d met him before, dealt with him, but as I soon found out, I knew very little ….
Dave Howard describes himself as a serial-entrepreneur. I met him about twelve years ago – I was co-leading the BOMA Awards Gala that year, and Dave’s firm The Event Group won the contract to manage the event. That experience stands out in my mind as a great experience. We hadn’t crossed paths in a long while. We sat, for this interview, in his meeting room – walls adorned with event photos of famous folks Dave has brought to Calgary and toured the country with.
I wanted, mostly, to quiz him about The Event Group. He wanted to talk about a charity he founded, inspired by his grandfather’s impoverished situation, providing supports to Canadian veterans – the Canadian Legacy project. We found a balance …
Dave was born in Montreal. At two, the family relocated to Calgary. Dad was an accountant with a big firm. Mom, a nurse turned stay-home-mom. Weekends were spent on the ski hill – mom doing her thing, dad doing ski-patrol, Dave and his older brother ski-racing. Parents divorced when Dave was seven. Both have since remarried.
Dave was raised by mom. He struggled in school. His learning disability was not diagnosed – until he finished high school. His dad got him tested – learned that he was an ‘auditory learner’ and off he went to Sierra College in California, ostensibly for the ski team but he came away with a huge turn-around in his behavior. He learned how to learn, made the Dean’s List – then went to the University of Windsor (only school that would give him course credit for skiing). He leveraged learning to tape lectures, type his notes later – and returned to University of Calgary where he obtained a B.A. in Communications.
His career had a few bounces, and opportunities. He started selling advertising for the Calgary Sun, then advertising and promotion work for the Calgary Cannons baseball team where he spent two years learning that every game was ‘an event’. He wanted to be in advertising – he joined Fieldstone (now called FARM) where he worked as an account manager. The transfer to Regina was something he first dreaded – but soon found himself running the operation, learning on the job and loving it. Back to Calgary in the ad agency game, until 1999 when he and a partner founded The Event Group. Their first account was Big Rock Brewery … and he’s not looked back.
Why are you successful? “I’m intentional, loyal – caring about what happens at the end of the day. I don’t measure success financially, but by what we give back.”.
What has held you back? “I’m blunt, and truthful. Because I tell it that way it is.”
Dave has had, and continues with, other businesses. He’d been in and out of the APP business with considerable success. He’s invested, with partners, in the Mount Baldy ski resort at Osoyoos and has ‘many promotional plans’ to turn his 25% into something large.
There was more – and some stories about celebrities I’m sworn to keep quiet about. He’d had quite a run so for, and he’s only fort-six. I enjoyed my time with Dave. In parting he gave me a ‘We Remember’ poppy pin – one I’ll wear proudly this Remembrance Day, and when I visit the Field of Crosses.
How do you see your business – event marketing – going forward over the next quarter?’
… it’s slow. In a downturn, events are among the first things to go. We are excelling at creating events that give people an experience. Across the country, in our work, business is good but in Calgary it’s terrible.
And over the next five years?
… I expect to see it get more and more competitive. The event game is in trouble. Sadly, too many people who don’t know what they are doing give our business a bad rep (the young generation is lazy!). I expect to see us producing events and concerts …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… have to be like-minded. Customer service. If people take advantage of us, we simply won’t deal with them again. Many of our suppliers have been with us for many years …
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Dave Howard and The Event Group, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… integrity. I put them before myself. Being straight-forward, having their best interests at heart. We don’t mark-up supplier costs. We just pass them through.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I have a, ‘let them take and run with it’ approach. Let’s learn from our mistakes and move on. Our work takes a lot of time away from personal life. I’m not a micro manager – and encourage people to take personal time once their work is done …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not having enough to do! I worry about my daughter, and my wife (that she’s happy). I’m happy emotionally. I don’t want to have a relationship like my parents did …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… one year I spent at Sierra College – all of a sudden I had confidence. I used to drink a lot, smoke a lot of pot – and that year, that experience, really turned me around. And Russ Parker – working for him gave me a lot of creative experience and reinforced that customers are always #1.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… you bet! And I insist on it for my seven staff. Work when we want – and of course we have to work in the best interests of our clients.
… skiing (Fernie on weekends), summer cottage at Buffalo Lake with my family [wife Jacqueline, daughter Molly]. Things kids like to do.
What do you read?
… audio books mostly, biographies, Canadian war-lit. I’m a big Paul Gross fan.
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