FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with David Farran
February 24, 2015
Southern Alberta – and Calgary especially were more than home for David’s family, it was the stage. His father – raconteur, author, newspaper publisher, politician, ranching/horseman and bon-vivant Roy Farran; his mother – Jean Harvie, cousin of legendary oil guy Eric Harvie – a colourful story in its own right involving pioneer spirit, globe trotting influences. David’s dad Roy was born in India of British Parents, met his Calgarian mother at a Governor’s Ball in Rhodesia in 1949 … what a storied family to be born into!
David Farran’s history began here – dual citizenship, born in Calgary, raised on a farm where the Woodbine neighbourhood sits today and on a ranch near Millarville. Today he lives in Calgary and farms traditionally – using draught horse drawn implements – west of Turner Valley. And, if you’ve not been to Turner Valley in a while, check out the downtown addition of Eau Claire Distillery.
I’ve been off-the-sauce a long time, so I declined the offered tasting. I enjoyed the tour, learning that distilling and brewing are not very different processes. The vessels, gauges and valves are impressive – I’m told they are the best new equipment money can buy. If you are amazed by that – stay tuned for an incredibly interesting story. An interesting guy. Luck of birth is, by itself not a solution to anything unless you are royalty – for others it seems to be on ingredient in a recipe for hard work.
The influences of our parents, our grandparents – of our lineage is a wonderful thing if you can capitalize on it. David Farran has done that, certainly, but it is clear to me he’s done it on his own – but one has to marvel at the pedigree, the background, that laid the foundation for many of his opportunities. He admits that his family – and his father’s influence afforded him many opportunities early on but it seems he’s been opening his own doors for a long time.
David is the youngest of three – he has two older sisters. He graduated from E.P. Scarlett High School, did one semester at the University of Calgary, worked a while at ATCO and went travelling around Southeast Asia, Thailand in particular. His early business adventures involved offering horse drawn tours of Calgary for tourists, and other adventures like that – until a job opportunity to help Ed McNally. David was the 1st hire of Big Rock Brewery – spending two years as scrounger and salesman until McNally said, “got to school”. Following that advice, a BA in Economics at U of C followed – 2 yrs. of high speed and high marks – and then a great job in Edmonton, as Assistant to the British Vice-Consul responsible for the prairies and NWT where, following departure of John Doble, he was Acting-Consul.
Touring New Guinea he met his wife (Calgary oil patch exec. Margaret McKenzie). Hiking and touring, it was Malaria that sent them home.
Upon returning and recovering, David did an MBA at U of C. Started and later sold Pipestone Travel Outfitters, sold those stores; returned to VP U.S. Marketing at Big Rock for three years; some real estate developments, met some vets, built Associates Veterinary Clinics (55 clinics across Canada), and sold that. “We did OK”.
In 2012, it was a question of ‘what’s next’ for David …
He combined his love of farming with draught horses, needed to do something with his grain – joined with some like-minded partners to found the distillery. His Big Rock background and a bright-idea moment when visiting his sister in Portland where craft distilleries are prevalent. At the time, craft distilleries were not permitted in Alberta … but they are now! David admitted to ‘lots of lobbying’ was involved, but in time the regulators saw the operation as just as legitimate as the large ones …
The water in Turner Valley comes from the headwaters of the Sheep River. Clean hard water is important. He bought a building in Turner Valley – the former movie theatre, complete with some interesting artifacts, and built a tasting room. Why Turner Valley? “Familiar country, I farm west of here, and the Eau Claire lumber company had logging concessions in this are – hence the name.”
What has contributed most to your success? “I believe in people – in assembling good teams. I’m good at distinguishing trends strategically. I’m enthusiastic – I live what I do. No half-measures.”
What has held you back? “I love where I live and I don’t want to leave …”
A start up craft distillery? Seriously, how did that start-up when I wasn’t looking?
Any last words?“I like building companies. I don’t like big companies.”
David and Margaret have two children. They live in Calgary and farm near Millarville.
I asked David how he sees his businesses – manufacturing craft spirits; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… we’ve been in the market for six months – we’ve become price-competitive among premium brands for gin and vodka. Business is great. Our tasting room is in the final stages and should be open soon …
Over the next five years?
… our rye whiskey and single malt (currently aging in barrels) will launch in 2020.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… personally, I’m not a shopper. I like to buy local from small businesses if I can. I’m old school – believe in loyalty.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose David Farran and Eau Claire Distilleries, why do they do business with you?
… because we pay attention to what people want, to service, to relationships.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… consensus builder, team builder – like to bring out the best in myself and people I work with.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not much. Life is bliss, great family.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Ed McNally – gave me enough rope to hang myself, showed confidence in me which gave me confidence. John Doble, taught me to be enthusiastic, to live life to the fullest. My father – taught me principles, ethics, drive, enthusiasm for life. We shared his enthusiasm for life. It wasn’t OK to sit around doing nothing.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… see-saw = overall, yes. Two dogs – a Dachshund and a Lab; learning Nepalese in preparation for a trek in Nepal. Exercise. Time to play.
… farming with draught horses. Travelling to mountainous areas – I love trekking. I big trip a year. Last year it was Tibet. This year, Nepal.
What do you read?
… I love history. Biographies. Two books on the go right now. I’m learning Nepalese and I’m taking my distilling diploma – so I’m reading a text book!
… 2011 Subaru Legacy. My car is always a mess. My family will attest I am not responsible enough to be trusted with a very nice vehicle …
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