FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with David Tupper
September 6, 2016
Is he descended from one of ‘those famous Tuppers’?
David Tupper explained there were three brothers who emigrated to North America – one to Maine (his descendants created Tupperware), two to Nova Scotia. One of those two’s descendants were Sir Charles Tupper. The third brother’s descendants, not so famous – that’s his lineage …
I caught up with David recently – he was just back from a family vacation in Africa and I was lucky enough to catch him before the full-swing of back to work would dominate his calendar. He’s a Partner at his firm, Blakes, in Calgary as well as head of the litigation group (45 lawyers and staff) in addition to running his own practice.
He describes himself an in introvert. Given his interests in making arguments in front of an audience and his political history, I’m not sure I agree …
His beginnings: born in Cooma (Australia) where his dad, an engineer from Nova Scotia, was working on an irrigation project. His mom, a teacher from Saskatoon was there too – and the family relocated several times – Nova Scotia, then Edmonton. Eldest of three, David graduated from McNally Composite High and then went on to earn a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Alberta. Sports, academics and student politics were his interests – he was Student Union President at McNally and U of A. He met his wife Astrid at U of A – and they both headed next to Toronto, she to do a medical degree (she’s in family practice in Calgary springing babies) while he did his law degree at University of Toronto. He was accepted by U of T and Harvard – and he says U of T was the better choice. They have three children. During law school he worked summer jobs at Blakes. Heading back to Alberta he articled with Blakes in Calgary and has been there ever since.
Why litigation? “It’s an adversarial contest. No better feeling than having success for your client. And, nothing worse than those times when you feel you haven’t”.
Why are you successful? “I really like what I do, work hard and I like people. Credit is not for taking or having, but for passing along to those who helped you.”
What has held you back, and why haven’t you run for office yet? “Nothing has really got in my way. Every decision is ‘the right decision’ and I don’t spend time looking in the rear-view mirror. And, so far, I haven’t had time to run for office …”
How do you see your business – running a litigation shop in a large law firm – going forward over the next quarter?
… very busy – we have a hard working ‘young’ crew; things can always change our agenda (matters settle or get dropped unexpectedly), but things are pretty steady …
And over the next five years?
… there is a trend we’ll see continuing – more Requests for Proposals, creative ‘pricing mechanisms’, risk sharing between lawyers and clients. And commoditizing many tasks. Technology is helping manage an enormous volume of data and documents – which may make things tougher for both sides in litigation matters …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… the key drivers are trust and the relationship. Exercising more scrutiny when I don’t have as many options or an existing relationship. Finding the extra value in people.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose David Tupper, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… good judgement. I care about people I work for and work with.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I try to be empowering – which means giving people rope. I try to coach good ideas …
… No. I’ve been very busy – and getting busier (and getting new business and clients becomes easier) as I get older. I’ve had a very rich life, and while we are both very busy professionally, we’ve focused on family – and I can say my kids know me really well.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… people I work with – I want to see them succeed. And politics! It’s nuts right now in Canada and in the U.S.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – he’s an extraordinary guy. He finished his career as a public servant, Assistant Deputy Minister at Alberta Environment, then he ran for school board – served nine years, served on Health Quality Council and Police Commission after that; he taught me about service. Myer Horowitz, President at U of A when I was President of Student’s Union – taught me a lot about ‘intentions of people’ and relationships.
… coaching soccer, travel – we just came back from 21 nights in South Africa, Botswana and Zambia, I love to cook and entertain – big holiday meals are my favourite. Playing the ‘Santa of Discovery Ridge’ at Christmas time. Volunteer work in the community, sitting on boards.
What do you read?
… reading ‘Bridge of Spies’ – I want to finish it before I see the movie. I recently read ‘The Illegal’ by Lawrence Hill. I like Canadian authors.
… 2008 Toyota Highlander hybrid. I’m not a car guy – I’d rather spend my money on travel. I ride my bike to work a lot – Discovery Ridge to downtown takes 40 minutes coming in, 45 minutes going home. [this explains why he’s skinny and I’m not].
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