FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with David Wallach
September 29, 2015
I don’t go out of my way to write about or brag-up competitors. Still, I pay attention to, and am intrigued by, successful people who aren’t cookie-cutter types, who stand out from the crowd. David Wallach certainly does – at 6’5”. His path, like most interesting people, isn’t a straight or predictable line.
His parents were Romanian holocaust survivors – mom did social work, dad was bookkeeper – who left for Israel but were delayed in Cypress before making their way to Haifa. He has an older brother. Born and raised in Haifa – he spent four years on a kibbutz where he met his wife. His post-secondary education entailed 3 days in university. He dropped out, went into sales and didn’t look back. He’d been a very social, active and difficult youngster – his family were thrilled he made it through high school. Friends, soccer, basketball (he was a fanatical fan of his Maccabi-Haifa team, so much so that he was hired to help – and became Pres. & GM – but on reflection realizes he could have done better if he hadn’t been so young and TOO PASSIONATE!. “They had zero debt when I left!”).
At 40, he left a successful insurance career in Israel – sold his agency and came to Canada. The story was one of the Wallachs wanting a better life for themselves and their children in a ‘less of a pressure cooker’ place. He was bullish then – as Calgary proved to be the ‘best choice’ of many they considered. He came here, spent time talking to people exploring job opportunities - but encountered an immediate obstacle. Because medical report paperwork got lost in transit, he wasn’t immediately eligible to work – so he enrolled in the real estate licensing program while waiting …
His first job in Calgary, hired by Doug McGregor at Barclay Street (then called Torode Realty) on John Torode’s saying: “If he seems good, hire him.” His early days of ‘doing everything’ showed him the wisdom of specializing – he focused on investment sales and hasn’t looked back. He bought into the firm and then bought out partners to hold a controlling interest (Dan Harmsen is a minority partner) – and focused the company on Calgary and Edmonton, closing a Vancouver office. He’s bullish on his team and proud of a recently launched private REIT (Triumph). And he’s bullish on Alberta’s future, resilience and ability to keep coming back from adversity and downturns.
Why Calgary? “We wanted to go somewhere English speaking. My English was better than my German. My wife spoke some English. We rejected Britain and the U.S. – didn’t get excited. We’d met some Canadians – from Toronto and Calgary – and quizzed them on ‘where to go’ in Canada. I came to check things out (10 days in Sept. 1997) and phone my wife from a pay phone at a 7-11 on Macleod Trail. I told her this place was a village that would soon be a big city – they just didn’t know it yet’, and we began the process.”
David and his wife Zohar made their place here – and their three children have become accomplished professionals who are now off exploring careers in other places.
Why are you successful? “I came from a family that survived the holocaust – parents who struggled – that’s my motivation to do better. Being visionary, trusting my gut, being honest. I know my weaknesses – I don’t do the hard work. My emotions are part of who I am – I wear it on my sleeve. Some people love it, some not … ”.
What has held you back? “Sometimes I put too much thinking into thinking that interrupts my gut feeling”.
How do you see your business – commercial real estate services and property management - going forward over the next quarter?’
... it’s going to be really interesting. Not a lot of new business. We’ve got an election, the Christmas season … it’s going to be a quiet quarter – and I hope I’ll be proven wrong!
And over the next five years?
… I don’t have a crystal ball. Five years ago nobody would have predicted we would be where we are now. There are so many things we don’t control. The good thing about Alberta is our entrepreneurial mind-set that says ‘let’s get back to work’ moving forward. I see recovery, but hope it isn’t a hockey-stick …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… when I hire, I try to hire for character – that they fit into our company. With suppliers, I’m a loyal person – work with my gut, my chemistry with people.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose David Wallach, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… honest. Straight shooter.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I delegate – try to energize and empower people to make decisions. I procrastinate – deliberately – when it concerns people.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I want to see my wife and kids succeed in life. To see our company succeed.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – I lived with him from age 10, after my parents divorced (my brother lived with my mother). He had old-world person values. I now value very much what I rebelled against then! He taught me the only thing I have is my reputation. He taught me to ‘pick up the bill’ more often. My uncle, who was the black sheep of his family – he didn’t focus on education and job, he went into business and was successful. He was a great role model. The sponsor of my basketball team – taught me to keep my emotions out of business decisions. And being a Staff Sergeant in the Israeli army (compulsory military services 18-21… and continued in the reserves). I got a lot of responsibility at a young age. I learned how to lead people. Learned responsibility, accountability – and that your ego won’t get you very far. I learned you have to make yourself vulnerable to earn trust.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… getting better at it. I do 1-3 hours of work on Sunday, otherwise my weekends are non-work.
… hiking. Helping my wife with her art business. Playing soccer (men’s recreational league), reading. A meeting every other week for an hour, with my rabbi, for spiritual learning – the spiritual side of Judaism.
What do you read?
… a lot. Business books, professional reading obviously. And novels. I alternate between an English book, then one in Hebrew. Some recent books I liked: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Gone Girl, The Dovekeepers …
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