FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Doug Cassidy
September 20, 2016
I had plans to get an interview with Doug Cassidy after he took the helm at Canada Lands, filling the shoes of the late Mark McCullough – but I never caught up to him. He then moved up to VP Western Canada and again he was on my radar screen … and then he moved again – this time to the City of Calgary as Director, Real Estate & Development Services … one of the key roots, or maybe ‘trunks’ is a better term, on the decision-tree in the City Manager’s office …
Is he a contradiction? At one point in our conversation he said, “I’m not a very patient individual.” And, at another juncture he explained that he is very patient. When challenged about the contradiction he laughed … and when he talks about his interactions with his son, I got a sense he is indeed patient. Maybe he’s just really intense? I asked if he thought he might have been an undiagnosed ADHD kid … and we shared a good laugh because we both find some comfort in rapid changes of direction.
Were you a good student? “I did OK in school, I did better as I went along.”
The only boy (he has two older sisters), Doug was born in Regina – raised in Assiniboia, Winnipeg and Regina. Mom was from Stoughton, dad from Maymont, SK; dad was a banker with CIBC and the family moved around. High school in Regina, then University of Regina for one year – then off to U of C where he earned a B.Sc. in Biochemistry (wanted to be a doctor – but he re-thought that) – then courses and work in civil engineering, P.Eng. Along the school path – summer jobs and academic year work ran the gambit of waiter, lifeguard, oil rig worker, child care – and soon he was working on the Old Man River Dam spillway and since then he’s been almost entirely focused on civil engineering projects for municipal and provincial governments – so the morphing into management jobs and Canada Lands was just a logical progression. He’s modest and understates his accomplishments – strikes me as a very serious guy.
His interests – aside from planning and building things: rock climbing, downhill skiing, travel – and, more recently, his five-year old son. “We got started late … we were late bloomers”. He married Lara Snead, an oil & gas engineer, in 2001.
And he grins when he explains the pleasure of watching some of his last projects unfolding (Currie Barracks area redevelopment project by Canada Lands) – watching them twice a day as he commutes from Lakeview to downtown.
Why are you successful? [he was really fidgeting-awkward answering this one – modest awkward], “the things that have been important to me have been on a trajectory of continued success – largely because I’ve worked with dedicated and intelligent people, and I have wonderful supportive family. And the harder I’ve worked, the luckier I got”.
What has held you back? “nothing in particular. At some stages of my career, maybe boredom triggered changes more than ambitions or unhappiness, though choices I’ve made altered my direction. I left Canada Lands – not because I didn’t love the work and opportunity, but there was a lot of travel. When you find you like being a dad so much, it’s worth it to be closer to home. That hasn’t held me back though – I think it has made me better.”
His designations: B.Sc., P.Eng., PMP, MBA and dad.
How do you see your business – managing the City of Calgary’s real estate interests – going forward over the next quarter?
… in terms of ‘what we are selling’, things have slowed during the downturn on infill lands. Sales of industrial lands have slowed too – purchasers are taking their time. We don’t expect to sell anything at fire-sale prices.
And over the next five years?
… we’ll be more active in re-development of inner city and brownfield sites, TOD sites and disposal of surplus lands. In terms of development of industrial land, we’ll continue with that as an important part of our mix. The City of Calgary has been in the industrial land development business since the 1940’s. It's a good fit with the private sector I think, to make sure we have adequate supply.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I look for the best quality I can get – but I’m patient, especially around price (i.e., when I bought my car) because I want to get the best value. I’m clear about what I want. In terms of people, I want people who are good at what they do who can make sure WE are successful.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Doug Cassidy, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… a demonstrated ability to understand their objectives, an ability to deliver. My team and I are accountable for a lot – we manage the data capture and our share of the tasks among 13 ‘stewards of land’ in our organization, acting as a consultant to the other 12, we deal with all properties deemed surplus to the needs of the other 12.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m comfortable with the term ‘collaborative’. There is a lot of experience and intelligence around me – and harnessing that is an important part of my responsibility.
… you can balance your time, you can balance your diet – but not your life! I have about 100 people in our shop, seven direct reports, long days.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… getting projects to the finish line, worrying about things that can get in the way.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… several people helped me a lot, helped me solve problems. In 1998 when I shifted to doing more community development work I discovered the value and pleasure of seeing the full results of my work …
… skiing in Fernie – we have a condo there, running, things five-year-olds like to do.
What do you read?
… Globe & Mail, real estate industry periodicals and lots of reading related to work – so I don’t get much time for adult pleasure reading – but I am doing lots of bedtime reading with my son.
… 2008 Infiniti G35. And for weekends, though fatherhood has him spending less time on the road and more in the backyard, a Yamaha 1300cc touring bike.
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