FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Doug Dunscombe
March 19, 2013
I met Doug Dunscombe in an unlikely place – guest of VP Business Club, one of the sponsors of FACILITYCalgary. Doug is their President – but, as I quickly learned, not their only spokesperson. Their meeting was a routine weekly one – somewhere in the International Hotel where they currently meet on Tuesdays at 7:30AM to share breakfast 51 weeks a year – talking about opportunities, tips, marketplace news and a peculiar fellowship of long standing business relationships among an eclectic and diverse collection of like-minded small business owners. I liked them and will, as they invited me, be back again.
My curiosity about the VP Business Club has turned into several follow-ups with members and I hope I'll do some business with them . . .
How does a born in London, Ontario boy, brought to Calgary with his family at the age of 4, overcome his childhood ambition to be a CFL quarterback like his idol Don Jonas? How does a lawyer (a professional keeper of client secrets), fit into a business club where exchanging business tips and leads in a round-table format where ‘here’s that information I spoke to you about’ fit in between ‘could you pass the pepper’ and ‘more coffee?’.
The business club was named VP for the motel restaurant where they used to meet when the club got started in 1985/86. Original members Brian Brindley and Manfred Merkel are still involved. Doug joined in 1994 when a lawyer he knew was leaving the club – so he took that spot. VP Business Club, as I had expected limits its membership to one-person/one-industry (currently 14 specialties represented, and looking for 18 more) structure. They are a not-for-profit, members fund the club through quarterly dues, enough to pay for weekly breakfasts, a Christmas party, a wine tasting and a small golf tournament each year.
Doing a piece on VP Business Club would be interesting – but, when I finally connected with Doug it quickly became apparent that the piece should be about him – a rare bird in this city o 1,500+ lawyers, a corporate one who is a sole practitioner, a fellow with no shortage of surprises.
For the purpose of this piece, I concentrate on the interesting thing I learned about Doug, his law practice and his interesting hobbies.
Why a business club for you Doug – what does it do for you?
… It is a networking opportunity. I’m not a big-firm guy, I don’t have a box for Flames games. Because of client confidentiality I can’t offer direct referrals the same way other members can – but we can exchange general business knowledge about our respective industries, I keep members apprised of developments in law. I find I develop strong business and personal bonds with fellow members.
Can you expand on why the sole-practitioner law practice works for you?
... U work with closely held companies, I help them grow. When I client needs a personal matter taken care of I’ll either help or refer it to someone else, just as I would a commercial matter which is outside my area of expertise.
What qualities do your clients look for in you, in your firm, that distinguishes you or sets you apart from your competitors?
. . . service, integrity, modest pricing, I steer clients to others when specialized expertise is needed. In my twenty years of practice, I think price has been a factor. My rates reflect the value of my services. Others, meaning the big firms, charge more because they have high overhead. With small business clients and start-ups, professional fees need to fit their ability to pay.
What qualities, looking back, have distinguished your preferred suppliers?
. . . easy to say honesty and integrity, but do they walk it? Big business talks a good story, but they don’t usually walk the talk. I respect them. Everybody makes mistakes, but how do they fix a mistake? I don’t fire a supplier over a mistake.
I asked Doug how he sees his market, in his business, over the next 90 days?
… no changes. In the law profession, technology and business practices have already been done, nothing I see on the horizon right now represents big change
. . . and over the next 5 years?
… trends toward in-house counsel, and for companies engaging more non-lawyer staff to do in-house work because it is more efficient – in the oil patch particularly, to have highly experienced staff to do work that. It’s about reducing costs, being efficient and tolerating in-house risks.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… nothing keeps me awake! But I worry about, am frustrated with … the political situation, the economy, the way the City of Calgary plans . . .
Regrets? Major influencing factors in your life?
. . . I haven’t had to face a big fork in the road – our lives may appear somewhat boring, but we’ve been fortunate. I relish the fact we’ve not had to face big troubles . . .
Work/life balance – what is at the core of it for you?
. . . we are (my wife is a psychologist) DINKS (double income, no kids) so we enjoy traveling. Favourites are Mexico, California and the Okanogan – Naramata in particular. A lot of those trips connect with our interest in wine.
Tell me more about the wine. Your eyes light up when you said that.
. . . we enjoy wine – the agriculture and the wine making and have focused on Canadian wines from the Okanogan in our collection. We enjoy those trips and getting together with friends - it is part wine and a large part social, taking trips, talking wine.
How big is your cellar?
. . . well stocked!
You look pretty skinny and have an athlete’s firm handshake. What is your fitness program?
. . . sports. Lots of sports. I love golf (15 handicap) but don’t focus on it alone. Volleyball, softball and football
Doug, aren’t you getting a little old to be playing football?
. . . I love football. You’d be surprised how many adults play flag football in Calgary. Flag football with full contact at the line. Teams, leagues, tons of fun.
What are you reading?
. . . The Canadian Law of Mining
. . . I have a client with an issue I needed to brush up on. I have so much business and legal reading to do I have very little time to read for pleasure
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