I knew a little but wanted to learn more. I called him up, asked for an interview and a very busy guy graciously made time for me:
We met in a boardroom which is a bit of an art-gallery of projects, site plans and drawings of current and future developments - our discussion was free wheeling, relaxed and very open. And there was laughter. I asked Doug what has contributed most to his success. He replied, “It’s best to take the high road. I never burn bridges, mutual respect, and I’m a hard worker.” He adds, “I also take work with me on vacation.” What has held you back? “Underestimating my own ability. I’m a bit cautious.” Let's say he keeps a low profile. In the world of commercial real estate – development in particular – people with a high profile within the industry tend to keep a low profile. Doug Porozni is no exception.
Where did it all begin? Born in Edmonton, mom was an office manager/property manager for Ralph MacMillan (Edmonton Properties), dad an accountant. In high school, at Bonnie Doon, his football coach (Doug was in the backfield) was legendary Edmonton Eskimos Johnny Bright. Entry to the Commerce faculty at University of Alberta for his first year (he didn’t find it challenging enough) led to an invitation to switch to economics. Which he loved! He earned a B.A. (Hons.) in Economics, then an M.A. as well (he played flag-football - "we weren't very good"). Doug has a younger brother. He married at twenty-one and set out with wife Liz, a psych nurse, to find his way in the Canadian foreign service in Ottawa.
Prospects of being posted to an un-glamorous country together with Liz having trouble finding work because she didn’t have French soon saw the Porozni’s back to Edmonton.
But not before something pivotal happened. One day when Doug was sitting in the House of Commons gallery during question period – he notices and introduced himself to Bill Yurko (Minister of Housing in the Lougheed government), which led to an interview with Peter Lougheed and then employment as Yurko’s executive assistant. After Yurko stepped down, Doug stayed on to work for his successor in that ministry, Tom Chambers. Work in development, training in economics – one step led to another and the private sector beckoned. Doug adds, “Politics didn’t interest me. I learned, don’t procrastinate and don’t be afraid to speak your mind”.
Doug’s career in the private sector that began with NuWest, taught him that with big risks come big rewards – and that you reap what you sow. Then came the NEP (National Energy Program). Doug recalls – and I think he shuddered a bit when he told me – being at the Palliser Hotel for a dinner where Marc Lalonde spoke and announced the NEP. Yikes. Not a great time in our history. Doug’s post-NEP work (the bank shut down the division of NuWest where he was working), involved some consulting work, home-building, and then big challenges in office leasing working for Oxford in Edmonton, then work-out issues on their Eau Claire projects. When Jon Love moved to Toronto in 1990, things weren’t the same, so Doug moved over to Qualico where he built the commercial division in Calgary and Edmonton. He met the principals of Ronmor on a joint-venture deal that never materialized … and then they came calling with an offer to join Ronmor. That was fourteen years ago …
I asked, what does Ronmor mean? “It’s just a name. It used to be a consortium of three families' holdings – Libin, Zivot, Papirny – but now it is Zivot and Papirny. And, since I’ve come on board I’m involved in an equity position as well. The Libin family is still involved in some properties, but not on new projects we are doing now.”
Any regrets? “If I have one regret – it would be that I didn’t leave (Oxford, Qualico) sooner to do my own thing.”
I asked Doug how he sees his business – and real estate developers/holding companies generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… very strong. Though, I’ve never been able to predict when we’ll have a soft spot. Looking back, 2000 and 2008, were just blips.
And over the next five years?
… Our industry is changing – less fragmented. Low interest rates are making things possible that would not otherwise be … I see barriers to entry – fewer players. The City of Calgary is reducing suburban growth. They are forcing new growth in mixed use as urban vs. suburban growth. Over the long haul I don’t believe the notion that suburban growth doesn’t pay for the city. For Ronmor, we’ve been partnering on developments – we do the commercial and someone else does the residential. Going forward, we are going to be doing it all ourselves. That’s new and not yet widely known.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… transparency, truth, quality. Are they competitive? Reasonable prices – everybody should win.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Doug Porozni, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I do what I said I would do. I don’t try to oversell myself. Word of mouth.
How would you describe your leadership style?
...I’m not a micro-manager, but probably too serious. We don’t have a lot of down time.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I sleep. I’m concerned our city’s policies contribute to Calgary pricing ourselves out of the market to some degree, especially for young families starting out – and we are losing them to other jurisdictions. As long as we are uncompetitive, other communities are going to eat our lunch.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Jon Love and Bill Yurko were great mentors, and my current partners – Mark Zivot and Lorne Papirny, have taught me a lot. I’ve learned a lot from younger people – we can learn a lot from them. Business heroes/influencers, Armand Hammer, Ray Kroc. Dale Carnegie. On the negative side, I learned a lot from our fight with the Southerns when we were developing Silverado.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… Yes. I’d like to golf more and travel more. We have two grown children, two grandchildren. Time at our place in Maui (6-8 weeks a year) and our place in Invermere. We go to Europe every second year.
… I’ve been involved in the K-100 running group for 22 years. Wake boarding. Wind surfing. Skiing. Golf.
What do you read?
… biographies, Business Week, Bloomberg. Non-fiction. History. I loved history in university.
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