FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Gabby Franco
November 29, 2016
Gabby Franco and I crossed paths a few times many years ago at BOMA functions but we never got ‘fully acquainted’. Well, now we are – and it was a ton of fun. And we swapped some great stories …
Mall rat. You’ve all heard that term – and he was one. In Manila. A few short years later, he was managing that mall. Then he came to Canada, rose up the ranks in property management working for companies that are all household names in our industry, becoming President of BOMA Calgary. Fast-forward a few career-chapters later, he’s bouncing between Calgary and Beijing – working for BOMA China, and helping/advising Chinese investors instituting North American practices, scouting for investments. Mall rat no longer …
The tale of Gabby (Gabriel) Franco begins two generations ago when the Philippines were a Spanish colony. When it became an American protectorate, his grandparents chose not to repatriate to Spain. Gabby was born in Manila, number three of four sons. His mother was a homemaker, dad was a lawyer by training who worked as a purchasing manager for a Spanish conglomerate. He speaks Spanish, English and Filipino. Schooling, K-12 in Manila. “I wanted to be a pilot – and my dad wanted me to go to university! Good thing I took dad’s advice because my vision wasn’t good enough to be a pilot.” Gabby earned a B.Sc. in Business Administration from LaSalle University and an MBA from the Asian Institute of Management (a JV school between LaSalle and Harvard). Following graduation he needed a job – and that shopping mall he knew every corner of as a mall rat became his employer thanks to a connection between his brother and the owner. From 1977 to 1982 he rose to be offered the top job, managing a 1.2 million sq. ft. property. He earned a CSM accreditation from ICSC. But, it was the Marcos era … Married with two children with ambitions to move to the United States he found there was going to be a long waiting process of possibly 10 years. “America was full! So, we thought about coming to Canada. I submitted the form but got a standard ‘decline’ . A friend’s wife worked at the Canadian Consulate and submitted my medical and additional forms. Because I was already ‘out of pocket’ for getting my medical they bent the rules. It was only $50 but that made the difference. That, and the power of positive thinking!”
They came to Canada and chose Calgary – he had a cousin here who was teaching at the University of Calgary who hosted him, his wife and two children. After three weeks not finding work, they set out for Vancouver where Gabby built a network, took a course in how to find a job – and got one. He managed the Fraser River Market. After two years, they returned to Calgary where Gabby built a step-by-step career/reputation managing commercial properties: Horton Road buildings for Herb Styles, Scotia Centre for Trizec, Knowlton Realty, and Asset Management roles for CBRE, Torode, Mannix Companies, ATCO-Frontec, Bentall, Stantec, University of Calgary, Standard Life … and a few others I left out – a who’s who of the industry. While with Trizec he got involved with BOMA and served as President of BOMA Calgary 1997-99.
It would be simplistic to say: divorced, grown kids, remarried to Janet Jessiman – and ‘sort of retired’, but the story isn’t over.
Bill Partridge of BOMA introduced Gabby to Dominic Lau who was setting up BOMA in China. An exploratory trip on some vacation time while he was still with Standard Life opened his eyes to opportunities and introductions. He has presented courses and provided consulting services – 14 trips and many ‘How-to Workshops’ later, he observed, “They don’t know what they don’t know! At one seminar I did - afterwards I spoke with one of the attendees - Director of Jiaming Investment Group”. It seems one thing led to another, a proposal – and a one-year contract followed. Followed by a two-year assignment. Gabby and Janet still have their home in Calgary and will now be spending just one month each quarter in Beijing and more time in Calgary. Gabby’s business card for Jiaming Investment Group says ‘Advisor to the President’ – and he tells me his advice is listened to and that the company is very progressive – first owner in China to have a building accredited by BOMA and first to have competed in the International TOBY awards. They have a portfolio of office buildings in Beijing, investment interests in Hudson Yards in New York and are exploring for opportunities …
Why are you successful? “My attitude. I had a chip on my shoulder – couldn’t get a job and I was out to prove I was better than the others. I got my accreditations – CSM, RPA. I wanted to have bullet-proof credentials. I had to prove myself.”
What has held you back? “Lack of capital. If my dad had been a crook, or if I had wanted to be, I’d have had a lot of money – but I have no regrets about that.”
How do you see your business – asset management consultant – going forward over the next quarter?
… excellent, amazing, and it’s fun!
And over the next five years?
… spending less time in China, and more time here assisting Jiaming with their business interest in North America.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… when it comes to goods – reliability and price. When it comes to people, it is totally about attitude.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Gabby Franco, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’ll separate my answer; in Canada – I have an entrepreneurial outlook, and I’ve been trained to make money for my employers and I understand business. In China – I’m playing a different kind of role. Honesty. I have the insight and attitude toward them based on that I have things to teach them and they are eager to learn.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m participatory – I want everyone to have a voice and share ownership in what we are doing. This was a big shock to people I work with in China because they are used to a top-down approach.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… the NDP.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad. As straight an arrow as you can find and I followed his advice and example. Corruption is rampant in the Philippines – it was a corrupt society, which is why I wanted to leave. And three guys named Gary. Gary Shepp at Trizec, Gary Aggett at Standard Life and Gary Zhang at Jiaming – all have been very influential players in my career.
… there is so much to explore – a city of 23 million. You’ve heard of geo-caching? We do beer-caching, exploring micro breweries. I’ve written a book – coming out soon, “You call it what?” I’m self-publishing ... it’s a fun illustrated book.
What do you read?
… non-fiction mostly, current events, industry publications. When I read fiction I like Ken Follett, Wilbur Smith.
… 2013 Toyota Tundra. I don’t drive in Beijing – the company provides me with a car (Audi) and driver.
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