FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with George Mylonas
November 13, 2018
In the beginning – I had no idea who George was, he was simply an email address - a name who wrote from time to time in response to my columns or newsletters. Though our paths hadn’t crossed before I was curious. When I asked for this interview his response was hesitant and thoughtful, “lets have coffee and talk about it”. I persisted and he finally agreed, a bit reluctantly.
It was a breakfast meeting – yet very quickly it became apparent we needed to do the interview, or do a getting-acquainted breakfast, but to do both that morning would require far more time. We each checked calendars, turned our devices to silent and began an extraordinary morning. I left feeling engaged, informed and entertained. Consider that an endorsement that George Mylonas is a very engaging fellow, behind that big smile and genial charming manner is a powerful mind and intriguing guy … and fantastic story teller.
Born in Toronto, first of two sons (his brother is a Calgary cardiologist) of Greek immigrant parents. Mom, a seamstress. Dad worked in a meat packing house and sold shoes on weekends to make ends meet. Dad was entrepreneurial. He wanted to open a franchise restaurant. A lease dispute with Reichmans led to meeting Uncle Gus (Gus Boulis) who moved on to become Vice President at Mr. Submarine. Fast forward – a job in Calgary to ‘fix’ a Mr. Submarine store, moving the family to Calgary – and the Mylonas enterprise of Mr. Submarine restaurants fame throughout western Canada. And, they often acquired the real estate their stores occupied - and the family holdings grew.
Growing up in Calgary George tagged along with his dad, worked the till and learned every job in the restaurants. He spent many summers in Florida hanging with and working for Uncle Gus in restaurants and his casino boat businesses. George’s education continued in Calgary – regular school, Greek school on Tuesday nights, martial arts and restaurants on weekends, Ernest Manning and William Aberhart high schools (rugby, football, basketball, wrestling and then enrollment at University of Calgary. “School was fun”. Initial plans were 'pre-med', two brothers planning to practice together and start a clinic – but George liked business and hanging out with dad even more. Studies in Western European History and Math were his focus. George earned a B.A. in Economics while starting his first business – tutoring calculus to fellow students with, as it turned out, a hearty endorsement from his profs. Challenging exams without taking courses and being entrepreneurial afforded two things George was keen on – to not have his father pay for everything, and to spend time at the office with his dad - and spending summers in Florida learning at the elbow of Uncle Gus. He credits Uncle Gus for teaching him to see a piece of real estate, not as it is but as it could be – being a pivotal learning process for him which guides every project he looks at. And solidified his answer to “who does George Mylonas want to be when he grows up?”
Following university, involvement in the family business was inevitable and desired – George’s mission was to help expand Mylonas Enterprises with a 52 acre project west of Calgary [Westspring Farm]. The question of whether to sell, JV or develop was analyzed and the ‘best plan’ George recommended was development. Which they did. That went well and George quickly developed relationships with other developers and numerous home builders. These days his dad, Jim Mylonas, is Chairman and George is CEO. Landstar Communities is all George, and Mylonas Enterprises is ‘all family’.
It was on a family trip to Yakima, Washington that George first met Kelowna born Demetra - who he wooed while she was finishing her degree in Psychology at University of British Columbia and persuaded her to move to Calgary [they have been married 18 years and have 5 children].
Why are you successful? “because of the people I have working with me. I’ve learned how to treat people and mentor them so that they flourish. My success is a direct result of that philosophy. I love what I do, I look forward to waking up every morning. I love life, I have the right partner – my wife – and my father, my mother and my brother.”
What has held you back? “balancing out the right level in life - we start out so optimistically and as we age we get more conservative …”
How do you see your business – mixed use developers of inner-city land – going forward over the next quarter?
… really good actually. We have properties in various stages of development, some going through land use changes – some we’ll sell, some we’ll JV and some we’re developing ourselves.
And over the next five years?
… the landscape will be incredibly competitive – new competitors coming into our market. And customers are changing too, and increasing lifestyle trend to live, work, shop and access services in close proximity. And aging in place needs – where space is flexible and change as people’s needs change. I see smaller living units, smaller retail units to meet economic needs. We are pivoting towards specialty housing with services to better meet the needs of people losing choices and mobility and wanting a limited-service model. We feel there is a substantial unmet gap there …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… relationships are #1. We like to work with happy people who bring effectiveness and value – who are like minded. We are very low-key people and we celebrate and promote our people as well as our partners.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose George Mylonas, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… people see we are altruistic to our core values, they believe they can trust us and find we are great partners in good times and in tough times.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I don’t like a vertical driven organization. We have an office team of 5 – and it is much like a family working together, working with people who share a vision and purpose whether we are working or playing …
… I’m working on it! I had to make some changes last years, needed to be a ‘more present’ father …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… a Greek monk from Phoenix I first met when I was eight – Elder Efraim, I could talk to him about anything and he helped shape the way I look at things, someone who has helped me fine-tune my views, a sounding board; my father!; Uncle Gus expanded by vision of the world and business, taught me the value of vision and to ‘communicate to execute’; Randy and Shelly Mabbot – lawyers in Cochrane. Besides being a great legal team, they’ve given invaluable business advice when I was younger, they’ve challenged me to look at things in a different light, from a different viewpoint and reminded me of the necessity of focus.
… spending time with family and friends, meeting and listing to people ‘in the business’.
What do you read?
… business books – books + iPad, books on risk, people who are driven; I like Bill Gates’ book.
… 2015 Toyota Highlander – with a 3rd bench seat so I can carry the whole family.
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