FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Gerry Chipeur
April 19, 2016
I first met Gerry Chipeur in 2001, helping his firm find office space – and since then I’ve been an observer. He has been high profile in his work and his politics – doing work for Reform, Alliance and Conservative parties here and as Chairman of ‘Republicans Abroad Canada’ during the George W. Bush years. He knows and supports Ted Cruz, so I knew our conversation would be lengthy and entertaining – and it was.
He describes himself as libertarian, an exponent of small government which doesn’t intrude on the lives of its citizens. His first election campaign was in 1972. In California, he was in the 6th grade, campaigning for Nixon.
While he began his legal career as a securities lawyer, these days he describes himself as: health lawyer, education lawyer, election lawyer, conflict-of-interest lawyer and public accountability lawyer. Is he shy, modest? Not really …
Lobbyist lawyer and litigator, marathoner, never takes time off, political animal, dual citizen, Saskatchewan farm boy, U of A grad, Edmontonian, Calgarian. And he speaks Republican – which is not the only reason I wanted to interview him now-abouts, but partly – and he knows Heidi and Ted Cruz, whom he met during the Bush years.
Born in Walla Walla, Washington, first of three children, his mother (American) a nurse, his father (Canadian) a science teacher. The family moved a lot – Bellingham and Meridan, Washington, North Dakota, Stockton, California and a family farm near Yorkton, Saskatchewan. His dad’s roots stretched back to Poland – with relatives settling first in Ontario in 1858, then moving to Saskatchewan. The spelling of the family name is Szczypior (Polish word for chives).
Gerry’s schooling took him to a 7th Day Adventist boarding-school, now called Burnham University, in Lacombe, AB. He met his wife Barbara there (she’s a dentist in Calgary, they have two grown children). University began at Concordia College in Edmonton in a University of Alberta transfer program, and he did his law degree there too. His grades were good and summer jobs with Edmonton Parks and Recreation funded it. Or, as his teacher wife said when she changed careers, “I became a teacher to put you through law school.” His work in Edmonton with Milner & Steer (now Dentons) morphed to a Calgary situation when the firm merged with Fenerty Robertson. And a dental practice came on the market about the same time, so a happy move for the whole family. He left the firm to start his own, grew it and then sold/merged his practice to take up a Partner role with an awesome corner office view at Miller Thomson, January, 2007.
In closing he offered a thought on truth – a bit of personal philosophy I really liked and that will stick with me. “Is it the truth if nobody understands it, or hears it, or remembers it?”
Why are you successful? “I’ve run successful things. My daughter has taught me a new perspective on success. I’m successful at what I do. Nothing moves me off a goal.”
What has held you back? “I have no regrets. I’ve never considered myself held back.”
We digressed on politics, lots of entertaining ‘off-record’ comments on Trump, Clinton, Rubio et al. It was a great visit …
How do you see your business – administrative (in a proper sense, he adds) law – going forward over the next quarter?
… I’m very busy! In terms of our firm, particularly in Calgary, better (ish) than last year, and that’s not from insolvency work. Governments, to my chagrin, are growing and that makes for more rules, more regulations, more administrative law work.
And over the next five years?
… much the same on the litigation side. Tax law will become busier and real estate law will become more commoditized (we may go the way of Scotland – conveyancing will be done by real estate firms rather than law firms). As a firm we will, I expect, become more global in our services and relationships – to keep pace with our clients who are doing business on a global basis more than ever.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… #1 factor is convenience. I like to think I always buy the very best – but on sale! Though I believe profit is a sign of good business, I am frugal, but I go after the best. Best services. Best goods. Best people.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Gerry Chipeur, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... they see I am prepared to be more creative and I’m prepared to use all the tools in my bag so I’m able to come up with solutions that may not have occurred to others. And, I can find or provide the services they need better than anyone else.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… light-handed, not a task master. I’m good at delegating and inspiring others, giving them help to do more. I push people more than they expect, but I’m not a micro-manager.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… nothing! My personality doesn’t worry. I don’t take my clients’ problems home with me.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Tom Wakeling (mentor) taught me ‘you are what you want to become’ has helped me with every major decision along the way. I had no idea growing up, what a lawyer did, but I wanted to be one. My dad wasn’t keen – he didn’t have a good view of lawyers.
… running (he’s done the New York Marathon several times), travel, bike tour holidays in other countries.
What do you read?
… I love the law, public policy case reading. Right-to-die literature. Grisham novels. Historical fiction.
… bus, walk, Car-to-go. My wife drives a VW Touareg and we keep a BMW X5 at our condo in Victoria.
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