FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Hannes Kovac
December 16, 2014
Perhaps you’ve heard of Hannes before?
Rappelling down a Sun Life Plaza tower for fun and to raise money for Easter Seals or placing an ad in the paper offering a large reward for return of his dog might be where and when you’ve read about Hannes Kovac. He’s well known in commercial real estate circles – quite the fashion-forward man about town … he’s President & CEO at OPUS Corporation.
But who is he? What is the story? Will he open up …?
I got the welcome tour at his new building in Britannia on Elbow Drive – we walked through some construction and then adjourned for a lunch-time visit. He loves sushi, but since I don’t he suggested Cilantro’s. I got my carbs, and lots of meat …
His origins: born in Graz Austria. First born of three children. His name is Hannes Primus Kovac IV (his first son is Hannes Primus V) in accordance with family naming tradition. Mom was a homemaker, dad (trained as a lawyer) just as his father before him was an entrepreneur. Businesses and real estate were family tradition. Hannes was focused on school, travel, sports, adventure and a little business on the side along his way.
He might have been a priest – he attended seminary from grades 5-12; he says it was a good school. He went to Karl Franzens University in Graz. His initial field of study in kinesiology didn’t take, so law became his focus. Though he took away a law degree, he’s never practiced. Between terms and after graduation he was often found in Club-Med and similar locations teaching wind-surfing (Greece, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia), importing beer and having fun. He studied international criminal law at the University of Antwerp.
Coming to Canada was a family crossroads. His father brought the family to Canada and invested in real estate here at the same time Hannes was entering a university at home. Later, after his family had returned to Austria, Hannes struck out for Canada to learn about real estate – landing in first in Kitchener-Waterloo, then he went to Vancouver to work with CanReal.He took Urban Land courses at UBC. Laid-off in 1997, he was looking for a job and had no appetite for going home to Austria with his tail between his legs. A job offer with OPUS Building Corporation in Calgary was declined (he preferred Vancouver weather). He went to work for them in Vancouver instead. Principals Willard Olausen and Joe Shannon 'worked on him' ... and soon Calgary was home, his role ‘Assistant to the President’, then VP Operations in 2000, and President & CEO in 2006. In 2009 he bought the operations, the brand – and current OPUS Corporation was born. He describes it as a services company – developer, builder, property manager. He wouldn’t divulge more; he admitted two-thirds of properties managed are for others, with the balance owned in whole or in part by Kovac family members. “In terms of business volume, we are 20 times as large as we were in 2009. We manage 750,000 sq. ft. of property. We do good work at a fair price.” Hannes and wife Martha have three sons (8, 10 and 12).
What has contributed most to your success?
“99% my background and upbringing – my dad and a great family. The right values. Being forward, working hard. And following my dad’s advice to leave a little on the table, don’t be greedy.”
What has held you back?
“Insecurity. Listening to advice when I needed to trust my gut.”
He admits that part of his drive – always wanting more, is to show his success to his dad, for his dad to be proud of him. In closing ... Hannes added, “success is if you are happy, healthy and still married.”
I asked Hannes how he sees his businesses – construction and property management services; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… going to soften due to lower oil prices. I don’t expect growth in 2015.
And over the next five years?
… our cycles seem to be getting shorter, and more extreme. The question is, how fast will we recover? Bigger and faster than you might expect …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… first, I have to decide if there are reasons not to do business with them. Loyalty depends on performance. Can I trust them?
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Hannes Kovac and OPUS Corporation, why do they do business with you?
… trust. Relationships. Straight shooter. We don’t advertise. All our business comes from referrals, word of mouth.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… informal. We have a family-like, rally-the-troops, atmosphere. Transparent. I like to tell stories rather than give advice.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I’m usually worry-free. There is a fine line between being out of touch and denial.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad. Family values. Hard working. I fought with him! … getting laid-off in Vancouver. My dog Rocco (a lab) died in March. I cried a lot then.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… absolutely not!. I’m very active. Can’t sit still.
… family, sports, travel. Water skiing, scuba diving, mountain biking. Downhill ‘out-of-bounds’ skiing in Fernie. In terms of fitness, I do something every day. My body is showing signs of abuse …
What do you read?
… newspapers – three every day (Herald, Globe, NY Times), European newspapers on-line. I like Malcolm Gladwell’s books.
… BMW X3, Honda Odyssey, BMW convertible, Volvo wagon – with young kids and our family lifestyle the activity and destination determine which vehicle we take.
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