FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Jack McGowan
May 21, 2013
Learning about his most recent career move, to Calgary, as Business Manager in Calgary for Parsons Brinkerhoff’s Pivotal Projects division was entertaining. Part, his personality, part intriguing story, part driven by family values/needs. I think we are lucky to have him.
Jack McGowan’s path – from the village of Fankerton, Scotland, to Perth, Australia, Dubai, Qatar … to Calgary (he’s been here 18 months), as he describes it was not without a formal plan to get here, but certainly filled with purpose.
At first, our conversation seemed like a name-dropping festival - Gensler’s Ritz-Carlton DIFC, $500 million, Norman Foster’s 80 floor project, University of Dubai, Harvard Medical School ..etc.; the project list goes on and on – so, what led him here – a project manager with a bachelor of Applies Science (quantity surveyor) from Curtin University – when working with/for developers and with their star-chitects on massive projects in the middle east must have been so exciting, as it must be for anyone in the construction industry?
Project Management is interesting to me, but after spending some time with Jack, I found the personality/attitude far more fascinating to me than his work. He, of course, wanted to talk about his business first, but admitted after a couple of hours talking about himself that it was fun walking down memory lane and talking shop, discussing the buzz about new projects coming in Calgary.
Why Calgary, why now?
…. coming to Calgary reminds me of the Wizard of Oz, the move from black and white to colour. The middle east was great, but I was working in Qatar, my wife and daughters were in Dubai, my eldest was looking for a university (applied to 6, accepted by all 6), I was looking for challenges to match what I was working on. As we looked around the world, it was the UK or Canada we were considering. I’d had previous contact with Pivotal. When an opportunity came up to join them, to come here, it was an easy decision. We had visited Calgary before, in 2009 – to look around. Calgary was, for us, reminiscent of Perth in the 1980’s, rife with opportunities and entrepreneurial spirit. My wife Tracey is finishing a Nurse Practitioner program at U of C, one daughter is doing a double degree program (English and Communications) at U of C, my younger daughter is finishing up at Strathcona-Tweedsmuir before entering U of C to study Astrophysics this fall, I’m at Pivotal – we are all together, it’s fantastic.
Tell me about being a ‘temporary foreign worker’ in the middle-east?
…. It creates a vulnerability. Sure, a great way to get things done, and quickly – but losing a job there means you and your family have to leave the country on 30 days notice. Employers then, have huge power – not always wielded properly.
What would you describe is the most significant difference between your Australian and middle-east experience as compared to the construction and development industry in Canada, and in Calgary?
… the prevalence of scope-creep vs. making decisions about additional services. I have an ‘over-service and under-charge’ attitude – but the most striking thing I’ve seen in trying to exceed client’s expectations is that, in many instances, that their expectations were so low – conditioned by historical results. I come from a place where getting 10 out of 10 things right is the norm, or you’re out. Also, I see that things are easy here for contractors – insulated from a lot of risk because they’ve been allowed to be. We are in the accountability business, we work from a responsibility matrix.
You talk about Project Managers being at the per-design stage. Usually the project manager is hired after the project has been conceived, architects are putting lines on paper … so why engage Project Management so early?
…. at pre-design we bring our skills to the table in assessing viability, develop the RFP process to select the architect, define the scope … to give clients better tools – I’m a bit poacher turned game-keeper.
I asked Jack how he sees business over the next 90 days?
… exciting. We’ll have some announcements. There might be some global storm clouds on the horizon – bring it on!
. . . and over the next 5 years?
… meaty large projects, and smaller ones. As we say in Australia, ‘she’ll be right’.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life?
… my dad (supervisor with a concrete piling company) dying when I was 11. I was the only boy, youngest of 4 kids. Mom was at home. She remarried (to an Australian civil engineer) which is why we moved to Perth. Probably the most influence - an individual I met when I was 22. A colleague I worked for/with and then he worked for me, on-and off again, working together over 19 years. His coaching, irreverence . . .
What do you do for fun?
. . . I love golf. I love fly-fishing. We love winter! We haven’t taken up skiing yet – but we’ve done some snow-shoeing.
How are you building your team here?
. . . when I came to Calgary, we were 6. Now we are 21. Building a cool team around large projects . . . the way you raise a family – with a lot of love, and rules!
What are you reading?
. . I read sci-fi for fun. Last book, Game Of Thrones. I read a lot of management books – in part through my MBA program [EdithCowanUniversity, Perth), . I love the One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard.
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