FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with John Kenny
June 18, 2019
I’m mostly interested in what makes people tick – and the answers are usually rooted in how they grew up, where their roots are. Most often my first interview question is, “So tell me, where were you born?”
In the case of my recent interview with John Kenny, that was my third question.
Answers to my first two questions were, “No, I’m not related to Jason Kenny”, and “Yes I was co-founder of Solium Capital but I was bought out of that company in 2002”.
Born in Montreal, John is 2nd youngest of five children. Mom stayed home raising those children while dad worked his way from dock worker to Purser on a passenger ship (he met John’s mom when in port in St. John), and rising to and finishing his career as VP of Acquisitions with Canadian Pacific.
John’s competitive life began in childhood, one of five kids; “we were not well off”. John obtained a B.Comm in Marketing and Finance from Concordia University and moved to Calgary after graduation because most of his family had moved west. Arriving here in 1983, recession in progress, John worked in manual labour, cleaned carpets, did landscape work and repossessed cars until he landed a job with Wood Gundy as a stock broker in Red Deer before returning to Calgary three years later, where he began a 13 year stretch with Dominion Securities (now RBC) - before starting Solium Capital along with Mark Van Hees.
Along the way, two marriages. A short one didn’t work. A second marriage to Deirdre which did. They’ve been together 26 years and have three children. And he’s evolved into a self-described ‘serial fly-fisherman’.
My curiosity about Solium’s early days produced glowing comments from John. He says stories of Solium [Solium was recently sold to Morgan Stanley for $1.0 billion] being hatched on the back of a napkin aren’t true. Their pitch was first made to RBC and then other financial institutions to back what he believed was a much needed tool for companies to better manage their stock option and share purchase data – a change of how things were done was needed, software was the key – but their efforts to get support proved difficult in a time when ‘enterprise software’ wasn’t a common term. The value wasn’t apparent, apparently, so intrepid partners started anyway …
An initial Solium staff of two (Kenny and Van Hees) soon grew to 10-15. As quickly and well as the company grew, the 2001 dot-com bubble was impacting the market and, “we didn’t raise enough money”. As often happens when new investors come in, founders move on. Solium stock in hand, John took a few months off, had back surgery, and resumed his brokerage career with Canaccord Capital. After nine years there he was restless again. He joined Mackie Research where he spent five years helping that firm grow until he grew restless again. John founded Link Investment Management Inc. in 2015. He admits to enjoying ‘the building role’ in companies more than the ongoing managing …
Again, time off – lots of fishing, but boredom set in. In October, 2018 a new venture – Yr Plans Inc., to provide tools to help employers in recruiting and retaining employees – a program to have employers assist their hires dealing with student debt. The goal, to help employers create a superior program/benefit for their employees which aids them in employee retention.
Why are you successful? John’s initial answer was “I have great friends and family” – but I wanted more than that, and believe there was more. … “I’ve been given a lot of great opportunities and I’ve created a lot of applications – saw the great example and role model of my dad starting on a dock in Quebec at 17. Core values, a work ethic from my parents. They never missed an event when we were kids, and they taught me the value of giving back.”
What has held you back? “Not much of anything has held me back. Maybe my Irish temper when I was young – or maybe I should have been held back more!”
How do you see your business – “workplace solutions to provide youth with better financial options + a workplace benefit so employers can better recruit and retain talent” – going forward over the next quarter?
… we are a start-up; we are beta-testing with early-adopter clients. It sounds like a simple program, but there is a lot of complexity.
And over the next five years?
… demographics is going to drive a lot of what we do. The benefits industry is very complex – and there are so many changes in how we employ people, business is changing globally – millennials and gen Y people are going to reflect different dreams, lifestyles and career and retirement plans than Boomers do/did!
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I go to subject matter experts – and I listen to their advice. I ask, do I need it – or just want it? Does it serve our purpose and fit our budget? You have to trust people to make decisions.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose John Kenny, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I’ve always been trustworthy – and I’m solutions oriented. I’ve found interesting people to work with and to work for. And all my friends and clients are people I find to be really interesting.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m a bit demanding. I would describe myself as inclusive – but if people want a seat at the table they better come with questions or a contribution to a solution. And I’m very proud of what they’ve done …
… I’m a recovering workaholic. I don’t put in the hours I used to – and I have a lot of hobbies, so the best answer is – I’m getting better …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I sleep very well. I worry about things I expect most people do – the environment, the political landscape and about our kids.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my partner Mark Van Hees in the founding of Solium; we have very complementary skills and worked well together; my wife Dierdre – she’s been rock-solid as a partner in life and in my work. Family and close friends have been important. I don’t have a lot of friends, but those I have are a good fit and influence on my life.
… fly fishing. Fly fishing, playing guitar with a garage band, love to cook, shooting hoops – hanging out with family; we are huge Raptor fans! AND, I’m developing an APP for fly fishing …
What do you read?
… books rather on devices. I’m a John Grisham-type novel fan.
… 2011 Jeep Wrangler – it takes me wherever I need to fish …
FACILITYCalgarynewsletters may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without prior written permission. All rights reserved. PLANDflex Corporation - http://plandflex.com