FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Karen Barry
July 5, 2016
She describes herself as an opportunist. “And, I wanted to be recognized for the work I’d done.”
Her two kids nearly grown, weathered a divorce and a few career-altering paths and hiccups since we last worked together. My challenge? Blend friendly with fair, objective/critical … interviewing a friend, a colleague, a competitor – always challenging. And, I believe most people who know Karen Barry very well would call her just that: challenging. No shrinking violet, while she’s got bruises and war-stories of banging the underside of a glass ceiling in a once male dominated industry (it’s still very male-heavy) – she’s probably more deal-hound than rebel, more practical and strategic than crusader. But if you linger over an extra glass or two of lemonade, she may rant a little, call a spade an instrument of excavation …
She’s mellowed, some, but not slowed. She’s got a book coming out this fall. Watch for it: Skyscraper Shatter The Glass Ceiling (she describes it as a book about courage; her former colleagues can relax – all the names have been changed). One marriage, one divorce, two kids, two businesses – and many passions.
And she has roots, influences and - like most of us, a zig-zag path. Born in Toronto, Catholic family, she’s youngest of five daughters (they all own their own businesses). Mom was a homemaker – then seller of antiques. Dad was an alcoholic chain-smokin’ stockbroker. Parents split when she was 11, divorced when she was 13. Dad got sober. Growing up? “We were poor. We had a nice home, no heat!”. Karen graduated from Leaside High in Toronto – then took the opportunity to explore. Amsterdam, bar-tending, returned to Toronto and worked/went to school. She got her B.A. (English) from York University. She worked in personnel biz in Brampton – dealt with industrial customers, got interested in their real estate, got a job in the assessment office, did post-grad work at York toward her A.A.C.I. appraisal designation, got into real estate brokerage and moved to Calgary in 1994 when her husband got transferred here.[I’ve fast-forwarded that portion; suffice to say she navigated a bumpy road].
She enjoyed considerable success in industrial leasing, sales and investment sales in Toronto, and in Calgary. She credits her early sales days as “getting acquainted with asking really good questions”. Curiosity. Drive. Survived. She returned from mat-leave at Colliers (her 10th anniversary plaque on her desk, still unwrapped), departed, spent five years at Cushman, re-org/conflict .. “nothing good comes out of the corner office”. About that time her marriage ended – joint custody of kids, time off for ‘personal work’, writing and exploring why she was ‘obsessed with success’. She ‘parked’ her license, then explored some job offers – set up her own firm in 2007, completed her A.A.C.I. designation, joined the Calgary Real Estate Board, got involved in an executive role in the Canadian Real Estate Association, travelled lots, took courses – and today heads a team of eight (three agents, two appraisers, two programmers + Karen, the broker).
Why are you successful? She fidgeted a bit – uncomfortable with the question, perhaps awkward admitting to that label – “Curiosity. I want to know. I can identify a goal, I can write it down, I manifest that goal, and miraculously that goal happens. And there is always so much work yet to be done …”.
What has held you back? “Absolutely nothing!”
How do you see your business – commercial real estate brokerage and appraisal business – going forward over the next quarter?
… the investment market is very flat – going to remain that way for at least the next 12 months. We’ve been riding a bull-run for 20 years! We’re in uncertain times – and people tend to hold what they have to maintain their income.
And over the next five years?
… the future of brokerage will favour those organizations who are working on the aggregation of big-data, and adapting …
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… Oy, I don’t pay retail! Seriously, I’m ‘beyond loyal’. I like to look at things from many angles before I make a decision on an acquisition, on people too. I like to surround myself with people who are interested in being the best at what they select to do because they have passion for what they do.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Karen Barry, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… excellence is the subtle difference between good and great. We are.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… it depends. Fair business practices. Deal with me fairly, and I’ll deal with you fairly. Collaborative. I don’t lead by committee. I’m not a ‘want it done by committee’ kinda gal.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… journaling in the middle of the night used to help – because my brain was going at high speed.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… an ah+ha moment when I began the work to ‘start my own firm’, doing public speaking (in front of the whole school) in the third grade, being an Altar Girl (we had a dress code!). In grade seven, selling chocolates for fund-raising – I was the top seller because I figured out how to win. Most significantly, obtaining my degree – while on academic probation – while working full-time and as a full-time student. And a movie, ‘The Way of the Peaceful Warrior’.
… cycling (mountain bike), garage sales (can’t drive by one without stopping) – I always find a treasure. Golf (I’m the handicap!).
What do you read?
… not much fiction. Reading People by Jo-Ellen Dimitrius, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
… depends on the weather. On a nice day like today, my rag-top Porsche Carrera. Otherwise, BMW 335XI. In snow, my Lexus 4x4. I don’t know the years – bought them all used.
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