FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kevin Ellis
February 25, 2014
When we met recently over soup and sandwich lunch – he was sure to brief me on his company’s full spectrum of services – geomatics, property tax, valuations, cost consulting – but I was more keen on who he is, what makes him go, and why he still wakes up with so much drive and energy …
His grandfather was a builder, his dad taught architecture, mom taught art and history. He was eight when his dad died. His younger sister became a chartered surveyor. Kevin made his own way, influenced his own decisions. He chose to study building economics (B.Sc. at BirminghamUniversity). A Professional Quantity Surveyor, he later did an MBA at IESE while working in Barcelona.
Kevin is Senior Director of an Altus Group division for western Canada. His business card says Senior Director – Cost Consulting & Project Management. He tells me there are lots more new projects happening in Winnipeg than I thought, and less competition in Saskatchewan and Manitoba than in Alberta right now. Kevin is involved in his Chartered Surveyor profession (RICS) and the business community through committee work at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
He played a lot of rugby (36 years). Semi-pro. He stopped at 42. Big guy, massive hands – but not a crushing handshake macho-guy type. Multi-lingual (English, Norwegian, Spanish). His passport has been all over the world and he’s learned to pack often and travel light. He has a 30 year old son from his first marriage – not close. He and wife Ave Peetri – marketing coach, have no children. They’ve both certainly done lots of travelling for work and pleasure. He says they have settled nicely here. They live in a downtown condo in Eau Claire.
Kevin Ellis was born in Hartlepool (oil industry & chemicals town)in NE, UK. Since graduating university, he’s been globe trotting. His impressive resume has many stops, as does his passport – he’s learned to not accumulate too much furniture because he’s moved so many times. He’s spent a lot of his life on airplanes – lived and worked lots in Norway and Spain where he picked up a love of the countries, learned the language. He’s started his career involved with oil industry projects in Norway, and then operations in Europe, Middle East, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and South America. Fluor Daniel, Norske Hydro, Currie & Brown, everything was wonderful. Increasing responsibility, travel, interesting project until the recession hit. Kevin said, “In 2008 we downsized quickly. Downsizing 1,000 staff – I didn’t have a nice day for 2 years”.
He’s been head-hunted – in 1994 to move to Barcelona to work for Currie & Brown. He left them in 2010, took 6 months off, joined Hill International – which took him to projects in London, Warsaw, a Waldorf-Astoria hotel project in Berlin with responsibilities for northern Europe. He re-met his second wife in 2010 in Spain (they had met socially 20 years earlier – and re-connected in Barcelona while enrolled in the same MBA program. Though they both travelled lots in their work, made ‘home-base’ Tallin, in Estonia where her family are located. They keep a permanent home there – a frequent vacation stop, and likely eventual retirement location. But it seems they both have lots of things on their agenda before that time comes …
Head-hunters came calling again in May 2012 with the message - 'come to Canada, come to Alberta, build a team, join Altus Group'. He said yes in August, and arrived in Calgary January, 2013. For Kevin it was, “back to basics, build a team, stop flying so much”. There is lots of work here – private and public sectors are very active with lots of quantity surveying to be done on projects. He sees growth organically and by acquisitions. Currently his team in Calgary (14), Edmonton (4) and Vancouver (20) have plenty on their plates but with plans for much more.
Kevin, welcome to Calgary!
I asked Kevin how he sees his industry is doing – his business outlook over the next quarter?
… significantly more activity. Government work and private work is ‘quite active’. More competition.
And over the next 5 years?
… some consolidation in our industry. Edmonton is coming on stronger – growth there. BIM (building information modeling) – people are getting on board, slowly. Much more prevalent in Europe, to drive efficiency.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… personalities, respect, sense of humour, honesty, honourable.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kevin Ellis / Altus, why do they do business with you, hire you, over your competitors?
... I get on well with people. Experience – there isn’t much I’ve not been through. I don’t keep people in the dark. I like working with people I like. No excuses.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… trying to keep balanced, healthy - spending time with my wife.
How would you describe your management style?
… I have a tool box of styles … formed from different situations, countries, roles. I try to mentor, to let people make mistakes. I would describe myself as fair and flexible – and I expect people to work hard.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… none really stand out. Small family. Resources, inherent skill sets. I’ve made my own decisions all my life. One might expect that my grandfather might have taken a more active role after my dad died, but he didn’t.
Work life balance?
… golf, mountain biking, gym 2-3 times a week, yoga. We cross-country ski. Meeting rugby people anywhere – always easy to get along with. Buchanan’s Bar.
What do you read?
… detective fiction, Jo Nesbø novels (I read them in English), Alice Munro short stories.
… Red Arrow to Edmonton a lot. I walk to work (our office is in the Beltline). We have a Subaru Outback. My wife loves it.
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