FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Kevin Keyes
April 1, 2014
Who is he? What makes him tick? You’d think I would know by now …
I met Kevin Keyes shortly after I returned to Calgary 15 years ago – we were in sequential carts at the Colliers golf tournament. We did the round of handshakes and business card exchange. I asked who made real estate decisions at his firm (he was at Gowlings then). He answered, “I do”. Later that evening, at the silent auction, he bid on and bought ‘golf at Silver Tip with Mark Kolke’ – and then we made that trip, spent the day and we’ve been friends ever since.
He’s made a difference in my life, so I vouch for him … he’s the real deal. When I’ve had a problem in my life – he’s been frequent go-to guy. For life advice, he talks, he listens. For legal advice … he sends me a bill.
Swift to lend a hand, an ear or a shoulder - one of those folks who says, “if you need me, I’m here”, one who actually delivers. He shows up, when so many have not. He stands out like few people I’ve ever met. Happy to call him colleague, proud to call him friend, however pinning him down to do this interview became a running joke that only took 9 months to orchestrate time/place. Its gestation period was much longer, more like 15 years ~
Who are you?
Not so much a question about his beliefs as ‘what is the essence of him’?
He sidesteps that question. Not because he didn’t want to answer – but he struggled, not to be quick or flippant. “We are here on earth for a purpose. Mine is to prove I can work with the tools I’ve been given.” I probed, he revealed – not so much for publishing, but for explaining context – his experiences lately, and some from his early days in Mexico – making a difference in people’s lives. I get it.
He admits to having been confused. He found his conviction, his connection …
His adolescent desire to become a lawyer was rooted in his mom’s favourite TV show – Raymond Burr playing Perry Mason. He tells me it hasn’t worked out quite that way. “I wanted to be a tax lawyer. I learned the study of tax is much more interesting than the practice of tax”.
Distinguished career in his specialties – commercial real estate law, development and finance - born in Toronto, #2 of 5 siblings, mom was homemaker, dad a banker. Raised there and did high-school in small town Ontario. Top student, Bronze Medal. He was #3, but he dated both #1 and #2 (not at the same time….), played French horn well enough to play at Massey Hall with the all city band. Clarinet too. And piano. A two year mission for his church in Mexico. Met his wife Susan on a blind date in university 6 days after arriving. Married in 1977. Summer jobs in construction, undergrad at BYU, law degree and MBA at Dalhousie. Came to Calgary to article as a tax lawyer (Code Hunter – now Gowlings), in recent years moved to McCarthy Tetrault, then to his current billet, Partner at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. 3 children, 5 grandchildren. Golf handicap .. very high.
He gives his time – lots of it. When I first met him I learned two important things. First, he is almost always late. Second, he talks a lot, can easily analyze and explain the deepest nuances of any 100 word concept in 5000 words – because he is almost always the smartest guy in the room. In a scrap, I want this guy on my side. It seems his greatest talents are for avoiding scraps by doing extraordinarily complex work extraordinarily well.
We’ve collaborated on some projects, been shoulders to lean on now and then and written/edited/conference-called ourselves way beyond reasonable fatigue levels into the wee hours and done a couple of all-nighters when deadlines loomed. These sorts of experiences, get us close, I think, to understanding people from their inside out.
While I’ve learned many things about Kevin over a long time – there was still much unexplored territory to cover in this interview. I know lots of details, know his work, know the role his family and church life (he’s a Bishop in the Mormon church)play in his life, have socialized with him and Susan. He drives straight and fast (on the highway) and drives not so straight (on the golf course).
I’m fascinated by what makes people tick.
OK, maybe I’m more fascinated by what makes highly accomplished successful people tick. Add to that – nice guy, good citizen, kindness, decency, firm, tough, generous and very busy. Very very busy. How does he do it? Saturdays are for family, Sundays are for church – so how does he put in 60-80 hours between Monday and Friday? Ridiculous hours, but I often know where to find him at 2AM.
His faith? “A big part of my outlook, perspective on life – central to who I am and where I fit.”
The future? “I love my job. I go through life with a buoyant attitude. I don’t have a current retirement plan. Spending more time in Mexico – I can work from there.”
I asked Kevin how he sees law business … his area of specialty in particular, over the next quarter?
... lots of interesting work, clients are optimistic, everyone is busy.
And over the next 5 years?
... increasingly competitive, more process oriented, better managed.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… honest and reliable, people I enjoy working with.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Kevin Keyes, why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… they trust me and I have a lot of experience. I get the job done.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I don’t get much sleep – so when I hit the pillow I am gone. I do worry about family and friends – health issues.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad was a big influence, and my wife Susan has been very supportive. Moving to Calgary in 1983 was an important decision for us – and the best thing we could have done. A mentor for many years, Barry Emms – he observed I wasn’t happy – brought me on to a new file in 1985 – development of Bankers Hall. I’ve had lots of mentors – tried to take some good from everybody. Harold Milavsky (my first file in my first job was a tax file – his).
… not really – everyone has flaws; I have had a lot of good mentors and people whom I admire.
Work life balance?
… I love my job. I’m very involved with my church and I ski with my family. Badminton, basketball. I like to travel. Photography. Often go to Mexico to scuba dive, golf and read a book. We have a couple of rental condos and shared ownership of a home just south of Playa del Carmen. The secret to staying young is playing with my grandkids.
What do you read?
… Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath – his books make me think in new ways.
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