FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Laura Newcombe
January 5, 2021
This is ‘part two’ of my interview of twins – as many of us in the property management and BOMA communities, like me, have known them and worked with them because they did an extraordinary job-sharing role in our industry for many years – but to suggest they lead near-identical lives would be a simple but incorrect assumption; recently I published an interview of Noreen Music, and today I offer you my conversation with ‘the other half’ of a very dynamic duo …
I met Laura Newcombe (Spier) in my early days back in Calgary in 1999 – when ‘the twins’ joined our judging panel for the BOMA Building of the Year Awards program I chaired then.
I began our interview, as I usually do, with, “Where were you born?” and “Tell me about mom and dad?”
Laura’s story began as a twin to Noreen in Calgary – stay-at-home mom was a nurse and very accomplished artist working in weaving and stained glass; dad, a structural engineer, and three older sisters rounded out the family picture. Laura summarizes her memories of growing-up years in Lincoln Park and her days at Central Memorial high as “very stable, good student, interested in social life, drama club, not an athlete, and enjoyed hanging out with older people.”
She gained early acceptance at the University of Calgary due to excellent grades – entering the arts faculty where she earned her B.A. in Psychology, focusing on mediation work; no doubt a good grounding for a career in property management where people skills and problem-solving are so critical …
Back to the post-school stage … she didn’t see a carer in counselling or practice as a psychologist as the route for her – with mediation being her more vital interest. “I loved the magic of seeing people learning they have more in common than not getting along. Maybe, because I’m a twin, I was better prepared for people-realities and compromise in adult life. I wanted a job where I could use my skills.”
After a year off, her first job in Tenant Relations at Trizec Properties allowed her to put those skills to the test. Progressive increases in responsibilities, her mentor James Midwinter – work at Bankers Hall and her real industry career continued to thrive there …
Like most working moms – there is a break/family raising period, and in the case of the twins, a twist or two in the road. Laura married Gene Newcombe, a police officer, and they have two now-adult daughters.
Back to the career – a brainstorm with her sister led to a proposal put to Margaret Dreher at O&Y Property Management, at first declined, and then she relented – which began a seven-year run of job sharing and child-caring as the twins took care of each other’s children while alternating their work schedules in a single role. And then – back to full-time work, as Sr. Property Manager, Gulf Canada Square for Brookfield Properties – and the staying in that role when control of the property went to GWLRA in December 2007; then to Director of Property Management, Calgary Region in 2018 responsible for two downtown towers and suburban properties. She characterizes the process of tenancies in property management as being similar to couple-dynamics, “The Leasing phase is like dating and courtship, Property Management is the marriage, and you always hope it doesn’t end in divorce.”
Why are you successful? “It’s pretty simple – I feel, no matter what I’ve done, I live my truth – honestly, with integrity, feeling intentional, and living honourably. That’s it, no magic tricks.”
What has held you back? “I know, early on in my career, I held myself back sometimes with self-doubt, wondering if I was enough …”
How do you see your business – property management – going forward over the next quarter?
… this is a very challenging time, and with high vacancy and many companies having so many people working from home – buildings still need to run. We have a lower occupancy load but need to maintain services – so we’ve been learning to do the same with less. We have been working hard to support our tenants during the pandemic because if our tenants aren’t doing well, we are not doing well.
And over the next five years?
… I don’t know! We are all questioning the future of office space – whether remote working will continue? I believe people will always prefer to be together, and working from home has lots of pros and cons – and we’ll find the sweet-spot; it likely won’t look like now, or like it was – and what we do will continue to be the foundation of the business: service to our customers.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I don’t like going with the lowest bidder always – because it is often about building and maintaining valuable relationships. I want us to pick people whose intentions are honourable, with passion, with commitment to what we are doing score high with me. There is so much more value than the exchange of value for money, but that too!
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Laura Newcombe, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… it may sound overly simplistic, but our intentions are honourable – we are trusted advisors, not adversaries. I’m at home in customer relationship management – and I really know my stuff. I’m authentic, and people I work with see that in action; they don’t need to be sold on it.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I would describe myself as encouraging, supportive, knowledgeable – I’m in service of them. It becomes less about my job and more about their career. And, there is a quote – and I don’t recall the source, but it’s been a guiding beacon for me in many ways in my work” If serving is below you, then leadership is beyond you.”
… I believe I have it – more today than ever. In fact, the job-sharing experience showed me the light on balance, that if you want to, you can manage it all and have it all.
What do you lose sleep over? What do you worry about?
… when people are not getting along – with someone, or with unresolved issues. That’s what keeps me up.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… a major one, the discussion with Noreen that led to the job-sharing idea; I had a lot on my mind, the pressure of juggling work and child care – you look like you know what you are doing, but it’s a bit of a blur – so that was a turning point that produced amazing results. Another big one was when I met my husband – a set-up through mutual friends; it was an ‘instant connection’ 26 years ago at an Electric Avenue bar.
… I love gardening, reading, movies, and dinner with friends – I love to cook for and host dinner parties; I like to spend time at the Y – love yoga.
What do you read?
… everything I can get my hands on – I’m a voracious reader. I use a Kindle. I love fiction with complex character development. When I was a kid, I devoured Stephen King novels. Just read The German Midwife – that’s a recommendation!
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