FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Lindsay Blackett
March 8, 2016
He works hard at his job. Divorced, part-time dad – just your average guy. Well, I think well above average would be a better description of his life to date and there is a long road ahead of him - so perhaps we will see lots more of him in the public arena …
Lindsay Blackett was once a very young cabinet minister in the Stelmach government – Alberta’s first Culture Minister after 23 years without one. Serving one term, he didn’t run for re-election. These days he’s a cross between his history as a political activist and his history as a make-some-hay business guy; he’s a CEO, of a first nation – Chiniki First Nation and his contributions are likely to be many.
I’d never met him before – but, as public figures often impact us, I had some sense of knowing from what I've heard and read. I’ve seen him in the media, researched him on-line too, so I had an impression. The first was his appearance. His online photos are out of date! I was met by a much younger looking, much fitter and much thinner man. He’s not running for office just now, but he’s clearly running lots …
Where and how did he begin?
Born in Oxford, UK, while his parents were both students there, he moved to Toronto at age six with his family. Eldest of four children, Lindsay’s parents were both from Barbados where they first met. His dad went to Oxford to study accounting, his mother studied there too. They married and came to Canada dad’s work opportunities – first at accounting firms in Toronto, then to Ottawa where both his parents had careers in the Federal civil service.
Lindsay attended high school in Ottawa. His parents wished for him to have a career as a lawyer, doctor or accountant. He chose to study Criminology and Corrections at Carlton University as a stepping stone to law school. He didn’t get there. Two credits shy of his degree, he took a full time job in the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) of Brian Mulroney. It started as two weeks of contract work. Triage of correspondence. He was good at it, and good at writing – and he spent two years working there. From there, a whirl of government work and party secondments, event organizing, working on provincial and national campaigns for Conservatives – along his way forging relationships with many influential people on the hill. But, money and career beckoned – success in the electronics business followed, a move to Seattle (his wife’s family are there – bonus!), green card issues – then time for the Blacketts to explore change. With wife, two young children and a job opportunity in Calgary, they moved. Settling into the north west, getting involved in community life – organizations (kids in sports – coaching soccer and hockey), politics … and ongoing encouragement to ‘run for something’ collided with opportunity when Greg Melchin said he wouldn’t run for re-election in Calgary North West. He credits "lots of soccer moms" helping being key to his success – he won the nomination and the election. He credits three things: how to negotiate, those soccer moms and Sherry Mazankowski – a consummate organizer.
Fast forward – Ed Stelmach liked him, trusted him and he was appointed to Cabinet. Fast-fast-forward, Alison Redford whom he’d known since Ottawa days showed her support, then not, and after she became Premier, his days in Cabinet were soon over …
He shared too many stories to include here – suffice to say, they were entertaining! He had an epiphany enroute to Calgary from an event in Banff while contemplating his future, his stressed marriage – while driving through Morley (ironically – that’s where he works now). His thought ‘you can’t reform this party – it’s overrun by lobbyists and has forgotten its responsibilities to individual Albertans’.
He says he left politics and the Conservative Party on good terms with a good reputation – and admits he distanced himself from Stephen Carter and Alison Redford, without regret. Post politics – he took six months off, talked to lots of people, golfed, explored options – and one day a head hunter called. About the CEO job at Chiniki First Nation. As he did with me, I gather he interviewed well …
Why are you successful? “My parents influence on policy and people issues. I’m an ordinary guy with an extraordinary desire to be successful. From my dad, as a black man, understanding I have not had as hard a time as anyone else. And I have always made sure I have not less than 3,000 names in my Rolodex!”.
What has held you back? “Sometimes lack of confidence. I didn’t have a mentor, didn’t have strong family support. My divorce was a helpful learning experience – but I see that as a failure. We’re all good on paper, but we make mistakes.”
Seems like you could write a book? “I have plans, for two books; about my life, and about Alberta Culture.
Final comments? “The body of work – of who we are, who I am, is that I appreciate people. I want to make a significant contribution to society.”
How do you see your business – running the business of a First Nation - going forward over the next quarter?
… First Nations are not all created equal, in terms of resources. Right now … it’s better. We are still repairing flood damaged homes, we are opening a new treatment centre, a new youth centre and a new travel centre. Working to provide economic opportunity – with three key focuses: housing, mental wellness and education.
And over the next five years?
… hopefully we'll have the same Chief (Aaron Young), progress on economic development projects, generating revenue and creating employment.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… integrity, credibility, value for money. That’s what my dad taught me!
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Lindsay Blackett, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… same things. And work ethic. Reputation.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… hands on. I’m services focused. Hard working. They say that I am fair.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… my kids, the future we are leaving to them. The plight of First Nations …
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… 1) three men from Emmanuel Baptist Church in Toronto … looked out for me (I was 10), got me into public speaking, got me into volunteerism, set me on the right path; 2) my parents were a negative influence in some ways (NDP & Liberal), didn’t think I was capable … which inspired me to prove them wrong; 3) Robert Miller at Future Electronics in Toronto. He hired me, inspired me, promoted me and was instrumental in my career and move to the U.S. I learned to stand up for myself; 4) Ed Stelmach – he showed faith in me, believed I could make things happen; 5) my kids.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… right now, it’s rare! Long days, working on it – just finishing my first year in this job.
… golf (18 handicap), beer-league hockey, training for sprints in the Alberta Summer Games.
What do you read?
… mostly newspapers and magazines – no time for books! [while we didn’t talk Trump – he did mention, with much emphasis, that ‘The Art Of The Deal’ is his favourite book].
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