FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mark Hopkins
November 22, 2016
When I returned to Calgary in 1999 and began this weekly newsletter, one of my first networking ‘get together’ meetings was with Mark Hopkins. In those days he was a partner at Conroy Ross, it was breakfast. Recently we breakfasted again for this interview and many things have changed since then …
Affable, agreeable, engaging – smart, open and sometimes dryly funny – spent his entire career in human resources; this would describe Mark Hopkins. While he’s nearing end-of-career age it doesn’t seem he’s quitting anytime soon. He doesn’t have grandchildren yet – but he brags plenty about having a great wife, two grown children he’s very proud of, three horses (his wife and daughter are riders) and a 60’s muscle car collection. Let’s start at the beginning:
Born in Calgary – he and his wife Barb (she’s a psychologist – they met at U of A in 1972) both grew up in Chinook Park. Mom was a homemaker (she’s still going strong at 91), dad was a dentist who died at 65 shortly after he sold his practice. His big disappointment was that Mark and his two younger brothers didn’t choose dentistry for a career …
He describes himself as an above average K-12 student – attended William Aberhart, then Central Memorial high schools – before he journeyed north to University of Alberta where he earned a B.A. in Economics but was less enamoured with school. “I couldn’t wait to get out of school and start working”. He added some course work in Human Resource Management at the Ivey Business School in the 80’s.
His first job at Home Oil as a summer student translated to full time after graduation – he spent 14 years there, moving up to head of the HR department. “We had 1,700 at the peak."
"I’ve never been a person who had a plan – opportunities have been my guide. When layoffs were happening I moved over to Towers Perrin (now known as Towers Watson) to work in compensation and benefits – then later on to Conroy Ross as an equity partner working in search. In 2010 I took a buyout there and joined Knightsbridge which involved doing some work for Brookfield Residential. A former colleague, Debbie Toole (she’d worked for me in the 80’s) was heading HR at Brookfield at that time”. I was then brought on-board at Brookfield to work on what became a ‘large project’ – developing systems and programs for the bottom-to-top HR requirements for the merged (three companies) Brookfield Residential organization in Canada and the U.S.
His role is as consultant, and his title is ‘Director of Total Rewards’. He assured me it isn’t a frequent-flyer program. He tells me he loves it there, that Al Norris is a dream boss, the ‘project will be winding up in a year or two’ – and his successor is in place. So I asked, ‘what’s next’? He declined to give specifics – but involvement in a start-up in another industry is percolating - so it doesn’t seem ‘retirement’ in the normal sense of that word is on Mark's agenda.
Why are you successful? “Pretty basic values of doing good work and surrounding myself with good people – and letting them do their work. I’m not an ‘ideas’ guy, more of a deliverer.”
What has held you back? “I’ve probably not been enough of a risk taker – and I’ve passed up some interesting entrepreneurial opportunities.”
Any last words? “Pride in my kids – I look up to them. I have tremendous admiration for the people they’ve become – largely because of their mom. And yes, I see some ‘risk averseness’ in them too.”
Next time, probably breakfast again - my turn to buy! Thanks Mark.
How do you see your current business – “designing HR systems” – going forward over the next quarter?
… I’ve been in this business a long time – and certainly our tools/technology have become more sophisticated, but people issues are the most important ones confronting management today and those people issues haven’t changed much. People’s needs are still at the forefront – and we need reporting and tools that fit.
And over the next five years?
… careers are changing. The key for success, in my view, is ‘knowing the business’ as well as having the HR skills. Authenticity of people being suited for projects and roles will become increasingly important. In many organizations their ‘HR Business Partners’ have little or no hands-on business skills – and that is not a good thing. HR is a field that isn’t gender balanced – most people in the field are female and that needs work. In terms of people, the younger generation – partly because of the gig-economy – focused more on their own performance rather than they are committed to the success of the organizations they work for. That presents new challenges. And executive compensation has gotten excessive, particularly with golden parachutes; it’s great for the executives but it removes accountability to shareholders.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… people and organizations with integrity. I take offence to hypocrisy. It’s got to be more about the person than just about the product. I’ve had success hiring the right project people who will stay the course.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mark Hopkins, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… My level of commitment to delivery – staying the course, value for money.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… to surround myself with people who are better than me in every element I can, and letting them do their jobs. I’ve been a student of leadership in the HR business. I think the key elements are business acumen, operations and HR skills – and understanding the business.
… this current job started out as ‘very intense’ – but it’s been great, setting direction and having great people in place. No retirement plans. I sit on some boards and expect to do more of that. I spent 26 years on the Aspen Family & Community Network Society board, I currently sit on the Children’s Cottage Society Board.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… not my kids – they’ve been troubles-free! I get concerned about our governments – more than worrying, I’m concerned about social concerns in our community, the state of aboriginal affairs in our population.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my wife Barb has been a steadying influence always – a calming influence, and perhaps more risk averse than me. And I’ve worked for some great CEO’s who’ve given me so much: Ross Phillips at Home Oil, and then Dick Haskayne who got Home through troubled times - he kept it afloat. And now Al Norris at Brookfield Residential. And I should also mention Jim Conroy, and his values. We were 10 partners – but he always set the tone, could always bring us back on track.
… old cars. Car shows.
… and 'Mrs. Hopkins and our daughter' have Arabian horses.
What do you read?
… I never watch TV! Escape reading mostly, and car magazines. I read all day long, so nothing too serious.
… 2012 Audi A6. And eight old ‘60s cars. I keep them in garages around town. Mustangs, Chrysler 300’s. [his pride is a 1960 Chrysler 300F .. one of the first muscle cars].
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