publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mel Foht
October 8, 2013
I met Mel Foht about twenty years ago – a colleague of mine in Edmonton days, Ray Townsend, introduced me to his dear friend and former colleague Mel. We’ve crossed paths infrequently, and I’ve always found him affable and cooperative but I never spent any serious time getting to know him. Long overdue, we spent some time recently on a quiet afternoon in his Calgary office – easy talk as long as we were chatting about the market, talking shop but he tended to turn the conversation – ever so kindly, to get me talking about me, not revealing as much about him as I would have liked . . . but he gave me some gems . . .
He met his wife Cathy of 28 years - - it was 31 years ago, a chat in a parking lot at the Lord Nelson apartment building in Edmonton where they both lived. His eyes lit up as he told that story, like he was living it all over again in the moment . . . “she taught me there was more to life than just me”.
Melvin (Mel) Foht is President and Chief Operating Officer of Calgary based Royop Development Corporation. Raised on the family farm near Onoway, Alberta where he went to school – dad was a farmer, mom stayed home to raise three children. His parents emigrated from Germany, met in Canada. Two older sisters, the only son graduated from NAIT with an engineering certificate and went to work for A.V Carlson Construction – a dream job with a great company. From there to Daon Development Corporation in its heady heyday, where increasing responsibility and great learning curve suddenly imploded when Daon collapsed in 1982. He followed colleague Ken Kantor’s advice and went back to school - Commerce at U of C. Later came important roles at Imperial Equities and PenReal until 1997 when Andy Melton introduced him to Royop’s Harvey Thal. He joined Royop in 1997.
In September 2000, following Royop’s portfolio sale to H&R REIT closing, Royop (Brian Kowal, Harvey Thal and Mel Foht) began its do-over (or is that, do it again?), as a primarily ‘out of the ground developer’ of retail projects. Mel says they also acquire ‘ready to develop’ land situations with an eye always open to value-ad redevelopments like their headquarters building in the Beltline and a similar one they are doing right now (the Eisenberg Building).
I asked Mel how he sees the market, from an Calgary/Alberta centric developer’s perspective, over the next 90 days?
… “very good”! Demand for community based food anchored retail remains strong. We are building several right now. Sav-on foods are coming to Calgary. Our business is influenced by interest rates and we are confident they won’t spike.
Over the next 5 years?
Environmentalists are making oil a dirty 3-letter word – but the market here is strong. I’m an optimist.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… sincerity, they ‘believe it’, truthful, enthusiasm, quality, price, a je ne sais quoi quality
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mel and Royop to do business with – why are you selected over your competitors?
… not pretentious. We have great people. Basic things – following up, being sincere, be on time, do what you say ...
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… friends with health troubles, things I can’t control and interest rates. I worry about people more than things. Someone said “stress is created by something really important to you that you have no control over”. Second-guessing whether something is going to pop up at the last minute.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
... two great ones stand out. Percy Ford at Daon many years ago. Harvey Thal – who taught me "there is nothing worse than a bad partner". He’s a great visionary . . .
Work life balance?
… a little bit of many things – traveling more (went to Viet Nam recently) now that three children are grown, some golf, fishing at Alberta Beach and visiting family, renovating the big house, Rotary.
What are you reading?
… non-fiction mostly. And some recent reads - The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, The Lotus Eaters but Tatjana Soli, A Perfect Spy by John le Carré . The Inferno by Dan Brown is next on his list.
… 2012 BMW 535 .... a purchase that came with a great story. "I needed a new car. I bought it on-line after using a search service to post everything I wanted, that went out to dealers. First, and best, response was from Valentino Almeida from Brian Jessel BMW in Vancouver; we was aggressive, followed up, had the best price and made the sale".
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